Yours Sincerely: Jane Austen’s Heroes
Original content by Rhian Fender
“There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
(Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham of Pride and Prejudice)
During the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, there was one virtue which was strenuously promoted amongst men: sincerity. In November 1844, the young Lord Ashley declared: “We must have nobler, deeper, and sterner stuff, less of refinement and more of truth; more of the inward, not so much of the outward, gentleman.” Inspired by the cultural phenomenon of medievalism, and the resulting revival of the importance of chivalry, the very nature of masculinity began to be questioned and adapted to suit the conventions of society.
The ‘polite’ society of the eighteenth century into which Jane Austen was born was not the most suited to true chivalry, for ‘politeness’ was synonymous with status and wealth, rather than the inherent goodness endorsed by the medieval chivalric code, which stressed the importance of traits such as generosity, loyalty, duty and devotion. A figure who it may be argued truly represents this society was Lord Chesterton, whose letters to his son illustrated the façade of sincerity which many created, instructing his son to “be upon your own guard, and yet; by a seeming natural openness, to put people off theirs.” The call for more authenticity resulted in ‘politeness’ being viewed as rather outdated, with ‘manliness’ emerging as the male ideal. This consideration of masculinity is evident in the work of Jane Austen, with the heroes of the novels embodying the spirit of manliness.