It is a truth universally acknowledged that any self-proclaimed Jane Austen fan (often called Janeites or Austenites) has definitely ranked the swoon-worthy Regency era heroes that Jane Austen’s books are known for. Though Austen’s novels all have deeper critiques of society and commentary about social norms, they are definitely known for their romances, particularly their romantic leads. In this list, we look at each romantic hero and rank them on their character (10 being “do not date at all costs,” and one being “marry him”). To have some fun, we put each character in a modern context.
Beware: spoilers ahead!
10. Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park
The only reason Henry Crawford even makes this list is because were this novel published a few decades later, rakish Henry Crawford would have most likely been the romantic lead. Henry Crawford sets out to woo our heroine, the shy and proper Fanny Price, but ends up falling for her instead. Fanny rejects him, and he ends up running off with her married cousin. Though he possesses that bad-boy charm thatwould be more common in later literature (hello Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester), he ends at rock bottom on our list.
Today: Henry Crawford is that guy at a frat party who spends extra time with you, and when you tell him you don’t want to hook up, he throws a fit and complains to everyone about how you’re a prude. Yikes!
9. John Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility
Another one of the roguish bad boys, Willoughby ends up slightly higher than Henry because for the good first part of the novel, we believe that his romance with Marianne might turn into something concrete (and she certainly thinks so). But after promising to be there for her, he practically disappears and then humiliates her in a public setting by pretending to not know her.
Today: John Willoughby and you hit it off at a party. You talk late into the night, and you swear you guys had a special connection. You go on a few really romantic dates, and you really think something is going to happen! Then — he ghosts you. He stops answering texts, calls, messages, etc. A few weeks later, he posts an Instagram picture with his new girlfriend. Ouch.
8. Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park
We’re going to ignore the fact that Edmund is the heroine’s cousin (it was normal back then) and instead focus on the fact that they were childhood best friends. Edmund was the one kind person in Fanny’s life (though it should be noted that the bar was incredibly low), and she really looked up to him. Where Edmund falls flat however, is that he goes for the flirtatious Mary Crawford and does not notice Fanny’s affections for him until Mary shows her true personality.
Today: Edmund’s one of your best friends, and you’ve had a thing for him forever — but he always falls for the wrong girl. Whenever you try to talk him out of it, he flat out ignores you and tells you that this time it’s going to be different. Maybe that was charming back then, but nowadays, the advice to you would be to just move on.
7. Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility
So we’re going to forget the fact that Colonel Brandon is twice as old as Marianne (once again, Regency customs were different than ours) and focus on the fact that Colonel Brandon was continuously there for Marianne and her family. The only reason he falls a little flat on this list is because, well, Marianne isn’t really into him and must grow to love him. But still, he’s a man of stalwart character and a dependable shoulder in times of crises.
Today: Brandon’s like the friend-of-a-friend who always tries to spend alone time with you, and you’re okay with that because you like the attention, but you also start to get a little suspicious of his motives. But he never pushes you to flirt back, and maybe over time, you might return his feelings.
6. Charles Bingley from Pride and Prejudice
Ah, sweet Mr. Bingley. He and Jane Bennett have quite the connection at the beginning of the novel, much to meddling Mrs. Bennett’s delight. But to almost everyone’s surprise, Bingley moves without so much as a goodbye to Jane. We later find out that, at the advice of Mr. Darcy (his best friend) and his sister, he decided that Jane was not good enough for him and did not feel passionately enough. The reason he does end up changing his mind is because Darcy has also changed his mind. Though Bingley is sweet, and he and Jane will be undoubtedly happy, he lacks the ability to make his own decisions, which is why he falls on the lower end of our list.
Today: Bingley’s the type of guy who needs his friends’ approval for literally everything — including dating you. The two of you really connected when you met, but he wants to check in with his bros to make sure they approve of you. He needs constant validation before he makes a move, and if his friends don’t think you’re a good fit — well, good luck.
5. Edward Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility
Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood (the sister who is the “sense” in Sense and Sensibility) hit it off quite nicely at the beginning of the novel. Elinor is very eager to see him again, only to find out that he is engaged to a particularly nasty woman who’s won his mother’s approval. Eventually, Edward redeems himself and stands up to his family. He ends up getting disinherited but marries Elinor at the end. Edward suffers a similar problem as Mr. Bingley, but the reason Edward ranks higher is because he actually stands up for himself whereas Bingley continues to just listen to the advice of his friends.
Today: Edward is a big momma’s boy. Now while that may be a good thing, it also means he can’t do anything without checking in with his mom. She only wants the best for her darling little boy, so if that means kicking you out of his life, she’s going to do it. If he can shed himself of that mom baggage, maybe he’s worth a shot.
4. Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey
Honestly, he reason Tilney’s only number four isn’t because there’s anything really wrong with him; he’s just not that exciting. He doesn’t have that quick-witted repartee of Darcy and Lizzie or Knightley and Emma, nor does he have the epic love story that is Anne and Wentworth. Tilney’s a nice guy and quick to warm up to young, impressionable Catherine Morland (though he does tease her about her tendency to romanticize everything). He shows her the ways of the world and teaches her that life isn’t a Gothic novel. He gets bonus points for standing up to his overbearing father who doesn’t want him to marry Catherine.
Today: You meet Tilney studying abroad and are captivated at once by the fact that he’s hot and from a totally different world than you. He invites you back to his home, and you meet his sister (who’s also totally cool), and you guys all get along very well. The only downside: He’s a bit prone to mansplaining things to you.
3. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice
Yes, yes, I know it’s blasphemous not to have Mr. Darcy as number one on this list, but hear me out. As hot and hunky as the recent adaptations of Darcy are, in the novel, he’s actually incredibly socially awkward, and that cool aloofness he adopts is a mask. Now this can be seen as attractive, and in modern adaptations, it certainly is, but before Darcy overcomes his faults and redeems himself, he insults Elizabeth Bennett and her family greatly. Eventually, Darcy comes through and shows that he will remain loyal and in love with Elizabeth.
Today: You met Darcy at a party. He was standing in a corner, rolling his eyes at the people playing beer pong and holding a bottle of expensive whiskey. You asked him why he didn’t want to play beer pong. He told you that he’d only play if there was someone worth playing it with, knowing full well that you were waiting for a partner this whole time. The thing about Darcy’s aloofness is that it’s a shield to hide from his own social awkwardness. If you can get past that shield and win him over, then you will find yourself with a devoted and steadfast partner.
2. George Knightley from Emma
Knightley one-ups Darcy in my humble opinion because he and Emma still have that great banter that Lizzie and Darcy are known for, but they also genuinely care for one another and have since before the novel started. Their relationship is based on a solid friendship. He isn’t afraid to call Emma out when she goes too far in her meddling and her rudeness, and he is the only person she really listens to. Eventually, the two realize that they have feelings for each other.
Today: Knightley’s been your best friend for a long time. You two bicker a lot but never in a malicious way, and you always try to one-up each other in friendly competition. You have wanted to get him matched up for the longest time, but somehow, every girl he’s with is just not good enough. He feels the same way about your boyfriends. It may take a bit for you two to realize that you’re actually meant for each other
1. Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion
Before The Notebook, there was Persuasion. Anne Elliot was persuaded to turn down Frederick Wentworth’s proposal seven years prior to the novel beginning because her family thought he was an inferior match. They are reunited. Wentworth is now a successful naval captain, and Anne’s family is struggling financially. Seeing each other evokes latent feelings in both characters, but neither wants to approach the other. Wentworth shines over the other Austen men because he’s more romantic than any other, and though he was wronged, he maintains a good character. He overcomes his main flaw (his refusal to contact Anne out of pride), and the two have a happy ending, now completely sure of each other’s love.
Today: You and Wentworth were high school sweethearts, and he wanted to continue your relationship, but your parents disapproved. You reluctantly broke it off, and even though he was very hurt, he accepted your decision. Now, years later, after college, after a world apart, you find yourself in the same town, and your feelings are stirred again. At this point, he’s proved himself and has a successful career, and a lot of people are interested in him. Will you two approach each other and win back that romance you once had?
Familiar with some of these characters but not all? Intrigued by these romantic stories and want to find out more? Check out Jane Austen’s novels for free at Project Gutenberg or at your local library.