ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

It might not be your world-shattering revelation of the day, but criteria for physical attractiveness changes with time. The dude who got all the ladies in the era of say, gladiator fights and skin covered in more oil than BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, isn't the same type as the pouting guy who'll get the most matches on Tinder these days.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Mr. Darcy, the subject of many a lady's daydreams, complete with frilly white dresses and whispered poems, probably didn't look as most of us picture him today — that is, Colin Firth's mythical interpretation in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's classic. John Sutherland, Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at University College London, and Amanda Vickery, Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary University of London, set out to imagine what an Austen-era Darcy would have looked like, based on favored styles at the time.

Mr. Darcy Was Neither Tall Nor Square-Jawed

Let's start with the hair: It seems like most avid Austen readers would imagine Darcy with dark hair, probably to match his brooding nature. But I'm afraid powdered hair was a real trend at the time — not a full wig, but just a tiny layer of chalk-like powder that must have been a delight to see end up on your clothes.

Thankfully, there are few attributes that Firth seems to have gotten right: Darcy would have no mustache, because that was mostly for military men — same goes for his skin, which would have been pale and smooth and certainly not tanned. He'd be about 5' 11", not a giant but tall indeed, and own a wonderful set of teeth.

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The biggest shocker would be the shape of his face and the location of his most prominent muscles: Fans of the square jaw and 6-pack may just stop reading now. As the authors of this most important study put it, "the British upper classes preserve their status by interbreeding," which means most of them had extremely similar features. That way, we can get a pretty good idea of Darcy's face:

All of them had pale skin, long oval faces, long noses, small mouths and pointy chins. The square jawed hero is virtually unknown at this period.

Could it be that the 2005 film actually did a better job at resembling the original Mr. Darcy?

Matthew Macfadyen in 'Pride & Prejudice' [Credit: Focus Features]
Matthew Macfadyen in 'Pride & Prejudice' [Credit: Focus Features]

As for the most burning question of all: Was Mr. Darcy fit? Well, he was. But if he went to a gym today, he wouldn't recognize any of our usual workout routines: In Austen's time, "a fine leg was an index of virility. "

It was all about the legs. The six pack was unknown and square shouldered bulk was the mark of the navvy not the gentlemen. Chests were modest and shoulders sloping. Arm holes cut high and to the back rather pinioning the man within. The general effect was one of languid, graceful length not breadth. More ballet dancer than beef-cake.

If that brings him closer to your own fantasies, you're one lucky reader — if not, I guess the great thing about literature is that you can picture Darcy how you damn well please.

[Credit: Kate Beaton]
[Credit: Kate Beaton]

Which actor gave your favorite interpretation of Mr. Darcy?

(Source: Drama)


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