The Five Archetypes of Masculinity in Jane Austen
(Long abstract I wrote for a submission call [critical essay anthology])
by Brandy D. Anderson
Readers and scholars alike have long lauded Jane Austen’s work for its cheeky satire as well its undertones of serious commentary concerning women’s lives in early 19th century Britain. Much has been made about Austen’s favoured way of ending each of her heroine’s stories with a marriage. Some have read this as caustic commentary by Austen suggesting that a woman’s autonomy ends with a wedding; the heroine’s individual adventure is finished once her identity, as well as any property and entitlement, is forevermore latched onto that of her husband’s. Others take it as one of Austen’s playful winks to her own contemporary literature where “happy ever after” immediately arrives when the heroine secures a fruitful match because, of course, what greater happiness can there be for a female than for her to find a strong and affluent male to take her into his home and make her his wife.
Whatever Austen’s intentions, each of her books end with a successful engagement. She is at least kind enough to attach love to each union rather than allowing the marriages to result from purely financial or political reasons. However, love and fancy are not enough for an Austen heroine to marry, for each match must be made with a suitable man. Just what constitutes marital suitability is some matter of contention between the female characters, but in the end, each heroine is always paired with one specific type of man. Although each protagonist encounters several different prospects, there is only one archetype who can provide true love, as well as stability, to the heroine.
This paper seeks to further the examination of Austen’s use of the female gaze, how she attempts to identify masculinity, and the way in which Austen compartmentalizes her different archetypes of manhood. Austen portrays masculinity as falling within five tidy categories: Manipulator, Odious Cretan, Stoic Love Interest, Loyal Friend to Stoic Love Interest, and the Ineffectual, But Kind, Father. Although the subject matter of her novels all vary to a large degree, and her heroines are significantly different from one another, every principle male character, regardless of novel, falls within these five categories, and each one has a similar counterpart in all of her works. Indeed, after a reader has finished any one of Austen’s novels, it is not difficult to presuppose which category each man will fit into if one only recognizes the patterns.
The Manipulator charms the heroine right from the start, usually to the detriment of the Stoic Love Interest. In Emma, Frank Churchill comes to Emma’s rescue, and right away, the audience is given the signal to like and trust his good humour, warm manner, and penchant for childish hijinks until his deception is eventually revealed. Pride and Prejudice gives us the affable Wickham, the rogue who convinces Lizzie that Darcy is a selfish, bigoted, despicable creature unworthy of her attention. Marianne falls madly in love with the passionate and well-read Willoughby, unaware that money and power mean much more to him than love and sentiment in Sense and Sensibility. Persuasion‘s Anne is wooed by the seemingly innocuous Mr. Elliot, and Northanger Abbey gives us Frederick Tilney.
Quickly, we can identify Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Collins, Emma‘s Mr. Elton, Sense and Sensibility’s Robert Ferrars, and Northanger Abbey‘s John Thorpe as the Odious Cretan archetype. Persuasion changes this formula somewhat by turning the father into the Odious Cretan rather than the Ineffectual, But Kind, Father archetype we see in Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Pride and Prejudice. Maintaining the above order of novels, the Stoic Love Interest in each is as follows: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, Henry Tilney, and Captain Wentworth. Then, The Loyal Friend to the Stoic Love Interest would be Mr. Bingham, Mr. Martin, Col. Brandon acts as Edward Ferrars’ friend, and Sir John Middleton serves as Brandon’s. Once more, Persuasion alters the formula to a small degree by providing two Loyal Friends to the Love Interest, Captains Harville and Benwick. This paper goes on to provide in-depth analysis of how Austen constructs these five archetypes of masculinity. Further analysis explores the context of Austen’s assignations and how this research may be used in order to further our understandings of early 19th century masculinity.
Image: David Whalen, Stock Photo, Morguefile.com