Today, on Jane Austen’s 200th anniversary, the world (or the internet, at the very least) will be overflowing with quoted professions of love and truths universally acknowledged. Allow us, then, to join the celebrations of one of literature’s most beloved writers by shedding some light on a few of her creations—characters beyond Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy—who we think deserve the same fame as those iconic two.
Fanny Price from Mansfield Park
Fanny Price is often seen as too virtuous, self-righteous—even Austen’s own mother calls her “insipid.” But while most notice what she lacks in character, they fail to consider her circumstance, the reason she is the way that she is. Unlike Austen’s other heroines, she does not come from a place of privilege (whether in intellect, beauty, or wealth), and therefore cannot afford to be as strong-headed and outspoken as them. Tara Isabella Burton explores this in detail in her piece for The Paris Review, “In Defense of Fanny Price,” which offers a different perspective not just on Fanny or even Mansfield Park, but on the literary universe Jane Austen has created.
George Knightley from Emma
Mr. George Knightley is pretty much the anti-Mr. Darcy. While Darcy is all up on his high horse for most of the book, Knightley spends most of his page-time bringing Emma down from hers. He does not consider himself better than others, even though he comes from privilege. Darcy, however, thinks everyone is beneath him, saying of Elizabeth when he first sees her: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” And Knightley doesn’t just veer away from insulting the love of his life every chance he gets; they’re actually friends, which is more than we can hope for for our beloved Darcy and Lizzie. If you need more reasons, here’s a list from Huffington Post on why Mr. Knightley is way better than Mr. Darcy. But it all boils down to this: George Knightley is a genuinely nice guy, and you don’t need to read through 61 chapters to believe it.
Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility
Though meant to be a representation of the titular Sense, Elinor Dashwood possesses both sense and sensibility (at least in today’s definition of the word). She is always guided by logic and good temper, never letting her emotions get in the way of doing what needs to be done, whether it’s moving houses or managing their finances or even controlling her own feelings. But this isn’t to say that she’s unfeeling—she can be just as passionate as her sister Marianne; she just has better control over her passions and know when and when not to act upon them.
Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion
Unlike most of the men in Austenverse, Captain Frederick Wentworth is a self-made man. Born without the same wealth and privilege as the ever-popular Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth was previously looked down on by the father of his love, Anne Elliot, and this ultimately caused their breakup. He carried that pain with him for a long time, but with it he also had a great deal of “genius and ardor” and, of course, luck—and that with these, he was able to make a name for himself, by himself.
Captain Wentworth had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession; but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing. But he was confident that he should soon be rich: full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still.
Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice
Known as best friend to Elizabeth Bennet and, later on, wife to Mr. Collins, Charlotte Lucas seems to be made to stay in the background—but now, we’re bringing her to center stage. In contrast to Elizabeth, Charlotte always thinks with her head. She knows where she stands—especially in a time when no odds were in a “plain” woman’s favor—and she works around her circumstance to make a better life for herself. Plus, who could forget this brilliant moment from the 2005 film:
“Not all of us can afford to be romantic. I’ve been offered a comfortable home and protection. There’s a lot to be thankful for. […] I’m twenty-seven years old, I’ve no money and no prospects. I’m already a burden to my parents and I’m frightened. So don’t you dare judge me Lizzie. Don’t you dare!”
—Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey
Henry Tilney is an anchor. Though he finds Catherine Morland’s absurd thoughts and assumptions amusing, he keeps her grounded enough without dragging her by the feet. Paired with his sarcastic and joking nature, some critics see him as patronizing, even mocking, but his charming wit and genuine concern softens this minor flaw. He is also very gentle and caring, particularly towards his sister Eleanor. And though he comes from a wealthy family, he knows that money is not all that matters. Plus, he’s funny. Apart from their affinity towards their sisters, we can’t say much is the same for dear ol’ Darcy—and right now Tilney holds the upper hand.