Jane Austen’s books are filled with some eligible and some seemingly eligible bachelors, who end up happily, or at least adequately, married by each novel’s end. I’ve ranked the men below, in order from best (honorable, loving, intelligent) to worst (a few are downright evil).
16. John Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility
Of the dashing-but-evil Austen villains vying for last place, Willoughby is the worst: after winning the heart of Marianne Dashwood, the novel’s heroine, by rescuing her after she falls down a hill and twists her ankle (ALL: TAKE NOTE). Over the next few days, Marianne finds, their taste to be “strikingly alike…The same books, the same passages were idolized by each…long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.” He seems perfect! And then, after it’s revealed that he seduced and impregnated a 15-year-old girl, he completely drops Marianne and marries another woman for money. Moral of the story: don’t trust a man just because you have the same taste in books.
15. George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice
Ah, Wickham, that irresistible rascal—if only he could’ve put his charm to good use! Instead, he uses it to manipulate others, to get what he wants—first, Darcy’s sister Georgiana, then the 15-year-old Lydia Bennet. His respectability is just a veneer: he’s a player, a gambler, a liar, and a cheat. Don’t go there.
14. Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park
Rich, entitled, and easily bored, Henry Crawford makes a hobby of getting women to fall in love with him. After seducing and spurning her two cousins, Crawford sets his sights on Fanny Price, because she’s so pure he think it will be a challenge. Just when it seems like he might actually have developed true feelings for Fanny, and that these feelings might have changed him, he runs away with her now-married cousin. This impetuous act condemns the cousin to a life of isolation and disgrace abroad. Luckily, Fanny was never taken in.
13. Philip Elton, Emma
Elton isn’t 100% evil, avoid-at-all-costs, BUT this initially “good-humoured, well-meaning, respectable young man” turns out to be a conceited and superficial gold-digger in what I found to be a refreshing gender reversal.
12. William Collins, Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Collins is a doofus and a sycophant, who seems completely unable to read people, and, perhaps worst of all, he’s a bore. He’s meant to make us laugh, and he does, but I want to cry for Charlotte Lucas, the woman who ends up his wife and therefore condemned to spend her days hearing all about his most superior connection with Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
11. William Walter Elliot, Persuasion
Mr. Elliot is another elegant piece of eye candy with superb manners that turn out to be hiding an apparent lack of emotion and warmth. He woos his cousin, Anne, only as a pretext to prevent her father from remarrying and possibly having a son, who would then replace him as heir to the family fortune. So, yes, he’s yet another social climber and a liar, but at least he doesn’t disgrace any young women in the process.
10. Captain Benwick, Persuasion
Tall, dark, handsome, and brooding over his lost fiancé, turning to poetry for solace…Benwick is the man I wanted to date as an emo 16-year-old…And then would’ve been really, really happy to dump for someone who can smile.
9. Frank Churchill, Emma
Though Frank’s handsome, clever, and rich, just like Emma herself, he turns out to be another smooth-talking manipulator—although he uses his powers for the more or less honorable reason of concealing an engagement from his forbidding aunt.
8. Edward Ferrars, Sense and Sensibility
Not handsome, not particularly clever, and rather shy, Ferrars is constant and probably worthy of Elinor Dashwood, but it’s hard not to feel disappointed that someone more dashing didn’t come along.
7. Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice
Bingley—handsome and rich and so agreeable it’s almost boring. Actually, it is kind of boring. He’s the Dean to Mr. Darcy’s Jess. But, I mean, that makes me a really, really sweet husband-to-be.
6. Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility
Brandon, like Ferrars, suffers from a rather thick exterior—but, inside, he proves to be thoughtful and sensitive, a music lover and an intellectual, who, it turns out, challenged the evil Willougby to a duel after he seduced the 15-year-old—thereby winning many suitor points in spite of the fact that, at 35, he’s, like, totally ancient in Austen’s world.
5. Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park
Bertram is, in my opinion, the kindest and most honorable of all of the Austen suitors. He’s known Fanny Price since she was a child, and was, for many years, her only true friend and confidante. He gets in taken by Mary Crawford basically due to his innocence and his desire to think well of others. The only reason he’s not nearer the top of my list is that, though I love the novel, I get a little weirded out by the fact that Edmund ends up with Fanny, whom he’s essentially been sculpting into the perfect woman since childhood—like, of course he loves her; she learned everything from him.
4. Captain Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey
Tilney is a sensitive, witty, and highly intelliegent man, a painter and a reader and an early proponent of woman’s equality (“Excellence,” he says, “is pretty fairly divided between the sexes”). He’s also quick to forgive the heroine Catherine when her imagination leads her to invent an elaborate and unpleasant story about his family.
3. George Knightley, Emma
Knightley is the best friend you—or, er, Emma—end up marrying. He’s trustworthy and sensible and honest and kind and he’s just always been around so you don’t see him in the that light until you risk losing him. My favorite thing about him? Even though he admits that he’s “seldom seen a face or figure more pleasing than [Emma’s],” he’s much more concerned with her mind than her body.
2. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
Darcy has a lotgoing for him in the sexiness department, but let’s not forget that he comes off at first as a total snob, who reminds Lizzie that she’s inferior to him in the same breath that he proposes to her, and spends a good deal of his time trying to break up Jane and Bingley. He does, however, redeem himself later in the novel—and we can’t be too harsh; after all, as he says, everyone has a “natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
1. Captain Frederick Wentworth, Persuasion
Wentworth is a rare thing in an Austen novel: self-made man. I’d also argue that he’s the most romantic. He’s loved Anne, and Anne alone, since she rejected him, at the urging of her snobbish mentor, eight years ago. A taste of his to-die-for love letter: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late…I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago.” *Swoons*
How would you rank the suitors? Are there any favorites I’ve forgotten?