I do not own any of the images used in this article, please see below each painting for a citation.
I went through each novel and collected quotes that describe the physical attractiveness of every Austen hero and main villain/man of dubious character (I don’t know if Frank Churchill for example can really be called a villain). Here they are in order of hotness, contrasted with their novel’s hero. I also included a Regency era portrait that could represent each man.
The hottest male hero is… Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park! The book really dwells on how attractive all the Bertrams are as a family, and not just the daughters:
They were a remarkably fine family, the sons very well-looking… that the Mr. Bertrams were very fine young men, that two such young men were not often seen together even in London…. He will not do by the side of your cousin Edmund… my friends here are very much struck with his gentlemanlike appearance. Mrs. Fraser (no bad judge) declares she knows but three men in town who have so good a person, height, and air… (these quotes are collected from the novel and presented together with “…” between different quotes)
Attractive enough to be a Bertram? (Portrait believed to be Lieutenant Colonel S. Coote Martin (c.1793 – 1815) 1815c. John James Masquerier)
Contrast this with the description of Henry Crawford, who is both short and plain. But you hardly notice because he’s so charming:
Her brother was not handsome: no, when they first saw him he was absolutely plain, black and plain… but as she still continued to think Mr. Crawford very plain… “I do not think him at all handsome.” “Handsome! Nobody can call such an undersized man handsome. He is not five foot nine. I should not wonder if he is not more than five foot eight. I think he is an ill-looking fellow.
Plain enough to be Henry Crawford? (John Grimes, by Matthew Harris Jouett (1788–1827)
Persuasion‘s Captain Frederick Wentworth! He is very handsome. Even Sir Walter, a very exacting judge, thinks he’s pretty attractive. You have to wonder how his fine face has survived so many years at sea:
He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man… a certain glance of his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth… how much handsomer, how infinitely more agreeable they thought him than any individual among their male acquaintance,…. No: the years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessening his personal advantages. She had seen the same Frederick Wentworth….. when he [Sir Walter] saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight, and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims, and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank
Is this man attractive enough to be Wentworth? (Portrait of a Young Man in a high cravat, Thomas Arrowsmith, 1770-1839)
He is contrasted with two men of dubious character.
Mr. William Elliot, who while not handsome has a gentlemanlike appearance:
He seemed about thirty, and though not handsome, had an agreeable person…. He did justice to his very gentlemanlike appearance, his air of elegance and fashion, his good shaped face, his sensible eye; but, at the same time, “must lament his being very much under-hung, a defect which time seemed to have increased; nor could he pretend to say that ten years had not altered almost every feature for the worse…. Mr Elliot was better to look at than most men, and he had no objection to being seen with him anywhere.
Possible Mr. Elliot? (Margaret Sarah Carpenter, 1827)
And Sir Walter Elliot was once so hot that he is literally his wife’s single mistake:
vanity of person… He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man… His good looks… Modest Sir Walter! He was not allowed to escape, however. His daughter and Mrs Clay united in hinting that Colonel Wallis’s companion might have as good a figure as Colonel Wallis, and certainly was not sandy-haired.
Sir Walter in another 20 years? The main reason I like this painting is that I am sure that like this man, Sir Walter would die his grey hair! (Lafayette in 1830, aged 73, painting by Louise-Adéone Drölling).
Mr. Darcy of Pride & Prejudice. He is handsome and tall, but the narrator isn’t as obsessed with his good looks as the two men above. Mr. Bingley comes in at a respectable #4, but that’s okay, his manners are far more pleasing!
Darcy: Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien… The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening… “it is a handsome face”… “I am sure I know none so handsome”… “To be sure, Lizzy,” said her aunt, “he is not so handsome as Wickham; or, rather, he has not Wickham’s countenance, for his features are perfectly good.”… so handsome! so tall!
Quick additional note: Darcy’s hair and eye colour are never actually described in the novel, they can be anything you imagine! (Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux by Sir Thomas Lawrence)
Bingley: Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners… He is so excessively handsome!… “He is also handsome… Oh! he is the handsomest young man that ever was seen!
This looks a bit like Bingley to me (François Dumont (1751-1831) Miniature Portrait on Ivory of Marguerite Gérard, 1793)
It seems pretty clear from the text that Mr. Wickham is better looking than even Darcy. All of Meryton was in love!
of most gentlemanlike appearance… All were struck with the stranger’s air… His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address…. but Mr. Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk
Am I the only one who gets Wickham vibes from this man? (Gilbert Heathcote in uniform, portrait by William Owen)
Mr. Collins, in contrast, isn’t anything to write home about, though it does not say he is bad looking:
He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal.
He looks formal and tall! (Margaret Sarah Carpenter)
Next at #5 is Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey. He is not quite as handsome as his brother, but clearly makes up for it with his charming banter:
He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it… He looked as handsome and as lively as ever,… “How handsome a family they are!” … even supposed it possible that some people might think him (Captain Tilney) handsomer than his brother (Henry)
He looks fun and almost handsome! (Portrait of James Stark (1794-1859) – Margaret Sarah Carpenter)
In contrast, John Thorpe is both obnoxious and ugly!
He was a stout young man of middling height, who, with a plain face and ungraceful form, seemed fearful of being too handsome unless he wore the dress of a groom, and too much like a gentleman unless he were easy where he ought to be civil, and impudent where he might be allowed to be easy.
Are you John Thorpe? (1804 Francisco de Goya – Bartolomé Sureda y Miserol)
Next is George Knightley from Emma. This one is a little difficult because there is no narrative description of Mr. Knightley and I think we can agree that Emma is a little biased, *wink* *wink*. Which is why despite this ringing endorsement from her, I’ve put him at a lower number:
His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body’s eyes; and, excepting her own partner [Frank Churchill], there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him
Mr. Knightley? (Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Le comte Armand Gaston Félix d’Andlau, 1815)
Mr. Elton is notably a looker:
Mr. Elton is a very pretty young man…He was reckoned very handsome; his person much admired in general, though not by her, there being a want of elegance of feature which she could not dispense with… Mr. Elton’s being a remarkably handsome man… Mr. Elton had not his equal for beauty or agreeableness
This clergyman could be Elton (The Honourable and Reverend Douglas Gordon Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1793–1872))
As is Frank Churchill, it wasn’t just Mr. Weston’s bragging! As noted above, Emma does think he is more handsome than Mr. Knightley.
She believed he was reckoned a very fine young man… he was a very good looking young man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father’s; he looked quick and sensible.
Did this man go all the way to London for that haircut (or actually to buy a secret piano?) (Sergey Gagarin, Madame Le Brun)
Sense & Sensibility‘s Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars take the lowest two spots. Brandon seems to be a pretty normal looking guy, though he is 35 and therefore ancient and about to die. Edward is the only hero noted to be “plain”, even by his ardent lover:
Brandon: His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome, his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.
Colonel Brandon? This portrait was taken when Wellington was exactly 35 years old. (Portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Francisco Goya)
Edward: He was not handsome… At first sight, his address is certainly not striking; and his person can hardly be called handsome, till the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived.
Maybe Edward Ferrars? He looks sweet (François-Xavier Fabre – Portrait de Edward Fox Fitzgerald, 1815)
No wonder John Willoughby caught everyone attention! He’s probably the best looking of all the villainous men:
in a manner so frank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression… His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness… His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story… I think he is extremely handsome… I hear he is quite a beau, and prodigious handsome… he certainly is not so handsome as Willoughby
This guy knows he’s a looker! (Portrait of Baron Rene Hyacinthe Holstein by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, 1818)
Keep in mind, Austen clearly tells us that perception of another person’s beauty changes if you fall in love, which is why I have looked for first impression quotes. It is really hard to tell in her novels if you are receiving a biased report!
When I wrote Prideful & Persuaded, I couldn’t help myself from writing a scene where the now 56 year old Sir Walter Elliot finds a grey hair, to his great mortification. He hatches a daring plan to buy hair dye secretly in another town.
Read more about my favourite Austen dandy in my novel, on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited: