Many remember where they were the first time they saw Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy emerge from the lake in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.
This author, for instance, was perched on her nan’s couch with a cup of tea and a biscuit – and even these distinctly unsexy circumstances failed to distract from that sodden white shirt, dripping and clinging… Ahem. Here’s a visual reminder:
It was, essentially, the Georgian equivalent of a wet t-shirt competition.
But we, like so many other Darcy fans, assumed that our literary crush was based on something deeper than Firth’s undeniable good looks. After all, Elizabeth Bennett’s love interest isn’t just handsome and fabulously wealthy; he’s also brooding, and serious, and complex. His moral compass is on point, his kindness undeniable and his impassioned speeches unparalleled (“I love you, most ardently…”).
Throw in the fact that he’s an avid bookworm, and you basically have the man of many people’s dreams.
But it turns out, the ‘real’ Darcy is somewhat different.
A team of academics, led by Professor John Sutherland, have researched how Mr Darcy would have really looked and come up with what they claim to be the “first historically” accurate portrait of literature’s most eligible bachelor.
To do this, they examined fashions of the time period and pored over portraits of Jane Austen’s real-life love interests.
Gone are the chiselled cheekbones, the tousled dark hair, the deep and soulful eyes, the square jaw we’ve become so fond of over the years.
Instead, we have a gentleman with powdered white hair, a sickly complexion and the “narrow jaw… considered very attractive [at the time]”.
It’s not just Darcy’s face that’s changed; his broad shoulders and muscular bod have been swapped for a modest chest and the slender, sloping shoulders prominent in Georgian gentlemen.
Large thighs and calves complete the look. At around 5ft 11in, the fictional character would have been slightly smaller and daintier than the stars who’ve played him on screen.
Thus, the Georgian ideal may be rather unsatisfying for a Firth fan.
Amanda Vickery, professor of early modern history at Queen Mary University of London, who worked on the research, said: “Mr Darcy is an iconic literary character, renowned for his good looks, charm and mystery.
"As Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in the 1790s, our Mr Darcy portrayal reflects the male physique and common features at the time.
“Men sported powdered hair, had narrow jaws and muscular, defined legs were considered very attractive.”
Vickery added (somewhat unnecessarily, in our opinion) that Darcy’s new look is in “stark contrast to the chiselled, dark, brooding Colin Firth portrayal we associate the character with today”.
The research was commissioned by TV channel Drama to celebrate its Jane Austen season, and the portraits were created by illustrator Nick Hardcastle.
Adrian Wills, general manager of Drama, said: “These illustrations might lead to a slightly different imagining of one of the most famous romantic heroes of all time.”
Not in this author’s mind.