Shared Character Traits of 19th Century Male Leads: Repressed Affection

1) Mr. Knightley, Emma

Sixteen years her senior, Mr. Knightley plays the role of adviser and friend throughout much of Emma’s life. Their age difference affords him the benefit of experience and wisdom—two things that Emma lacks— causing her to blunder her way through making love matches for her dear friend, Harriet Smith. He counsels her, points out her errors, and highlights her flaws. Effervescent exclamations of admiration are not in his nature, even where he loves. And Mr. Knightley does love Emma. Immensely. Completely. Effortlessly. And it’s a true, steady love…one that stands the test of many years duration.

But it’s also a love that he conceals, passionate though it may be. One could argue that Mr. Knightley hides his love with perfect success since Emma and everyone else remains oblivious to it until he speaks up at the end of the novel. His lectures, often blunt and unfavorable, seem to demonstrate the interest of a close family member or friend rather than a lover. “Better be without sense then misapply it as you do,” he scolds Emma in one scene. Mr. Knightley, however, is far from indifferent. His piqued attention to Emma’s behavior and treatment of others erases any such thoughts of indifference. He cares TOO much. Frank scoldings, unwanted advice, these are tools Mr. Knightley utilizes in order to demonstrate his love and care for Emma without actually ever communicating his feelings. Where does he hide is adoration, then? Behind lectures and disapproving shakes of the head.

"Badly done, Emma. Badly done."

2) Mr. Thornton, North and South

Throughout the novel North and South, Mr. Thornton represses his love for Margaret Hale for a variety of reasons. Initially, he keeps the truth to himself—and only himself—because he feels unworthy, not good enough. “I never was faint-hearted before, but I cannot believe such a creature cares for me,” he much later admits to his mother. Margaret, her head tilted high and her nose raised in the air, does little to acquiesce these feelings either. Coming from the leisure and luxury of the south, she establishes an early prejudice against Milton, and more particularly, against Mr. Thornton. They clash over the proper way to treat employees: she, with charity and hospitality; he, with authority and truthfulness. No matter his efforts, Margaret remains determined to dislike him. And to misunderstand him.

Later, after Margaret exposes herself publicly by clinging to his neck, saving him from violence during the strikers’ riot, Mr. Thornton realizes he can remain silent no longer. “I shall put myself at her feet—I must.” Though he offers her his heart, openly, plainly, honestly, and wholly, Margaret spits it back at him like foul-tasting bile. Misunderstanding him (again), Margaret claims she feels offended that he felt it necessary to propose in order to rescue her reputation. Worse, she spurns him further by admitting that she’s never liked him and does not care to understand him. Ever.

After this, heartbroken and indignant, Mr. Thornton explains that he’s never loved a woman before, but now he does and will continue to do so…without her needing to fear future repetitions on his part. And he stays true to his word. Throughout much of the rest of the novel, Mr. Thornton suffers the pangs of his unreciprocated love in silent defiance. Feigning cold indifference for the rest of the world.

"His greatest comfort was in hugging his torment; and in feeling, as he had indeed said to her, that though she might despise him, condemn him, treat him with her proud sovereign indifference, he did not change one whit…He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable bodily pain.

3) Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

Reserved and proud, Mr. Darcy makes a bad first impression on Elizabeth Bennet when she overhears him say, “She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me” when Mr. Bingley encourages him to join in the dancing. Elizabeth perceives this comment as a “I’m too good to be in this company” mentality; whereas, in reality, Mr. Darcy, a shy man, partly wished to avoid the awkwardness of making small talk with a stranger in the midst of a reel.

At first glance, Mr. Darcy scarcely allows Elizabeth to be pretty. But soon, the playfulness of her manner and the vivacity of her mind ensnare him. Before long, unbeknownst to Elizabeth, he becomes another love-struck fool. He keeps his interest in her well-regulated and unsuspected, however, because of his aloof manner. Though he stares a great deal and sometimes attends to her conversations with others, Mr. Darcy is rather slow about becoming acquainted with Elizabeth. He’s impeded too much by his natural proclivity for shyness. In other words: he doesn’t speak much.

Aside from this, another reason for Mr. Darcy’s concealed passion relates to the inferiority and impropriety of the Bennet family. Not only does Elizabeth lack fortune, but her family, namely her mother and three younger sisters, often expose themselves to censure and ridicule because of their silliness. Mrs. Bennet talks animatedly and spiritedly to everyone about Jane’s “supposed” advantageous marriage; Kitty and Lydia obsess over the officers, Lydia later eloping with Mr. Whickham; Mary’s eager to showcase her mediocre musical talents and solemn philosophical reflections; and Mr. Bennet makes quips at his wife’s expense. But alas, Mr. Darcy eventually casts all these reasons aside and asks for Elizabeth’s hand. Unable to stand the suppression any longer, he admits his love…only to have Elizabeth reject him partly because he hadn’t behaved in a “more gentlemanlike manner.”

"In vain, I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

Author’s Note: All three of them—Mr. Knightley, Mr. Thornton, Mr Darcy—withhold the feelings they harbor for the women they love and cherish…until they can no longer bear the unspoken truth. And then, what happens next? AN ERUPTION OF EMOTION! Normally at the expense of the poor, panting, love-overcome fellow…who is usually rejected. And spurned. And denied. (At least at first.) Talk about angst!

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