You know what I find hilarious these days? When I randomly stumble across some (excessively) handsome guy (in real life or on social media), and my immediate reaction is, “Well, if he’s that attractive, he’s probably not a very nice guy.” Why do I automatically assume that this perfect stranger is a Wickham? It’s not because his perfectly sculpted body means he’s a complete and total meathead, and it’s not because I’m not secretly hoping a man that’s that attractive will also have an amazing, inspiring, challenging personality to match his good looks–my blog is called “Looking for Mr. Darcy,” after all. It’s because history (or in this case, Jane Austen) shows us the error of our more or less shallow ways.
Isn’t it ironic that nowadays, if a man is handsome, we’re more apt to distrust him, whereas in Austen’s time, such a man would easily win over an entire ballroom? Exhibit A: George Wickham.
Wickham was utterly charming with a handsome countenance and pleasing manners.
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. The introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of conversation–a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming.
That was enough to persuade the entire county of his agreeableness. Literally,no one probed into his past–okay, Elizabeth did (briefly) and more as a means of guilt-tripped Darcy. They took all of Wickham’s accusations towards Mr. Darcy as fact. (It didn’t help that Mr. Darcy didn’t disagree with them–but we now know who was the gentleman and who was the scoundrel.)
It’s quite amazing really–the advantage above-average-looking people have over average-looking folks. They get away with so much.
I remember one summer when I worked as hostess as a local country club, this gorgeous frat boy (Polo everything) walked in to apply for a general summer position. He had perfectly tanned skin, dark brown eyes, and a tall, muscular physique that was more genetics than hours spent at the gym (though I’m sure it was a combination of the two). Being me, I attempted to chat him up as he sat at the bar, filling out his application. From the basic questions he was asking me, I didn’t get the sense that he was the brightest candle in the box, but damn, was he cute.
Our General Manager happened to pass by and strike up a conversation with the young man. He was hired on the spot. I swear to you, through use of my own eyes, that not once did our GM even glance at his application. Later that summer, when we were working the pool snack bar together, I asked him to grab the customer a Diet Coke from the fountain, and he replied that he did not know how. (I sometimes fear for my generation.) You literally press down on a frigging button, but apparently that’s rocket science (and I would know–I carried on a brief flirationationship with an aerospace engineer).
I’ve certainly carried on about an insanely attractive guy; I’m only human. But it’s true what they say: You can’t judge a book by its cover. A great physique/face does not a personality make. The model/waiter I met during happy hour? He had a stomach you could scrub laundry on, but he instigated the words “gnarly” and “dude” in our first ever conversation. What a stroke of luck–a surfer from Nebraska.
All I’m saying is, you can’t immediately know who a person is based on how they look; that’s shallow. And as Jane Hayes points out in Austenland, we can’t really know the worth of someone at a glance–though As Mr. Nobley argues we certainly do form firm opinions of their character based off of this glance. Jane’s opinion of Mr. Nobley softened upon getting to know him. I’d like to think that’s the way of the world. Certainly, attraction is a necessary component in any romantic relationship, but to dispose of yourself based on the physical over the mental is not to be thought of.
We should certainly refrain from the physical holding too much sway in our opinions. We are, after all, human, so that’s not going to happen all-day, every-day. We can be judgy like that, and first impressions often stick. But I urge you not to judge a book solely on its cover. There have been many boring reprints of Pride & Prejudice, have there not? You know the ones I’m talking about (not the collectors’ edition staring at me from my shelf). I’m talking about the cheap, academic reprints they use in schools for educational purposes. And yet, despite the drab cover art, the language is still as rich and vibrant as ever, Darcy and Elizabeth settle in Pemberley, and Mrs. Bennet retires in peace knowing her daughters are well-married. The interior remains the same, even as the exterior is prone to alteration over time. So let’s not judge a book by its cover, because even if his countenance is charming and his attentions apparently genuine, he may still run off with your 15 year old sister. If you wrap yourself up too much in appearances (not excluding impressions–what he does and/or doesn’t say), you might just miss out on the strapping gentleman brooding in the corner who appears rather unsociable and taciturn.