Though academic discussions of sexuality in Jane Austen’s novels have become increasingly popular in recent years, examinations of masculinity are markedly absent from Austen scholarship. Rarely considered as objects of female desire or as sexual subjects in and of themselves, Austen’s male characters are generally examined solely as facilitators of her heroines’ growth and development. Acknowledging her contemporaries’—such as Edmund Burke’s and Mary Wollstonecraft’s—discussions of masculinity, however, Austen fashioned her men as both subjects and objects of desire. Because her male characters are filtered through multiple female perspectives, masculinity is essentially created by women, with the female gaze acting as a catalyst in the development of masculinity in Austen’s novels. In discussing this point, this article focuses on Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the infamous hero of Pride and Prejudice. The ideal of masculinity constructed in Pride and Prejudice via the female gaze facilitates equality between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and requires his response and adaptation to her expectations of what a man ought to be.
Jane Austen; sexuality; body; the gaze; gender; performativity; visuality; masculinity; Pride and Prejudice; Novel of Sensibility; Man of Feeling; feminist theory; psychoanalytic theory; Mary Wollstonecraft; Edmund Burke