This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.
My character for this week is Henry Tilney, the leading man in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. While Mr. Knightley from Emma has always been my favorite Austen hero, he is followed very closely by Henry Tilney, and, depending on my mood, I sometimes would rather have Mr. Tilney as a friend and companion over Mr. Knightley.
Henry Tilney is in his mid-twenties and described as "rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it." He is witty, clever and can be quite sarcastic. One thing he is not is a typical romantic hero - he not only is not quite handsome, but he also reads gothic novels and knows his muslin. Now can you imagine Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Colonel Brandon, or Mr. Knightley discussing the Mysteries of Udolpho or a good bargain on a yard of muslin?
This may be one of the reasons that many Austen fans find Tilney not to be as swoonworthy as the other gentlemen listed above. Another, in my opinion, is that while these other heroes fall madly in love with their heroines and struggle with jealousy and repressed passion, we do not see Henry go through this whole spectrum of intense emotions. It was Catherine Morland who first fell in love with Tilney though he soon reciprocated her feelings wholeheartedly. So secure is Tilney of Catherine's feelings that he barely displays a hint of jealousy at the sight of the odious John Thorpe, and never really has to repress any passion on his part.
All this, however, does not make Tilney any less of a hero than Austen's other men. He is a good brother, devoted to his sister Eleanor, genuinely fond of Catherine and is able to see through her naive and artless behavior and recognize the goodness within. He is aware of the failings of his father the general and his brother the rake, and is able to confront and stand up to his father when necessary. It must be kept in perspective that while Henry Tilney may not have been a good match for Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliott, he was perfect for Catherine Morland.
One aspect of Henry Tilney that makes him particularly attractive to me is his sharp wit, and wry humor. After reading Tilney's speech on the usage of the word "nice", who can but think twice before using this word?
"..and this is a nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! it is a very nice word indeed! - it does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; - people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word."
Henry Tilney has sometimes been referred to as cruel for his teasing of Catherine Morland and his sharp remarks. While it is true that we do not really get to understand his true nature as well as we do with other Austen men, I prefer to rely on Eleanor Tilney's high opinion of and regard for her brother, as she is shown to be a very sensible person. Tilney is sensible, caring, and sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of Catherine. I think I just may choose him over Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth as a suitor - again, only Mr. Knightley will give him a run for his money!
And last but not least, I cannot but be impressed by JJ Feild's performance as Henry Tilney in the 2006 version of Northanger Abbey. He is all I imagined Henry to be!