Feb 28 2011 12:00pm

Report from Jane’s World: Henry Tilney, Beta Prototype?

Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey (with puppies!)When Catherine Morland, the heroine of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, first meets our hero, Henry Tilney, he launches almost immediately into a discussion of muslin:

They were interrupted by Mrs. Allen: ‘My dear Catherine,’ said she, ‘do take this pin out of my sleeve; I am afraid it has torn a hole already; I shall be quite sorry if it has, for this is a favourite gown, though it cost but nine shillings a yard.’

‘That is exactly what I should have guessed it, madam,’ said Mr. Tilney, looking at the muslin.

‘Do you understand muslins, sir?’

‘Particularly well; I always buy my own cravats, and am allowed to be an excellent judge; and my sister has often trusted me in the choice of a gown. I bought one for her the other day, and it was pronounced to be a prodigious bargain by every lady who saw it. I gave but five shillings a yard for it, and a true Indian muslin.’

Is this any way to dazzle a young lady at a ball? Granted, Catherine's chaperone, Mrs. Allen is suitably impressed, but wouldn't it be better to talk knowledgeably of horseflesh and dueling, or perhaps gambling and spitting or other manly pursuits? I mean, what kind of a hero begins a courtship with talk of muslin? Well, he's probably a Beta Hero. The Alpha Hero (think Mr. Darcy) is standing in a corner of the ballroom, looking disgruntled about the necessity of being there and not at all interested in dancing, let alone what the ladies' gowns are made of. Our lovely Beta is engaging in conversation that will endear him to the young lady for the rest of her life. And, if he is, indeed, the hero and not the charming sidekick, he will not have to experience a painful change of character in order to fall deeply in love with the heroine and live happily ever after.

As a Beta Hero, Henry Tilney does not suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder, gambling addiction, distrust of women because of an engagement-gone-wrong, fear of commitment, or the need to sleep with anything in a skirt. He is not secretly a spy for England or trying steal back a family heirloom that has been purloined by a nefarious relative. His mother was not a whore and his father, although not a particularly nice person, did not lock him in the attic until he was old enough to be sent away to school. In short, no baggage. That's the way we like our Betas.

Although Henry is not above teasing his sister, he treats her with unfailing courtesy and good humor. He reads novels and takes long walks in the country. He raises puppies and takes the time to arrange his home so that Catherine will be comfortable when she visits. When Catherine is ill-used by Henry's father and sent home by post without explanation, Henry takes her part and immediately sets out to right the wrong (and propose marriage as long as he's in the neighborhood).

Henry Tilney is the man we all want to marry. He'll treat us well, give us a comfortable home, stand up for us when we are mistreated, and take us shopping for muslin. Who could ask for more than this?

I really don't know if there Beta Heroes before Henry Tilney. I will not categorically state that he was the first, only that he was my first Beta and possibly the prototype for other Regency Betas. And what a prototype. As a dear friend so aptly puts it, “Henry Tilney. Hubba, hubba.”


Myretta Robens, The Republic of

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
You almost have me sold, but--I'm still not giving up my Alpha.
Jennifer Savage
2. JenSavage
Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Austen novels. Never thought of Henry Tilney in that way. I love beta heroes. Alphas have gotten so alpha lately that the supposedly 'kick-ass' heroine has to secretly be a wuss and lose fights against the baddies so he can look good, always give in to him (or run away and give in to him later). A yucky dynamic.
Sheila Littleton
3. Sheila Littleton
Sorry, but I still love my A-Male heroes - because we meet so few of them in RL - and those who turn out to have a wide streak of chivalry buried beneath the chutzpah and machismo are my favourites :)
Liz Maverick
4. Liz Maverick
I don't think I've EVER met an Alpha in real life who was as good as the ones we read about.
Sheila Littleton
5. elleoneiram
I entirely agree with your friend. Ah, Henry Tilney, I think you are my favorite of Jane Austen heroes. He has a great sense of humor, but I do think he also has a bit of an edge. Even though his father isn't a psychopath (as far as I know), he is not a good man, and neither is Henry's brother. Henry is an acute observer of human nature. Though he can be patronizing towards Catherine, he also challenges her by raising questions about society, gender roles, and what genuinely interests her. What a guy.
romance reader
6. bookstorecat
Such a funny post. I laughed, I smiled, I clapped my hands in glee. YES! Nice, normal guys are so underrated. I think I may have watched Northanger Abbey* almost as many times as my fave Pride&Prejudice. Who are some of your favorite Betas? Personally, I heart Colin Bridgerton.

*the one with JJ Feild & Felicity Jones, please
Myretta Robens
7. Myretta
I thought JJ Feild was a great Henry Tilney. And I certainly agree that Colin Bridgerton was a wonderful Beta Hero.

My favorites include two of Loretta Chase's Carsingtons: Rupert from Mr. Impossible and Alistair from Miss Wonderful. And how about Mick from Judith Ivory's The Proposition? Oh my goodness, Harry Braxton from Connie Brockway's As you Desire. And, on the subject of Connie Brockway, Avery from My Dearest Enemy.

There are lots of Betas in Traditional Regency. Most of Carla Kelly's heros (and I love most of them). Roddy Kempthorne from Nancy Butler's The Ramshackle Suitor. Of Mary Balogh's heroes, Lord Carew from Lord Carew's Bride springs to mind. But he's certainly not alone.

You appear to have opened a floodgate with this question. I'm sure if I sat here for another ten minutes I could come up with many more.
romance reader
8. bookstorecat
I've actually had the samples of Miss Wonderful and Mr. Impossible in my nook for awhile, but I hadn't gotten around to reading them. Definitely will check them out now.
Myretta Robens
9. Myretta
@bookstorecat, Do check out Miss Wonderful and Mr. Impossible. They're both teriffic book, and you'll want to take the hereoes home with you.
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