Deborah Yaffe

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Mr. Darcy's six-pack

By Deborah Yaffe, May 7 2015 01:00PM

The British actor Matthew Macfadyen – whom many Janeites remember fondly as Darcy in the 2005 feature-film version of Pride and Prejudice – has posed a daunting philosophical conundrum for those of us who enjoy ogling a guy in a wet shirt, or in no shirt at all.


Is there such a thing as a hunk who’s too hunky?


In a recent interview with the UK’s Radio Times magazine (apparently not available online, but reported here and here), Macfadyen describes the diet-and-fitness regimen required for actors appearing in period drama.


“You do the deal and then the personal trainer gets in touch,” he said. “When I see it on screen, it immediately smacks of vanity because I know what’s happened. They’ve been doing crunches, 50,000 press-ups before breakfast, and a character in a period drama wouldn’t have done that. Darcy would have been quite fit, because he rode horses and all that stuff, but if I ripped off my shirt to show a six-pack. . . well, that’s a gym thing.”


Personally, I’d suspect that the farm laborers on Darcy’s estate were pretty ripped, given all the plowing and hay-baling they had to do without benefit of electricity. And in addition to all that riding, Regency gentlemen kept in shape with dancing, boxing and fencing – or so I gather from my extensive research in the Regency romance genre.


But did those activities yield the sculpted torsos that define today’s masculine ideal? I invite comment from readers whose expertise on physical fitness derives from sources other than Regency romances.


I fear, though, that Macfadyen may well be correct in his analysis of exercise through the ages, and this suggests a terrible dilemma for those of us who want our costume drama flavored with a dollop of historical accuracy. Must we trade the lusty delights of the six-pack for more rational pleasures? Do we have a Lydia-vs.-Lizzy situation here?


I fear I know exactly what Jane Austen would say.


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