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jane austen

Austen is very insistent about the brown and very brown complexion and the special beauty of her heroines. There can be no doubt that she is writing about brown, very brown and black skinned persons belonging to the gentry and aristocracy. Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park (1814) is ‘absolutely plain, black and plain.’ His description can be compared to the Moor, always a Classical African, in many eighteen-century scenes by painter Wiiliam Hogarth (1697-1764), which show a Moor in the middle of a noble assembly.

The Moor, often disguised as a servant, is one symbol of blue blood, and informs us about the true looks and high birth of the company. In Northanger Abbey (1818) two women talk about there favourite complexion in a man: ‘dark or fair.’ This is answered as: ‘I hardly know. I never much thought about it. Something between both, I think. Brown—not fair, and not very dark.’ The other woman prefers light eyes and likes ‘a sallow better then any other.’

Marianna Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility (1811) is Austen’s heroine who is ‘so lovely,’ ‘uncommonly brilliant’ and a delightful beauty: ‘that when, in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged then usually happens.’ But only after all this staggering praise we are told that: ‘Her skin was very brown.’

The most famous of Austen’s heroines, Eliza Bennet from Pride and Prejudice (1813) is described deprecatingly by her rival in love, Miss Caroline Bingley, as: ‘grown brown and coarse’ and ‘her complexion has no brilliancy.’ However, Mr. Darcy, their love interest; does not find any fault in any of that but perceives her as ‘rather tanned’ because of her ‘traveling in summer.’ From The Watsons, we learn about its heroine Emma Watson: ‘Her skin was very brown, but clear, smooth, and glowing.

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