Jane Austen created the perfect hero when she wrote Mr. Darcy into existence. Handsome and most conveniently rich, he regularly tops lists of reader’s favorite heroes in all of literature. He loves a woman for her wit and intelligence, a woman he first met at a party and readily admitted he found merely “tolerable”, but not beautiful. After getting to know her a bit better, he admires her eyes, but it is clear that the thing he likes about her best is that she knows her own mind and speaks it.
Not only does he fall in love with an exceptional woman, he proves his character by his actions. He does not believe that Jane loves Bingley, so he separates them. This divides a lot of readers, but Darcy is showing his loyalty to his friend above all. He continues to love even after he has been rejected, acting decently and generously instead of with hostility during the surprise encounter with Elizabeth at Pemberley. He saves the Bennet family from ruin by enticing Wickham to marry Lydia. In other words, he fixes things without prompting, without any ulterior motives. He does it because he believes it is the right thing to do.
Jane Austen knows how to write compelling heroes. The thing that sets them apart is that, if you asked Mr. Darcy why he loved Elizabeth (or Henry Tilney why Catherine, and so on), the response would not be a superficial rant about beauty. Rather, there would be discussion about personality and the characteristics that unite to make a perfect couple. As Captain Wentworth said about the heroine of Persuasion, “no one so proper, so capable as Anne.” The heroes and heroines mutually respect and appreciate the unique qualities each side brings to the relationship.
There is no love at first sight in Jane Austen’s novels. Romance is the result of real conversation and understanding instead of irrational passion. I think that is one of the main reasons her books are so beloved and have survived through generations of reading.