This blog could also be titled: For the love of British period films and their leading men.
There’s Mr. Darcy:
And then there’s Gabriel Oak:
Bless the Lord, oh my soul.
Now is a good time to say if you haven’t read or seen Far From the Madding Crowd, 1) you’re ridiculous and should go repent and watch this stellar period film immediately and 2) there are some intense spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
Gabriel Oak. What a man. He’s honest, pulls no punches, speaks with wisdom, is humble and gentle, protective and kind, generous and blunt.
These are some of the reasons so many females love the likes of him and Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley.
They fight. They’re real. They’re valiant. They’re flawed. They’re characterized by words like genuine and authentic and noble. They push their female counterparts to be better than they are, to “do what is right,” and to go further than they dreamed possible for themselves.
They’re courageous, unafraid of women, masculine, dependable, hardworking, sacrificial and self-aware.
I love them for all of those reasons but especially because they see the flaws in the women they love, call them out, but still lean in and commit to them. Regardless of the fiery and independent spirits of the female, the men put themselves out there and fight for good and their woman’s heart.
Just listen to Gabriel Oak talk to Bathsheba:
“I will not tell stories just to please you.”
“Leading on a man you do not care for is beneath you.”
“Your actions were unworthy of you.”
“I believe in you entirely. I don’t believe there is anything you can’t do.”
“I’m not such a fool as to imagine that I might still stand a chance now that you are so above me, but don’t suppose I’m content to stay a nobody all my life. One day I will leave you, you can be sure of that. But for now, I care for you too much to see you go to ruin because of him, so if you don’t mind, I’ll stay by your side.”
Actual swoon. Oh my heart. What excellent character.
He knows Bathsheba’s flaws and insecurities and how fiercely independent she is, and yet he loves her, protects her, fights with and for her, and doesn’t run.
We love these men because we want to believe they exist.
Somewhere in us we want to know we can’t manipulate our way into or out of love. And we want to know somewhere out there is a man who will see our real self and choose us anyway. We crave to be known and loved but doubt the reality of it happening because, well, it’s fiction.
Could authenticity be lived, accepted and chosen by someone we “most ardently admire” and respect?
Could Mr. Darcy exist in real life? Could there be someone who will argue and retort, rebuttal and rebuke, and go to the ends of the earth to protect your propriety and that of your family? Could someone argue like this: “So this is your opinion of me. Thank you for explaining so fully. Perhaps these offences might have been overlooked had not your pride been hurt by my honesty (Elizabeth: My pride?!) in admitting scruples about our relationship…” and still want to marry the woman who rejected, insulted and mocked him?
Could a human like the gentle Mr. Knightley actually be real, call selfish Emma out on her rude behavior (“Badly done, Emma. Badly done.”) and still love her? (One could argue it’s because he loves her he calls her out. He loves her too much to let her hurt others and herself.)
The same is true for Gabriel and Bathsheba (“Leading on a man you do not care for is beneath you.” “Your actions were unworthy of you.”). He refuses to be anything but real with her, making her confront her own authenticity issues and pride, because as great as Bathsheba is, in Mr. Oak we find someone who will not tell her what she wants to hear simply because she wants to hear it. No, that wouldn’t be genuine and Gabriel Oak is too much of a man to allow anything but genuineness.
Authenticity breeds trust and as a byproduct Gabriel becomes Bathsheba’s dependable advisor and steadfast friend. Despite her weaknesses, pride and self-reliance, he doesn’t run.
Even when Bathsheba yells at him, fires (and rehires) him and marries someone else, Gabriel stays. Loyal and trustworthy. Faithful and true. Kind and exhorting. Tender and firm. He sacrificially works and lives and stays by her side “even when the rest of the world was against [her].”
I suppose the qualities we love in Gabriel and the likes of these men are the ones that exemplify the True and Better Husband.
In these heroes we find glimpses of Jesus and our hearts swell because we know.
We know, deep down, we were made for love that is full and deep and rich and raw and real. A love that sacrifices and commits, honors and protects, pushes and prods, knows all and doesn’t run. We long for it.
The undercurrent of all our longings is for all God offers us in Jesus.
Only in Him do we taste the fullness of the love for which we long, the love we so admire in Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy and Knightley and in Thomas Hardy’s fictional Mr. Oak.
Oh, how we love these men. But, oh, how we’re loved by the One who makes them pale in comparison. In Gabriel and Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley and the others, we find but shadows of Jesus’ undefiled love.
May our hearts be redirected to Him, the most manly and tender man who ever lived.