He is literature's most eligible bachelor: handsome, wealthy, and the inspiration for countless romantic spin-offs in the last 200 years.

Fans of the brooding Mr Darcy, then, may wish to look away now.

Leading academics have researched how Jane Austen's character was likely to have looked, and the results are a far cry from the tall, dark and handsome leading man fans may have imagined.

In fact, a real-life Mr Darcy of his day was more likely to have a long nose, pointed chin, powdered white hair and a pale complexion, according to historians. The team, led by Professor John Sutherland, have unveiled what they claim to be the "first historically accurate portrait" of Mr Darcy.

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They did so by looking into the "scraps" of description that Austen provided.

Austen's relationships and the men who may have inspired her character, and the socio-economic, cultural and lifestyle factors of the time were also factored in by the experts.

Her romances have been well-documented over the centuries, with possible influences including John Parker, the 1st Earl of Morley, and Thomas Lefroy.

Both men sported powdered hair and had long youthful faces with pale complexions.

Other noblemen at the time, including Horatio Nelson, Leveson Gower and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, all had similar features and were considered the pin-ups and sex symbols of their time.

The team subsequently concluded that, unlike Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen's depictions of Mr Darcy, the character would have had slender, sloping shoulders and a modestly-sized chest. A muscular chest and broad shoulders would have been the sign of a labourer, not a gentleman.

His powdered mid-length white hair would frame a long oval face and small mouth, a long nose, a pointy chin and a pale complexion. Large thighs and calves completed the look, while, at around 5ft 11in, the fictional character was slightly smaller than the stars who have played him.

A drawing of how Mr Darcy may have looked according to a study commissioned by UKTV channel Drama, broadcast in a television show for the February 2017 Jane Austen season. Photo / UKTV
A drawing of how Mr Darcy may have looked according to a study commissioned by UKTV channel Drama, broadcast in a television show for the February 2017 Jane Austen season. Photo / UKTV

Presenter Amanda Vickery, professor of early modern history at Queen Mary University of London, who also worked on the research, said: "Mr Darcy is an iconic literary character, renowned for his good looks, charm and mystery.

"As Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in the 1790s, our Mr Darcy portrayal reflects the male physique and common features at the time.

"Men sported powdered hair, had narrow jaws and muscular, defined legs were considered very attractive. A stark contrast to the chiselled, dark, brooding Colin Firth portrayal we associate the character with today, which has been sexed up with a turbo-charged injection of testosterone and steamy romance," she says.

Sutherland, who is the Lord Northcliffe professor emeritus of modern English literature at University College London, added: "There are only scraps of physical description of Fitzwilliam Darcy to be found in Pride and Prejudice.

"He is our most mysterious and desirable leading man of all time. What's fantastic about Jane Austen's writing is that Mr Darcy is both of the era and timeless."

The research was commissioned by TV channel Drama to celebrate its Jane Austen season. Portraits to show what the fictional character would have looked like have been created by illustrator Nick Hardcastle.