Ladies, Austenites, and fellow romantics, I think we have a problem. It’s Mr. Darcy. I felt the need to make this controversial, grand-sweeping statement due to evidence that Darcy may just be another ordinary guy. Do not click off this page in anger. Instead consider Darcy’s insults, back handed compliments, inability to communicate effectively, and his complete lack of social intelligence, and you may begin to understand what I am talking about.
We buy our “I heart Darcy” t-shirts, and reblog posts on Tumblr claiming we are waiting for Darcy to find us. Our commitment to a fictional character could be construed as impressive loyalty, however it is really just delusional as Darcy does not exist. This commitment is made more ridiculous when we consider the impact popular culture has made on how we view Darcy as an ideal love interest. Arguably, everyone’s favourite man in tights has fallen prey to intense glorification, placing him on a pedestal so high, that no one, including Darcy himself, can meet it. Darcy-crazed individuals, do not hate me for saying this: I am one of you. I was raised watching BBC miniseries and classic adaptations. Sense and Sensibility (sobs) and Pride and Prejudice gave me my first lessons in history, love and feisty heroines. It was unavoidable that I, like the rest of the world, would see Colin Firth’s characterisation of Mr. Darcy as the ultimate romantic goal.
However, this was not to be borne. My blissful view of Mr. Darcy as an unproblematic male lead came to an end when I reread Pride and Prejudice last year. I was 23, and the last time I read the book I was 16. It is fair to say that my approach to the text was very different the second time round. The first time, I was flipping through the pages frantically searching for Lizzie/Darcy dialogue and I was largely disinterested in the rest of the novel. Aware of the shortcomings of this method, I decided to reread the book seven years later. I did so with the intention of reading it as if I had no prior attachment to the characters and with my own experiences concerning love and boys (ugh) to ground my idealisations of the romantic facets of the story.
What resulted was a more well-rounded view of Mr. Darcy.
Here is a question for you: What do we actually know about Darcy? Fitzwilliam Darcy is more or less a mystery for most of the novel, and what we do know about him, does not recommend him as a soul mate. The quest countless women embark on to find their Darcy may be attributable to this lack of information. The individual can decide what Darcy is like for themselves. Allowing them to turn every man they meet into a potential candidate. Darcy enthusiasts are free to imagine themselves breaking down a man’s less desirable traits through their witticisms, “fine brown eyes,” and love, to release the happier version of him formerly held within.
Not many of us consciously set out with these goals in mind. However, the danger in obsessing over this story means that we may be idealising this sort of romance.
When we first meet Mr. Darcy, he is looming over Meryton hall, casting judgment on the chaotic display before him. He refuses to dance and insults Lizzie. His arrogance and dickhead persona take centre stage right from the start. Why then do we snigger at Darcy and excuse this behaviour? Should we not be swooning over Mr. Bingley instead? After all, he is the pinnacle of social grace and personality. Maybe the reason why we are so ready to see the humour in Mr. Darcy’s grumpiness and melancholia is because we know the ending: deep down Mr. Darcy loves Lizzie, proposes, tells her his greatest secret and kinda saves the day for the five Bennet sisters.
When we swoon at the mention of Darcy we conflate his redeeming qualities and love for Lizzie which is free from pride, with the Darcy we meet at the beginning of the novel. We fall into a trap where any man who is mean and rude “must really love me deep down, he will bare his soul in a beautiful hand written letter after I reject him. Eventually he will show me his merry, gracious side and I will accept him gladly.” The truth is, most people who are disagreeable, are just disagreeable. By overlooking this behaviour, and thinking you are participating in Darcy and Lizzie-like banter you may end up with someone who is not that nice.
There is good reason why Lizzie rejects Darcy when he proposes for the first time. He is awful. Imagine if your best friend went out with a guy who called her “barely tolerable” and was so self-assured he had list of qualities that constituted an “accomplished woman?” I bet you would tell her to dump him. It is for this reason Austen ensures Darcy undergoes a transformation which makes him more likeable. His transformation from an arrogant, antisocial gentleman, to someone more comfortable showing his true feelings and kindness is one of the reasons why we enjoy this story. If Lizzie had accepted Darcy in the beginning, she would have accepted a man who had never said a nice word to her or anyone else of her acquaintance in the time she knew him. Darcy’s transformation impresses us all because it is genuine. Darcy demonstrates he is capable of growth and learning from his mistakes. He is not stagnant. Lizzie also changes, and the two meet in the middle. One person did not do all the changing on behalf of the other. If change does not occur for genuine reasons, and is simply for the sake of winning the girl or boy, both parties may find themselves unhappy in the end with a relationship built around people who do not exist.
So, finding an exact replica of Mr. Darcy might not be the best romantic advice. Finding someone you can bicker with, who is willing to look out for your sisters, looks like Colin Firth, and owns half of Derbyshire is not a bad starting point though. It is best to leave Darcy and Lizzie as they are, as flawed fictional characters who are better together when they get their happy ending. We can sit by, watch or read, as the misunderstandings, pride, and prejudice play a part in their romance (which is why it is so entertaining), but hope, that it plays no part in our own.