Recently I purchased a Groupon to Barnes and Noble that was set to expire on April 10th so I figured last Sunday was a good time to go redeem it. When I bought the thing I had been hoping that I would come across a book that I just had to have and would be able to spend the twenty dollars I received at the store when I forked over my ten. But that didn’t happen, and what resulted was me wandering through the aisles of the Fiction & Literature section for about an hour. I end with Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, which I had not read, and a book I’d never heard of but was called Special Topics in Calamity Physics (love it so far). But neither of these novels are the thing that struck me as I wandered to and fro back and forth.
Do you, humble reader, have any idea how many books there are about Mr. Darcy? The original Pride and Prejudice, of course, along with it’s many parodies (including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) but also Me and Mr. Darcy, A Wife for Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, The Trouble with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, Only Mr. Darcy Will Do, To Have His Cake (And Eat it Too): Mr. Darcy’s Tale, What He Would Not Do – Mr. Darcy’s Tale Continues, The Truth About Mr. Darcy, Loving Mr. Darcy – Tales Beyond Pemberley, My Dearest Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s Obession, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World, To Conquer Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, Seducing Mr. Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, Mr. Darcy’s Secret, What Would Mr. Darcy Do?, Mr. Darcy Vampyre, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s Daughter…. I could go on, but I wont.
There are so many that one could probably tuck themselves up in bed for a few months and do nothing but read books that starred Mr. Darcy. It’s not as if this is a new idea; women love Darcy, and certainly he’s a very good character and probably a pretty good guy, but I still for the life of me can not fathom why so many women have latched him to their ideals, hopes, and, yes, dreams. Do not get me wrong, I enjoy Darcy immensely. I think that the repartee between he and Elizabeth is near magical and that they certainly find their matches in each other. I think that they are fitting to each other’s styles and moods. And I think that their initial prejudices only improve their story. But you may notice that there is something I include heavily in my enjoyment of Darcy, and that’s Elizabeth. Before reading Pride and Prejudice in whatever grade it was required reading I was the sort of person that related to periphery characters, never the lead. But Elizabeth was like a kindred spirit to me because I saw myself in her. Still, it was not the sort of relation that allowed me to insert myself into her story, I could not, and would not, have a crush on Darcy any more than I would ingratiate myself with a friend’s boyfriend. It never crossed my mind. I certainly admired him, liked him, and held him in great esteem but the idea of romanticism (lower case) never crossed my mind. It seems I was in the minority. Especially if judging from the supplemental fiction written about the man.
I have read approximately one of these books. It was the first one I ever came across that mixed Darcy with fiction not written by Miss Austen and it was entitled Me and Mr. Darcy. It was about a single woman who joined a tour of England that consisted of her, a man she dislikes immediately, and a bunch of old ladies. She’s bemoaning her luck when she parts from the crowd and meets Mr. Darcy, yes, the real Mr. Darcy who, charmed (in a way I never considered Darcyish) by her modern sensibilities and whisks her away in a week’s worth of romance. But of course she’s half convinced she’s insane and eventually comes to the realization that her Mr. Darcy is the guy she disliked from the beginning who, obviously, turned out to be sweet, charming, and far more interesting than Elizabeth’s version. I thought it was just okay.
But this isn’t necessarily left just to print. Lost in Austen, a British television miniseries that starred Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price, a relatively bored modern Londoner who discovers, when Elizabeth Bennett appears in her bathroom, that there’s a small door that transports her into Pride and Prejudice. Given her sudden appearance and the disappearance of Miss Elizabeth she has to struggle to keep the story on line despite her modern outlook on things and, of course, a debilitating crush on Mr. Darcy.
The Westernized Bollywood film, Bride and Prejudice, reworks the story to fit an Indian woman, played by the always stunning Aishwarya Rai, who clashes at first with an American hotel mogul, Will Darcy, before circumstances similar to Austen’s work prove Darcy to be a man worthy of Rai’s feisty Lalita.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, also, is little more than a modern reworking and love letter to Darcy, though this time; Mark Darcy. It was, in fact, the book that made me realize that this Darcy obsession existed.
But why are so many women smitten with a fictional character that behaves like an ass at first impressions and would have lived in the eighteen hundreds if he’d ever lived at all? I’ve broken Darcy’s Attractive Attributes into easily understandable categories [I am presupposing here that the readers is at least acquainted with Miss Austen’s great work]:
Finally, the act that wins over Elizabeth and the audience once and for all is when Lydia Bennett has run away with a man to whom she’s not married, Wickham of course, essentially, or potentially, ruining herself (a fact that she never seems to grasp even when everything is said and done). The Bennett’s are horrified, as could only be expected. Elizabeth is in tears, but also visiting with relatives near Pemberly, Darcy’s home accrued through family and ten thousand pounds a year. Darcy’s relationship to Wickham is hardly a positive one; the latter was taken in as ward to the elder Mr. Darcy and raised along side Darcy and sister Georgiana. When the elder Mr. Darcy died Wickham was granted a large sum to do with as he pleased, which he squandered before returning for more. When he was denied he absconded with Georgiana, promising her love and marriage with no intention of doing so. Georgiana is recovered, her heart broken, and by throwing money at the problem Wickham disappears from the scene. So basically, this is the second time this has happened. Darcy hates Wickham and Wickham holds resentment for Darcy. But since Darcy’s such a good guy and because he so unquestionably loves Elizabeth, even though she’s basically shot him down before, he fixes the problem by tracking down the lovers and bribing that cad Wickham into marrying the second youngest Bennett daughter, erasing the indiscretion and sealing her future as the wife of an ass. Which is better than being no wife at all. I think the reason why this is appealing probably goes to the heart of the fact that sometimes women want to be rescued. They would never say so, and would probably deny the fact if it were presented in front of them, but it’s true to a degree. Not in the prince charming way, but rather in the way that it’s nice to know when they’re (or someone they love) is in trouble, someone cares enough to help.
Given the circumstances of Austen’s novel it’s not hard to see why anyone would want Darcy (besides our headstrong heroine, of course, which is why we’re glad when she gets him) given his ten thousand pounds a year. A substantially larger amount than, also wealthy, Bingley’s five thousand pounds a year. The five is enough to keep Bingley situated both in town (read: London) and the country estate of Netherfield, living comfortably, having balls (…that’s the say dances), and never needing to worry about money. Obviously, in this day and age, five thousand pounds is a rather paltry sum but keep things in perspective. Darcy, like his friend, is a gentleman of property. However, Pemberley, Darcy’s home, is situated further away from the madding crowd and is pretty ridiculous in terms of houses. It has a grand park and people go to the home and are able to tour it (as Elizabeth does later in the book not realizing that the man of the house is at home). For the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen they used Lyme Park in Cheshire for filming:
That’s enough to get any country or city girl going. Which is probably why he’s…
Hard to Get:
Darcy’s wealth is unquestionably one of the main reasons he’d be considered a good catch. When Bingley moves into Netherfield, nearby the Bennett’s Longbourne (a much more modest residence), the meddling Mrs. Bennett nearly has a coronary over the excitement of a potential husband for one of her girls. She knows the residents and how much money they have through each year before she’s even met them. One can imagine similar scenes being played out wherever Bingley goes. So we can imagine that should, say, his friend who has twice the money would have twice the girls throwing themselves at his feet. It’s not really all that difficult to understand why he may be a bit guarded on first meeting. But women love a challenge, and Darcy is that. Sure, once you get to know him better you might discover that he’s less bristly and more charmant but that may be after he insults you and your family behind your back.
Through all the personal ups and downs the reader learns about Darcy as the novel progresses there is one thing that has always been true. Darcy’s not one for romantic entanglements that he does not mean to follow through, but he is a pretty stellar brother. And the testimony of Georgiana is one of the things that sways Elizabeth in his favor. It is also to protect his friend, Bingley, that he temporarily screws over Elizabeth’s sister, Jane Bennett, who has always played it a bit cool. He explains, before finding his friend and solving the problem, that the only reason he swayed Bingley from marrying Jane was that he doubted the eldest Bennett sister’s affections. His final act of heroism that wins over Elizabeth’s affections in the end is to protect someone he’s grown to love. At this point in the story he has no reason to hope that Elizabeth should change her mind about him so we can imagine it’s not selfish reasons that propel him into saving the entire Bennett clan from social ruin, yet he does so because he cares for Elizabeth and has undoubtedly gained affection for her whole ridiculous family. Basically, he’s the sort that will go above and beyond to protect those he cares about, and there’s not any woman who wouldn’t like that.
In the end, I suppose I understand this universal infatuation with Fitzwilliam Darcy but I can’t say that I share the same sentiments. He’s an incredibly well written character in what could only be described as Austen’s seminal work, but he would never be the male Austen character that drew my attentions. May I suggest some alternatives? How about Mr. Knightley (probably my pick) the childhood friend, who grows into something more, to Austen’s titular character of Emma Woodhouse? Or perhaps Edward Ferrars, the somewhat soft spoken man of property who strives to do the right thing even when it’s not to his own benefit in Sense and Sensibility? Or even better, Colonel Brandon, the somewhat Darcyish older gentleman who eventually earns the heart of Marianne Dashwood who’s lacking sense but has loads of the latter? There’s no one I find appealing in either Northanger Abbey or Persuasion or, oh god, Mansfield Park, so we’ll just leave those be. I like Darcy, I do, but not any more than any of Austen’s other brilliantly portrayed characters.