A light-hearted look at why Mr. Darcy Pride And Prejudice has become such a romantic hero for the 21st century!
By J.A Horrocks.
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In the literary world of Jane Austen there is a very decent standard of leading men, we can choose from Emma's Mr Knightley to Anne Elliot's Captain Wentworth but there is one who surpasses all others. No prIzes for guessing that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is that man, or just Mr. Darcy will do! We first meet him in the pages of Pride & Prejudice Chapter 3 paragraph 4 with the line "and another young man". Quite an unremarkable description for the hero of the story and a character who will eventually through many filmed adaptations become one of the most romantic leading men of our time, and in the next paragraph Jane's wit and understated sense of irony leaves us in no doubt that this 'young man' will be one to watch -
"Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year".
Well wealth and good looks are always of particular importance in the pursuit of romance and £10,000 a year, approx. £700,000 a year today(!) was not to be sniffed at by the young ladies of Meryton. Jane Austen often references in all her novels that marriage between two people should be for their mutual benefit, whether it be for comfort and companionship, purely financial and in the best cases for love.
"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.", quotes Charlotte Lucas, whose choice of partner for life we know is a rather dubious one but prevents her from living the life of a spinster and becoming a burden on her family.
Mr. Darcy appears as such a pompous, rude man on his arrival in Meryton, he seemed to do nothing but insult his new acquaintances. When urged to dance by his friend Mr. Bingley he replies that he shall certainly not dance - "At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable." and when Elizabeth Bennet is pointed out as possible dance partner he again voices his opinion too clearly and too loudly;
"She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men."
The only favourable side to him would be that received from the reflected glory of his close friend Mr. Bingley whose charming and sociable manner impressed everyone and made him a very welcome addition to the neighbourhood. There must be some quality about his friend Mr. Darcy which was missing on first acquaintance.
"On the strength of Darcy's regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgement the highest opinion.... Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared, Darcy was continually giving offence."
In "Pride & Prejudice" we see the transformation of Darcy's character at first so aloof and private to a more relaxed and honest man who finally realises that his behaviour was not gentlemanly at all in fact some of his comments were rather offensive.
The story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, now so well known has catapulted the two lovers to the ranks of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or Emily Bronte's Heathcliffe and Catherine. However it is Darcy himself who has managed such a fan base that today you can purchase a variety of gifts and clothing all Darcy related.
The attraction of Mr.Darcy and the ensuing Darcymania is due in no small part to Colin Firth's portrayal in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice in 1995. A brilliant cast with Andrew Davies' wonderful screenplay. Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy - proud, reserved and brooding with his apparent superiority to all around him captivated many more ladies than a certain Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Watched by nearly 10 million viewers it was Sunday evening entertainment at its best - there was nowhere else to be for a devoted Jane Austen fan, children to bed, glass of wine - perfection! We were treated to scenes of Darcy in the bath and the now so very famous swimming in the lake scene only to bump straight into Lizzie Bennet practically wearing his underwear, embarrassment all around! All scenes manufactured to spice up the love story but not remaining true to the novel.
The Mr. Darcy we see on the page is a reserved and shy gentleman who always appears a very quiet slightly remote character. As with all of Jane's novels a female character is always the focus of the scene, we never see the gentlemen's true feelings until a lady is present. While staying at Rosings he makes time to visit Elizabeth on numerous occasions - or just happens to bump into her while out walking. All these meetings provide a small hint of what his true feelings may be, unfortunately these sentiments are not shared by the lady he admires. When he finally decides to share his feelings ;
"In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Elizabeth is completely shocked and surprised and having heard of his interference with Jane and Mr. Bingley and his previous insulting comments towards herself is determined to reject his offer at once.
There have been a variety of Mr. Darcy's brought to the screen, Matthew Macfadyen in the 2005 film version portrayed the snobbish Mr. Darcy as a more quieter shy young man, his attraction to Elizabeth shown subtly when she departs Netherfield after Jane's illness, and their later dance together at Bingley's ball. He had to follow Colin Firth's portrayal - not an easy task, but we are given a new gentler Darcy where we can almost sympathise with him after Elizabeth's heated rejection.
In 1940 Hollywood created its first version of "Pride & Prejudice" - "when pretty girls t-e-a-s-e-d men into marriage" was the tag line! As usual Hollywood losing the (Jane Austen) plot and selling the movie with the formulaic route of boy meets girl and girl desperate to marry (anybody)! It starred Greer Garson playing a quite formidable Elizabeth Bennet and Sir Laurence Olivier as Darcy - who else at that time could be cast as Mr. Darcy? He definitely provided gravitas to a rather chocolate box production.
While studying this novel at school in 1979 for 'O'-level, the BBC brought out their fifth adaptation of "Pride & Prejudice" with David Rintoul as Mr. Darcy, some school girl crushes occurred even then! This version has now been eclipsed by the latest BBC Andrew Davies version, but was a not to be missed series in its day.
It is always Mr. Darcy's character that is his attraction and after many differing versions we are as much in love with him as ever! We will always wonder whether Jane herself had met such a man and based this character on him or was he created purely from her imagination. Whatever the reasons or ideas we can only say thank-you for creating such an enjoyable romantic character.