Friday, May 18, 2012

The Darcy Legacy: Why We Love Mr. Darcy, Part II

Colin Firth, as Mr. Darcy in 1995
 In the prior post, I discussed the plot of Pride and Prejudice briefly, and gave my opinion about the reasons behind Darcy's social awkwardness.  However, as Darcy is such a literary icon, I felt as if I had barely touched upon this great romantic hero who has endured in the hearts of women for nearly two centuries!  (published in 1813, mind you.)

The legacy of Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen fame has spawned numerous movies, many of which I mentioned in the previous post.  In this post I wanted to discuss Darcy as an enduring literary character. Pride & Prejudice (P&P) has become a timeless classic, often used in high schools by brave lit teachers in order to pass the joy on to another generation.

What is the literary legacy of Fitzwilliam Darcy, owner of Pemberley, Gentleman extraordinaire?

Why doe he endure as a timeless romantic hero?  Why can we buy Mr. Darcy dolls, for pity's sake. Don't believe me?  Have a peek here.   Mr. Darcy action figure?

One observation for his enduring quality is that Mr. Darcy could be considered one of the original Alpha Male prototypes for the modern romance novel genre.  He was invented by Jane Austen in the mid 1790's, as that is when she wrote the rough draft of the novel, originally named  "First Impressions". Jane Austen's fictional character of Darcy is a man we admire, loathe and can't seem to get enough of, based on the number of tribute novels on the market these days, everything from Pride & Prejudice and Zombies to Mr. Darcy Vampyre.  (I'll leave a nice list for the curious to peruse at the end of this post. My point is this: we can't get enough of Darcy, and as Jane Austen didn't write any further novels with he and Elizabeth in them, we are left with a few brief pages of the pair in marital bliss after a whole novel of them being at odds with one another.  But alas, dear reader, we are not left bereft of our cherished couple, for everyone, it seems wants to write a novel depicting these two characters. 

Getting back to the Alpha Male Factor:
The term alpha male is typically used when discussing wolves. We all know the alpha is the dominate male of a pack, whom the other wolves obey and solicit the favor of.  You don't want to piss of the alpha, or he'll drive you away from the pack, you'll become a social pariah if you do. He decides where we hunt, where we eat, who gets what cut, and so forth. 

In romance author and reader discussion forums, an alpha male is pretty much the same thing, the dominant male in the group, usually the hero of the story. I'm not sure when this term was first coined for romance novels, but just the term "Alpha Male" sets feminine hearts beating faster and pulses racing in any room. I've listened to seminars at the Romance Writers of America conferences devoted to discussing the attributes of the Alpha Male Hero, so trust me on this one, an alpha male hero is a romance staple.

What about Darcy as an alpha male? As an alpha romantic lead, he has it all. He is rich, and with that wealth comes a great deal of power. Noted, he's not a lord, not a duke or an earl, as oft is the case with modern regency romances. Also, Darcy has a commanding presence. When he's in the room, he seems to dominate it without really trying, another alpha male characteristic we romance writers like to talk about. Darcy isn't trying to dominate, mind you, but he just seems to have this presence that puts those about him in awe of him, even his best friend, Bingley does what Darcy deems best, even dumping poor Jane because Darcy doesn't approve of her.

In romance literature, an alpha male typically takes care of things. He's the guy who is going to get it done, period. He won't ask permission of anyone, he won't hold a meeting to solicit opinions or start a focus group to determine the best course of action, he just does what needs to be done, fixes the problem on his own. In many romances this means rescuing the heroine from some peril, often a villain or bad situation. Again, we have Mr. Darcy doing just that. No, he doesn't go out and slay a dragon or challenge some cad to a duel, but he does save the heroine's family, just the same.

Recall that when he learns that Elizabeth's 15 year old sister has run off with a rake, Darcy goes searching for them. He tells no one, but as he loves Elizabeth and cannot bear to see her suffer, he goes after the Rake and forces him to marry Lydia, thereby saving Lydia's reputation as well as the entire Bennett family's. He does it secretly and with great conviction and determination. He swears Elizabeth's uncle to secrecy, seeking no praise or reward for his gallant deed. In fact, he's content to let Elizabeth's uncle take the credit for orchestrating the marriage. If that isn't swoon worthy, I don't know what is. A hero saving his love's family from social ruin. Darcy could have merely turned his nose up in disdain, and given the Bennetts the cut direct in future social gatherings. Except that he is deeply in love with her, and as a staunch alpha male, he's going to swoop in and save his beloved in whatever means is at his disposal. 

This is part of the Darcy Legacy. Darcy has strong Alpha traits that are recognizable in modern romance culture, and I believe this is one reason why we love Mr. Darcy and why he continues to endure as a romantic icon. 

Here is the list I promised
Many modern writers have been so in love with the story of Darcy and Elizabeth that they have written stories depicting the couple in their happily ever after, with children and intrigues and so forth. This list is not exhaustive, just a starting point for P&P lovers who want to continue the story:
  • Death Comes to Pemberley, P. D. James, 2011. Intriguing tale with Lydia Wickham crashing an annual ball at Pemberley in hysterics, claiming her husband has been murdered, sending Darcy and Elizabeth into the middle of a murder mystery. A very good murder mystery read. 
  • A Darcy Christmas, Amanda Grange, Sharon Lanthan, & Carolyn Eberhart, 2010. 
  • Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, an immortal sequel to Pride & Prejudice, Amanda Grange, 2009. Haven't read this one, but I intend to!
  • Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith, 2009. I haven't read this, but friends who have enjoyed it immensely, so I added it to the list.
  • Pemberley Shades, A lightly Gothic tale of Mer. and Mrs. Darcy,  D.A. Bonivia Hunt, 1914. Reprinted by Sourcebooks in 2008. I have read this one. It is very good. Dark, Moody, Gothic. 
  • The Darcys & The Bingleys, Pride & Prejudice continues, Marsha Altman, 2008.  I have read this one and loved it. It will go on my DIK shelf to be enjoyed again and again. It's a wonderful story with all the characters revisted, along with Darcy and Bingley comparing notes on Darcy's copy of Kama Sutra!  A very entertaining read. 
  • Also by Altman: Mr. Darcy's Great Escape, & The Darcy Brothers.
  • The Darcys Give A Ball,  Elizabeth Newark, originally published 1997, reprinted in 2008
  • Mr. Darcy's Daughters,  Elizabeth Aston, 2003. Aston has several other Darcy stories.
  • Darcy's Story, by Janet Aylmer, 2006. A retelling of P & P from Darcy's point of view.
  • Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Sharon Lathan, 2009.
  • Also by Sharon Lathan:  Loving Mr. Darcy, 2009  & The Darcys at Years End, 2008. She has many books on Darcy if you're looking for a Mr. Darcy Series. 


P O Dixon said...

I enjoyed reading such a befitting description of Mr. Darcy. He is, by far, my favorite literary hero/alpha male.

Great Post!

Lily Silver said...

Thank you for reading. He is a wonderful romantic icon.

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