Sunday, May 13, 2012

Why We Love Mr. Darcy

Note the 'brood factor' of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in A&E's Pride and Prejudice
When I was first introduced to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy back in the 1990's, via the beautiful A & E presentation of Pride & Prejudice starring Colin Firth, I did not like him. Really, how many of us would swoon over a man who is so rude that he would speak openly about us with disdain at a local dance where our friends, family and our neighbors can hear his rude comments about our appearance? "She's not handsome enough to tempt me!"

And yet, we love Mr. Darcy.

For the uninitiated, here is a recap of Mr. Darcy's first interaction with our feisty heroine:
Small town girl, Elizabeth Bennett encounters Mr. Darcy at a local ball. She and her sisters are in attendance, and they are excited because there are some newer gentlemen in the neighborhood attending the dance. Mr. Bingley and his friend, Mr. Darcy. These two fellows are dashing, handsome and full of town polish, having just arrived in Meryton from London. Alas, poor Elizabeth overhears Mr. Darcy in conversation with his friend, and to her mortification, they are discussing her! She hears Mr. Bingley exhorting his proud friend to stop being such a prig and dance with the ladies. He even mentions Miss Bennett, as a suitable partner for a dance.  Our plucky Elizabeth cannot help but listen carefully now. But what she hears is enough to insult women throughout the centuries.

"She's not nearly handsome enough to tempt me!" Darcy replies. Further adding insult to injury, the bloke states emphatically that he is in no humor to dance with girls unfortunate enough to lack partners, thereby lumping Elizabeth in with among the wistful wallflowers. So what's the attraction to this ill mannered, spoiled, self important cad? Elizabeth has already set her heart against him at this juncture, yet we have just begun the classic love story.  As heroes go, he's not kind or gallant. He's nasty.

Yet we love Mr. Darcy.

 It gets worse. Mr. Darcy is good friends with Mr. Bingley, an affable young man of means who is attracted to Elizabeth's older sister, Jane. Darcy influences his friend to break off the association, thereby breaking Jane's heart as she is in love with Bingley. Elizabeth learns Darcy is behind this and she is livid with anger at him for his interference, for as she puts it, he has cruelly destroyed the hopes  and happiness of her sister. Darcy doesn't see it that way, he sees it as having saved his friend from a potentially bad union, and tells Elizabeth so with pride and self-righteousness.
After all this, there comes a a very infuriating marriage proposal from Darcy to Elizabeth Bennett. He slides into the parlor looking as if he's ready to lose his lunch in his hat, and pretty much tells her that against his better judgement, and despite her lowly connections in society, he has decided to make an offer for her hand in marriage. Elizabeth, and the rest of us, are properly appalled. The nerve of this guy, making her feel as if he's doing her a favor by lowering himself from his pedestal to marry her. She rebuffs him, of course. Wouldn't you?                                     

Ah, but don't forget our heroine is actually in love with him, despite his towering ego. He's handsome, rich (worth about a million, by modern equations) and swoon worthy. At this point, we should give Elizabeth a round of applause for not succumbing to the charm of his bankroll and ignoring his flaws. (Many a modern lass has lacked her resolve.) To be honest,  Darcy is a pretty package, all brooding, handsome, and ridiculously rich. Just needs a little help on the social front.

Or maybe he needs Zoloft for his social anxiety disorder. Why do I say this? Think about it, dear reader. How truly social is Darcy, at any event in the novel (or movie)? He's pretty much a sad, reluctant observer. He remains in the background silently brooding, looking as if he's sitting in the reception room waiting to be called into the dentist's office to have a root canal.

By his own admission, he states it is difficult for him to converse at social gatherings. Elizabeth chides him when he confesses by countering with the example of her piano playing. She says that the only reason she is not very good at it is because she does not practice, inferring that he must practice being social more if he wishes to become proficient at it. This statement is met with gaiety by Elizabeth's companion, Colonel Fitzwilliam, but Darcy himself appears mortified by her suggestion, and rightly so. It's sort of like telling someone who is afraid of heights to practice jumping out of planes in order to overcome their discomfort. This casts Mr. Darcy in a different light. He's not a jerk, he's just uncertain and clumsy on the social front, and the perceived insolence that he shows to the world is perhaps not insolence at all but a stoic feeling of torture at being forced into social engagements due to his position in society.

And so, we love Mr. Darcy! 

Aside from his brood factor, there are other redeeming qualities in our timeless hero. He cares enough about those in his social circle that he will interfere when he sees them making a mistake, or sees them caught up in disturbing circumstances that he can fix for them. When Elizabeth's little sister runs off with a man who is a terrible rake, ruining her reputation and that of her family, Darcy steps in behind the scenes to try to fix it. He searches for the couple, finds them, and forces the man to marry young Lydia, preserving the Bennett Family's reputation in society. He also secretly pays the bridegroom a huge stipend as a bribe to get him to agree to marry the girl, as he knows Mr. Bennett, Elizabeth's father could not afford to do so. All this is done in secret, but of course Elizabeth finds out he saved her family from social ruin and she can't help but fall even deeper in love with him. He is a true gallant after all. And, he rescinds his censure over Bingley marrying Jane, Elizabeth's sister. In the end, we have a double wedding, with sisters Jane and Elizabeth marrying for true love.

The love story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett has been an enduring tale for two centuries. It was written by Austen in the late 18th Century, originally titled "First Impressions", aptly named as the misjudgements of a first impression change through the course of the story. It was rewritten in 1811-12 and then released as Pride and Prejudice in early 1813.  It was her second published novel, coming after the 1811 publication of Sense & Sensibility, but Pride and Prejudice has become the most beloved of her works.

Movie versions:
There are several movie versions of Pride and Prejudice, the previously mentioned A&E production that is a classic, being a faithfully rendered miniseries. This one stars Colin Firth as Darcy (See top Photo) and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth. This version follows the storyline of the book precisely and even the dialogue is word for word directly from the book. I highly recommend it.

Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy

 If you want a quicker, shorter rendition, the big screen Theater release of 2005 with Kiera Knightly as Miss Bennett and Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy, is equally good, but the storyline is much more keenly focused on the lovers instead of the Bennett family intrigues that make the book so compelling. Still, it is a very good short version if you're looking for a quickie fix.

Elliot Cowan is Mr. Darcy in 'Lost in Austen'
  And last, but not least, is the brilliant comedy "Lost in Austen". This is the story of Amanda, who loves P&P so much, she literally gets thrust back in time to the take Elizabeth's place in the storyline. What happens is a clash of sensibilities as Amanda tries to fit into Regency culture. It's funny, and touching, and adds a wonderful modern twist on the storyline. Elizabeth Bennett goes into the future, exchanging places with Amanda in time. Elliot Cowan plays a stunning Mr. Darcy, complete with a serious brood factor that comes close to Firth's incarnation, and as Amanda puts it, a "Smoulder Alert".

In closing, I leave you with an extra chocolate truffle, being it is Mother's Day. Note Darcy's confession of social awkwardness here.  Sparks fly between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett in this 2005 offering.

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