Is Mr. Darcy the Ultimate Book Boyfriend?

Happy St. Valentine's Day, dear readers!
Before I address the title of this post, there is a question that continues to pop up: What explains the lasting longevity and popularity of Pride and Prejudice, over 200 years after its release?

Is it the Cinderella-like idea of a (relatively) impoverished girl being rescued by a wealthy and handsome suitor?
Is it because its plot became the boilerplate for almost every romance novel or film that followed? (Boy meets girl. Boy and girl dislike each other. Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy back. Conflict separates them. Boy and girl are reunited. Happily ever after.)
 
Or is it the endearing and unforgettable performance by Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC miniseries?

So tell me: Do you think Mr. Darcy is the ultimate book boyfriend? 

My answer? An unequivocal NO. (Now despise me if you dare.) Not a popular answer, I know; but that's just me!

For one thing, he is barely even in the novel; and when he is, he has little to recommend him. Would you want a boyfriend that looks on you "only to criticize"? From their first meeting, Darcy insults Elizabeth by calling her merely "tolerable" and "scarcely allowed her to be pretty." He even gossips with "his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face." Who can forget his words, which that shrew Miss Bingley threw back in his face: "She a beauty! --I should as soon call her mother a wit." (I'm surprised Caroline didn't wait until Elizabeth was within hearing range before repeating that vicious insult.)

I know I would not want a boyfriend who found me so unattractive when we first met. Sure, eventually she improves in his eyes, which he finds "mortifying"!

Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form (How could he tell in those Regency dresses with the Empire waist line? Or did he think one boob was bigger than the other?), he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world (arrogant ass), he was caught by their easy playfulness.
Of course, even when he admits Elizabeth "attracted him more than he liked," with his vanity, he assumes she must want him, too, and worries that his behavior "could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity."
Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half-an-hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.
Rude, much? When Elizabeth rightly refuses his proposal even though his wealth could save her entire family from poverty (there goes the Cinderella theory), she accurately cites his arrogance, conceit, and his selfish disdain of the feelings of others. I found him to be so cold that I thought he made the perfect vampire (and here are 13 reasons why) and wrote Pulse and Prejudice as Darcy's story but as if Jane Austen herself had always conceived his character as a vampire and just failed to mention it.  This at least gave him a reason for being so dark and brooding (plus who wouldn't want Mr. Darcy to bite her?).

I am sure you are all familiar with the infamous parsonage proposal, when Mr. Darcy declares, "In vain I have struggled" to repress his feelings for her - feelings of degradation and of her inferiority. And he is vain! He once again assumes she is expecting his addresses and is quite certain that she will accept.

Personally, I never understood why Elizabeth's opinion of him changes so easily (which, alas, feeds the fairy tale idea that a woman can change a man). She jokes to Jane that it happened after seeing Pemberley, but I think there's more truth there than readers are willing to allow. The first time they meet after she refuses him, they go for one awkward walk, and then he brings his sister to meet her, but Elizabeth and Darcy scarcely speak to one another. Yet that's enough for her to form a new impression. She hasn't been struck by cupid's arrow. She feels "gratitude; gratitude, not merely for having once loved
her, but for loving her still." She's thinking she could put up with a lot of pomposity and superciliousness to have that kind of wealth and status. When visiting Pemberley, Elizabeth thinks not once but twice of how it would have been to be mistress there.

I have read a few sequels to Pride and Prejudice, and they always portray this "happily ever after" couple.
She's 20 or 21. Do you really think she will remember the past only as it gives her pleasure? If this were real life, every time they had an argument, Elizabeth would bring up how he thinks she is inferior and that he thinks it is a degradation to be with her. That he loved her against his will, against his reason, and against his character will fuel insecurities in this tender girl. We even see that in the end of the novel, after she has accepted his hand and he could not cry off without a scandal; but she still tries to shield him from the vulgarities of her relations, which cause her "mortification": "the uncomfortable feelings arising from all this took from the season of courtship much of its pleasure." (Ah, but here is the return of the Cinderella theory: "she looked forward with delight to the time when they should be removed from society so little pleasing to either, to all the comfort and elegance of their family party at Pemberley.")

Yeah - she's never going to feel confident in his opinion since he married her against his will, which will also be brought up every time they have a spat. I'm telling you, whenever they go to a ball and he dances with some other chick, Elizabeth is going to say, "So, I guess you find her more than tolerable!" or "I see you find her handsome enough to tempt you..."

I guess that's why I gave my Mr. Darcy an excuse to be so cold and disdainful - he's a vampire - and allowed  his own flaw to be his primary reason for not giving in to his attraction. That's also why for The Proud and the Prejudice, my modern adaptation of Miss Austen's story, the description specifically states that the hero and heroine are no Darcy and Elizabeth. Although in my novel the hero still has to break through some of his pride and prejudices, he is attracted to her from the moment he sees her. That's the kind of boyfriend I would want - someone who always thought I was the most beautiful creature he had ever known.

http://colettesaucier.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-did-you-meet-miss-jane-austen.htmlSo who is my pick for a Jane Austen book boyfriend? Emma's Mr. Knightley. And I don't think it was because I "met" him long before I knew of Mr. Darcy (more on that here). Everyone else sees Emma as she sees herself: practically perfect in every way: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence." But not Mr. Knightley. He sees all of her flaws - but these are not superficial deficiencies of rank or relation. No, he sees her as an imperfect human being who makes mistakes, and he loves her in spite of them. Sure, he calls her out on some of her more egregious errors but only because he knows that she wants to be the person worthy of the praise she receives but has not earned.  Not only that. Mr. Knightley is not pompous when he proposes. Even though he has borne witness to her foibles, he is insecure in his affection and truly fears she will reject him.

Miss Austen once described Emma as her most unlikeable character, and yet Mr. Knightley loves her. Now that's a good book boyfriend.





Comments

  1. I think I can see your point but my most disliked "hero" involved in an Austen HEA is Edward Ferrars. He is deceitful, a trait I cannot admire. For a secondary character, I dislike Charles Bingley. I hate men ( or any adult, really) who do not possess a spine. He and Jane Bennet ( not a fan of hers either..is she truly that insipid or maybe just mentally challenged?) are truly alike, meek and spineless and, as Jane says, like to be cheated Ugh!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I agree about Bingley. He's like Ashley in Gone with the Wind. Of course, Jane is kind of a Melanie type (ick). If Elizabeth became obsessed with Bingley, it would be like Scarlet stepping over Rhett to get to Ashley.

      Delete
  2. I will always love Mr.Knightley best and like
    Edward Ferrars least and Mr. Darcy, Captain
    Wentworth and Mr.Tilney are in the middle. Oh, neither like or dislike, just bored, bored, bored with Edmund Bertram.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad others agree with me on Mr. Knightley.
      I think the obsession with Mr. Darcy is based on the fantasy some (most?) women have that they can "change" a man. I have seen that belief cause many an unhappy marriage - as well as divorce!

      Delete

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