by Allyson Vaughan
I remember the day long ago when I was still an Austen-novice. I’d not read the classics Emma, Persuasion, or even Pride and Prejudice yet. Just shy of my twelfth birthday, the film version of Pride and Prejudice hit screens starring Kiera Knightly and Matthew MacFayden. I marveled at the lush, warm shots of Elizabeth strolling through the fields as she read. I swooned at the desperation and longing stewing in Mr. Darcy’s eyes as he declares, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”And I didn’t even flinch when he adds that he has not let the “inferiority” of her birth deter him. Mr. Darcy even refers to her as decent enough but not decent enough to tempt him. Adorable, right? And after the film, as I rushed to the bookstore to purchase Pride and Prejudice, I found it downright charming that Darcy ignored Elizabeth to show that he loved her. It was every middle-school crush I’d ever had at that point.
Mr. Darcy became the picture of what I thought boys were going to grow up to be like, and Elizabeth became my role model. It wasn’t hard to find a friend in Elizabeth. It seemed Austen wrote Elizabeth for every bookish girl who would ever stumble upon her work. I didn’t mind when people said I spent too much time reading because Elizabeth read “too much.” As it turns out, reading too much is not a thing. When people tell me to stop reading all the time I have to wonder if they’re under the impression there’s some secret between those pages they’re not privy to. Or if they’re just made uncomfortable by the sound of turning pages. I’ll never know, but I always keep reading because Elizabeth always did.
That’s why I love Elizabeth. It’s not just because I relate to her sense of humor and her love of reading, but because she’s the character who taught me I could make decisions for myself. When Mr. Collins proposes, she stops short of shouting “hell no” in his face. I wasn’t old enough to appreciate her independence when I was eleven; I took her decisions for granted because I didn’t realize those were decisions she technically shouldn’t make for herself. Elizabeth and Austen lived in a time when women didn’t make the calls on who they married based on their personal interest. Back then it boiled down to fortune and family. I just thought girls had always made up their minds for themselves.
I took Elizabeth’s independence for granted the same way I took Mr. Darcy to be the ideal romantic figure. But I realized years later after studying literature, writing, and after living out a few of my own stories that fiction is a lie. It’s a truthful lie, but still a lie. Mr. Darcy is a lie because if Mr. Darcy were real this is how I would have to describe him to my mother:
“Fitzwilliam Darcy is this really rich guy who I met at this party and he thinks I’m something off the dollar menu. He also thinks you and the sibs are a bunch of gold-diggers. But don’t worry, he’s got a really big house.”
That’s the reality of Mr. Darcy’s behavior in the beginning of the novel. It’s called Pride and Prejudice for a reason—I get it. But as a young woman I hesitate to call Mr. Darcy the catch I once made him out to be. For one thing, Elizabeth is a powerhouse. She’s the equivalent of a Regency era Beyoncé. She slays, okay? This is a girl who doesn’t take herself seriously, but at the same time is well read and quick-witted. Her intelligence is what leads to her giving Mr. Darcy another chance. And yet, Mr. Darcy views her as only tolerable and says so (How rude). Elizabeth is never meant to hear his opinion of her; she’s concealed from his view at the dance. This is the equivalent of sending a text to the wrong person in today’s time. This mishap continues to color her opinion of Darcy for most of the book. His first impression doesn’t implicate him to be the suave hero I thought he was. Mr. Darcy is just a regular son of a nutcracker that falls in love and has to eat his words later.
I don’t mean to discredit the redemption of Mr. Darcy. He does grow past his failures. But I didn’t view Mr. Darcy as a character capable of failure and faults. I viewed him as an ideal. The way I created Mr. Darcy made me think indifference was becoming. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed indifference to my person is when I’m in a mutual indifference with customer service at Wal-Mart. Just give me my money back, and I’ll be on my way. But I don’t think girls need to think that boys who ignore them, boys who brood and find them “decent enough” are the ones. Because though Mr. Darcy changes his mind later it’s not always going to work out like that. Austen wanted happy endings for her characters just like we want them for ourselves. That’s where fiction ends and reality begins. Fries before guys, am I right?
Mr. Darcy could’ve stayed the way I had him, as a standard for what I thought love should be like. And in some ways it still is. Love is always going to involve mistakes and misunderstandings and possibly second chances. Except now I understand that they are mistakes, whereas before I was gung-ho to be ignored as a tolerable presence. Whenever I read or watch Pride and Prejudice now I cover my face when Mr. Darcy proposes because it’s so wrong. Half his proposal is spent telling her how wrong she is for him. The other half, in the film, is just a lot of rain coming down. I don’t know if anyone has ever stood in the rain, but it gets in your eyes and it burns a lot. Mr. Darcy makes moves that shouldn’t be considered romantic—prejudice isn’t cute it’s a social defect. His character is regretful, and grows into a relatable, tangible person. But I still wince now when he condemns Elizabeth’s family for reasons more than once thinking it was romantic to verbally express the reservations you have about dating someone to them. It just sounds like he’s trying to convince himself not to.
Everything that’s wrong with Mr. Darcy is everything I made him out to be. His character is as constrained by his riches as Elizabeth is by her poverty. Austen didn’t write Mr. Darcy to be a hero, she wrote him to be an individual with flaws to better reflect the struggles of class and free will.He’s naturally inclined to be prejudiced against the lower class as a result and it complicates his love for Elizabeth, which threatens the sensibilities he’s long held to. Jane Austen, that clever girl, wanted Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth to be inflicted with their egos in order to overcome them. It’s far more fulfilling to read Austen’s work now and see Mr. Darcy as a flawed human being. I don’t find him as appealing as I once did. I’m not so intrigued by his silence or impressed with his declarations. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll swoon forever when Matthew MacFayden bats those baby blues, but I understand the nuances of who his character is now. I’ll always adore Mr. Darcy. But the love I have for him is the kind of nostalgic love that you have for your first. It’s nice to think about, but I always realize Mr. Darcy wasn’t everything I held him up to be.
.(Check out this song by The Double-clicks for more Mr. Darcy)