From the archives – Summer 2007
Over the last couple of nights, I watched Pride and Prejudice (BBC) because it had been a while, and I was in the mood for a good story. As I consider this story, whether in film or the original Austen novel, there are so many elements and perspectives to explore, a process which could be enjoyed for quite some time, but instead, I choose to focus this entry on Mr. Darcy and what makes him so engaging and intriguing.
As I watched P&P again for the, well, I’ve watched it quite a few times before (smile), I was pondering the air and manner of each character, analyzing the interaction between them and their response to the setting in which they were cast. Of course, foremost in my mind was the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth. As the film progressed and changes occur inside them both, I asked what every P&P fan wonders at some time or another: What is it about this relationship that is so appealing? How does Mr. Darcy, most infamous for his cold, proud, arrogant nature, capture our attention and resonate within a girl’s heart in a way that the other male characters do not?
A guy friend of mine doesn’t understand it. “Darcy’s a jerk,” he’s asserted on many an occasion, to which his sister and I exclaim, “But it’s Darcy!”, as if he had maligned our closest friend. So how has Darcy induced such affection within us? It’s not that we simply accept in passivity what seems an obvious flaw in his character, but the pride and prejudice that his character displays are no longer found in him at the end of the story. Yes, he is quite proud. You would have to be dull not to recognize that. He is very offputting, disagreeable, impertinent, and his pride is what leads many in the story (and readers) to dismiss him as arrogant and unfeeling.
So what, pray tell, do we see in him? Well, although full of pride and conceit, he realizes that there is some quality, some je ne ce quois about Elizabeth that captures his attention and leaves him wanting more. He sees her from the start and is intrigued. He is captured by “her fine eyes,” a declaration he has no trouble making at anytime to anyone, much to the chagrin of Miss Bingley. But when he bravely shares his ardent love and affection, she confronts the very pride that has defined him thus far. Because of Elizabeth, Darcy is forced to face what he has allowed himself to become: A lesser version of the man that he should be, one enrapt in arrogance and, as his actions often display, want of civility and gentility.
However, his response to this confrontation is so admirable, and truly is the turning point of the story. Since his feelings are clearly not shared, he is left to deal with the state of his character, laid bare by Elizabeth’s frank response and thorough rejection of his offer. But he doesn’t leave that moment unchanged. He courageously weighs her accusations and seriously gives pause to introspection, all while still struggling with his feelings for Elizabeth, feelings which he cannot master although he is so fixed on removing them. Instead he grows in his love and in the process becomes a better man, a man more true to his nature than he was before, an improvement in character that he demonstrates as the film progresses. Mr. Darcy proves to be truly good, as opposed to simply being “all the appearance of goodness” as is finally realized about Mr. Wickham. This is what causes Lizzie to consider him differently, inducing such a change in her opinion at the end of the film than she held at the outset.
For me, the transformation in Darcy (which also occurs in Elizabeth) is what makes the story so satisfying and enduring. It really resonates with a deep part of myself as I am caught up in the witty dialogue, colorful characters, and timeless situations penned by Austen. There’s more to the story than just “boy meets girl”; it is a tale of what happens when two people meet and, by the nature of their very being, stir each other to become better, to improve in character and in understanding. And so I firmly believe that both girls and guys can enjoy and learn from the principles Austen wove into her famous story.
So for those who share my friend’s opinion about Darcy’s “jerkiness,” perhaps the next time you hear someone, likely a girl, extol P&P, where you might normally scoff, maybe you can think about it differently and even avail yourself to reading or watching it.
If you’re already a fan, you might enjoy: