IT is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
This is the first, and undoubtedly the most famous sentence from Jane Austen’s popular, and much-loved novel, Pride & Prejudice.
It is now 203 years since this magnificent piece of fiction was published, but it is still, if not more, popular than ever. I cannot help but ask why? Is it because we all love a love story, or maybe it’s because we enjoy the lively exchanges between Elizabeth and Darcy. Alternatively, perhaps it is because we all secretly love to see a bad boy turn good? Did Jane purposely write Darcy in this style? Or maybe she underestimated the attraction Darcy’s character would have on the female population?
There have been many visual incarnations of the Fitzwilliam Darcy character over the years, and everyone who has watched one, or all of these productions has their favourite.
My personal introduction to Mr. Darcy was at the tender age of 9, when I first watched the 1940 film version starring, Sir Laurence Olivia.
Sir Laurence Olivier 1940
Unaware of the multitude of inaccuracies in the film, I was nevertheless hooked. I was seduced by the language, the clothes, their manners, and courtesies. I can’t think of anything more romantic than to have a man bow to me and then press a light kiss on my outstretched hand, (sigh). Though for a star-struck child from a working-class family, it was the prospect of a happy ending.
However, today’s generation have a plethora of Darcy’s to choose from. The two most recent, and apparently most popular, are the BBC mini-series starring the delectable Colin Firth, and his now iconic wet shirt scene. And the deliciously handsome, Matthew MacFadyen from the 2005 film version. And although Matthew did not walk out of a lake half undressed, his proposal during a thunderstorm was just as seductive. (Hands up all those who longed for him to kiss Keira Knightley in that scene?)
Colin Firth 1995 Matthew MacFadyen 2005
Before either of these, there was the rich-voiced David Rintoul in the 1980 mini-series, which is for some reason is rarely shown on TV.
We must also include a slightly different incarnation of P & P, and one of my personal favorites, Lost in Austen, which is another TV mini-series set in both modern and the Regency times. It is a must for all Austen fans. Though Elliot Cowen’s Mr. Darcy is the only character that remotely resembles the one Jane invented, it is still very watchable.
David Rintoul 1980 Elliot Cowan (centre) 2008
Finally, an entirely modern day version of our treasured masterpiece in the guise of Bridget Jones Diary. This box office success, and the two sequels, Bridget Jones, The Edge of Reason, and Bridget Jones Baby, also starred Colin Firth as a modern-day Mr. Darcy. (Interesting note; Colin Firth portrayed Mr. Darcy 200 years apart in Pride & Prejudice and Bridget Jones).
Colin Firth & Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones, 2001
These are just a few of the versions available to us.
So, what is it that attracts us to this man? Jane’s initial description of him is rather vague.
‘Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend’
Miss Austen does not describe Darcy as having a thick head of curly hair, or that he possessed piercing blue eyes, yet these are properties we automatically attribute to him.
Undoubtedly she describes him as a gentleman of noble birth, yet he lacks all the social niceties considered essential in the day. He is rude, arrogant, proud, intolerant and over-confident of his self-worth. Having said that, let’s not forget that Jane also tells us that Darcy is tall, handsome, AND incredibly wealthy. OK, the last two items might have some influence on us, but what about Darcy as a person.
Is it because we secretly like the excitement that inevitably comes with a bad boy? Alternatively, it may be that we like to imagine that we could be the one person who could touch his heart, and by doing so, reform him? Or, is it that we cannot resist a challenge?. For me, it is all these reasons.
Jane Austen certainly knew one thing; a good novel had to have four things;
A hero, a villain, and a love story and a happy ending
In fact, all of Jane’s books follow a very similar recipe.
Each novel has a hero.
Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Knightley in Emma, Captain Wentworth in Persuasions, Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility, Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, and finally Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey.
And the proverbial ‘bad guys.’
George Wickham, Mr. Elton, Mr. William Elliot, Willoughby, Captain Fredrick Tilney, and Henry Crawford.
Thankfully, (spoiler alert) Jane provides us with a happy ending in all her books.
And who could fail to be impressive by how Jane misleads us throughout the book, intertwining the character traits of Darcy and Wickham, making them both appear slightly bad while remaining generally decent. Only later in the story, as their real natures are revealed, do we discover their true worth. Darcy is the good guy with a bad reputation, while Wickham is a scoundrel, with all the appearances of being a good man.
Yet, no other of Jane Austen’s novels have been so reproduced, or are so loved, as her baby, Pride & Prejudice. There are also thousands of spin-off books wrote on the subject every year. These are generally described as ‘What if’s’ or Pride & Prejudice Variations, usually involving some, or all of her characters, and some, or all of the plot lines from Jane’s original story. Indeed, I write them myself. Amazon.com: Martine J Roberts: Kindle Store
So, what is it about this book in particular? It’s Darcy!
Imagine you are seeing or reading Pride & Prejudice for the first time. Initially, Jane gives us permission to dislike Darcy. Indeed, we could do nothing but dislike him. To promote this, Jane made his character rude, cold and aloof, in stark contrast to, Elizabeth and Wickham’s, which are warm, witty, and charming. It is only as the story unfolds that we learn of Darcy’s struggles, especially where Wickham and Georgiana are concerned. Only then, do our hearts begin to soften.
The heavy responsibility of a large estate, a young sister to raise, the friend who turns out to be an enemy, not to mention suffering delusional relatives or the dozens of servants and tenant’s that rely on him. His responsibilities are heavy indeed.
Then, as our budding like of Darcy begins to unfold like a flower, he does the most selfless thing imaginable. In rescuing Lydia, and by default all her sister’s, Darcy bind’s himself to his nemesis forever. With this final act of chivalry, Darcy’s transformation is complete, and our hearts are finally won.
Personally, I liked Darcy just the way he is, gorgeous, rich, and a little bit dangerous. (I loved how he dealt with Mrs. Younge and Wickham).
For whatever reason, you like this novel, I would like to think that Jane was sending a message through the media of her book.
Love can cross any divide; we should never give up hope, and real love is worth the wait.
What do you think?
All productions mentioned in this article are available from a variety of outlet.