Why Mr Darcy is overrated

Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, Dom isn't buying it.

Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, Dom isn't buying it.

We need to talk about Mr Darcy. That much was made abundantly clear by the news this week that a four metre-high statue of him emerging, dripping in that famous puffy white shirt, has been placed in the famous Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park.

Sarah Lyall, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, aptly summarised the rampant Darcyphilia that has followed that scene ever since the BBC’s adaptation in 1995: “Mr Darcy... caused serious chest palpitations among those viewers who were not dead, and remains perhaps the only time a man dressed in a damp, puffy white blouse has ever looked truly hot on screen.” Which I think is horribly unfair to Jerry Seinfeld, but I digress.

It's clear that many women still haven't gotten over the delight of a sopping Colin Firth in the pond. The Daily Mail (the world’s foremost authority on the trivial) published a survey in January which found that Fitzwilliam Darcy was women’s favourite fictional gentleman, a result only 95% percent undermined by the fact that the sadomasochistic Christian Grey from Fifty Shades was close behind.

Mr Darcy, post pond.

Mr Darcy, post pond.

Mr Darcy is hardly ideal – he’s a barely-reformed monster. But I have to concede defeat on one early point: Colin Firth. He’s intelligent, classy, passionate, with that fancy accent and smouldering eyes. But this isn’t an article about whether Colin Firth is the ultimate guy, because he probably is.

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So let’s look at Jane Austen’s Darcy, if we can somehow divorce the original character from Mr Firth and his fetching aqua-blouse. Elizabeth Bennet disliked him intensely at first, and she was correct. The novel’s title supposedly details both of their character flaws – but while Darcy’s certainly proud, Lizzie is far from prejudiced, because she bases her reaction on his behaviour on several occasions. Indeed, in the value system of her society, there should be a strong bias in favour of her liking him.

At the Netherfield ball, he refuses to dance with Lizzie, which is just rude – not to mention foolish in the extreme if we’re talking Jennifer Ehle – and then makes critical remarks about her appearance. That is the behaviour of – to use language that would not be welcome at Longbourn, let alone Rosing’s – a pompous jerk.

The Darcy sculpture in the Serpentine in London.

The Darcy sculpture in the Serpentine in London.

Then he tries to prevent Bingley from marrying Jane, which is appalling. Jane is lovely; any notion of social status dividing them is absurd, as she is a gentleman’s daughter. Also, his suggestion that Mrs Bennet was embarrassing was hugely unfair. If any of us were judged by our parents’ capacity to make us squirm on occasion, who among us would ever marry?

Next, he proposes to Lizzie, but rudely. Again, a pompous jerk. If you can’t be nice when asking a woman to marry you, when can you?

Now, let’s look at the case for the defence – all the things that later endear him to Lizzie. He relents on Bingley – well, whoop de do. And he goes to considerable effort to sort out the nefarious Mr Wickham and making him marry Lydia. Yes, but he was partly responsible for creating the problem there, wasn’t he? As he acknowledges, he should have warned them.

And what’s more, he was in love with, and wanted to marry, Lizzie.

Oh sure, he kept the Wickham stuff a secret – but that was a precursor to a big reveal, wasn’t it? ”Hey, you know that thing where your sister shamed your family? Sorted.” It’s kind of like how I fix women’s computers to impress them, only with fewer calls to tech support.

All the nice stuff he does for the Bennets, like being so gracious as to let them visit his stupid big estate, and paying off the other jerk in-law, was entirely motivated by self-interest. He surely hadn’t entirely abandoned hope of convincing Lizzie to marry him, so it would have been far more awkward for him to marry into the Bennet family himself if Lydia and Wickham hadn’t gotten married.

Seriously, name me one thing Mr Darcy does that’s genuinely kind and isn’t motivated by his love for Lizzie. She told him he was a twat, so he set about making himself less twatty, but honestly, so what? That’s what we all do when we want to impress someone – we pretend to be a better version of ourselves, at least for long enough to get them to sign on the bottom line.

Oh sure, he’s a nice brother too, but our families, and particularly our adoring younger siblings, are the easiest people to be kind to in the world. The real test of Mr Darcy’s character is what he does to a social inferior that he doesn’t have the hots for – and we see that when he first meets the Bennets.

So, to summarise in a thoroughly unprejudiced way, Mr Darcy can go jump in the lake. Again. Ideally never to emerge.


Although if what women truly dream of is meeting someone who is openly rude to them, tries to ruin their sister’s happiness and then is helpful and kind only a long time after they’ve professed to love them, then I guess men everywhere should be grateful that the bar has been set so low.

CORRECTION: A correspondent informs me that Darcy did in fact dance with Lizzie at the Netherfield Ball - he refused at the Meryton Assembly. It doesn't change my point, of course, but does reveal that I didn't reread  P&P to write this article!

42 comments

  • I think you've just plagiarised my year 11 essay. Expect to hear from my lawyers!

    Commenter
    Farcough
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 12, 2013, 9:23AM
    • Great and funny article! But Mr Darcy is still the most swoon-worthy book character ever! He's gorgeous and rich...many women can overlook almost anything else (lol)

      Commenter
      F in Sydney
      Date and time
      July 12, 2013, 9:33AM
      • A small correction but Mr Darcy's first name in P&P is Fitzwilliam. He is Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones, I believe.

        Commenter
        JC
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 12, 2013, 9:37AM
        • Goodness! Thanks for the pick-up, fixed!

          Commenter
          Daily Life
          Date and time
          July 12, 2013, 10:10AM
      • "The Daily Mail (the world’s foremost authority on the trivial) published a survey in January which found that Mark Darcy was women’s favourite fictional gentleman, a result only 95% percent undermined by the fact that the sadomasochistic Christian Grey from Fifty Shades was close behind."

        They're not much of an authority, given they can't even get the character's name right. It's not Mark Darcy, it's Fitzwilliam Darcy. Colin Firth played Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones' Diary which draws heavily on Pride and Prejudice.

        Commenter
        Christopher
        Date and time
        July 12, 2013, 9:54AM
        • jealous Dom?

          Commenter
          lizzie
          Date and time
          July 12, 2013, 10:02AM
          • Most of Mr Darcy's current popularity is attributable to Firth's 1995 portrayal. Firth's Blue-Steel impression in the second photo says it all!

            Nonetheless, I think that Mr Darcy's popularity has endured precisely because he embodies and defends the status quo. Why should that be? Because the sort of person most willing to defend the status quo tends to be high up in that status quo. In other words Darcy is the archetypal Alpha-Male asserting his Alpha-Male dominance, all while dressed in Georgian-era garb. For women the first quality makes him sexy, and the second makes him romantic.

            His marrying down might seem to be an affront to this status quo, but really it's just an ego trip and a chance for Mr Darcy to emphasise his social superiority. It also means the heroine Elizabeth can be whisked away by her knight in shining armour, thus fulfilling an archetypal female fantasy which is drummed into girls from the time they're old enough to talk.

            Commenter
            Spadeboy
            Date and time
            July 12, 2013, 10:04AM
            • Not only that but all the brooding and drama that goes before it piques women's interest

              Then finding out that he did something nice on the quiet redeems all of his flaws.

              Also he demands very little of Elizabeth during the book. This ties in with the passive nature of most female fairytale heroines. Elizabeth only has to go to a few parties, take a tour of a few room and she winds up with a man on 10,000 pounds per year *swoon*

              Commenter
              Bender
              Date and time
              July 12, 2013, 1:45PM
          • would it be better if all horrid men continue to be horrid rather than admit their mistakes and embark on a program of self improvement?

            bloody love Mr Darcy for acknowledging his shortcomings and generally sorting his shizz out.

            Commenter
            pickle
            Location
            bondi jct
            Date and time
            July 12, 2013, 10:04AM
            • True, perhaps it's his ability to see the error of his ways and try to change that is appealing to women. Because so few men (and women) are perfect to begin with after all.

              Commenter
              Mellah
              Date and time
              July 12, 2013, 12:24PM

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