Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Rethinking Darcy

At present, I am in the midst of listening to Sebastian Faulks' Faulks on Fiction, which I intend to write about more fully when I've finished - not least because it is the first audiobook I've listened to properly since I was about 11 - but I thought I'd respond to something he said about Pride and Prejudice. He divides the book into thematic sections, and Darcy & Elizabeth take their place in the Lovers portion of the book (alongside such luminaries as Tess Durbeyfield and Lady Constance Chatterley.)

Faulks mostly gives plots and some gentle, often personal, analysis, but he takes rather a brave leap with Darcy - suggesting that he suffers from intense depression, and wants Elizabeth almost wholly as 'lifelong Prozac', replacing Mr. Bingley in this function. And Darcy definitely comes in for the worst of Faulks' censure where the proposal scene is concerned. The first one, that is (er, spoilers alert.) Faulks think he is utterly wrong, in everything he says - not just the way he says it.  Here are a couple of examples of how it has been done on film - I shan't be sullying my blog with the ridiculous travesty that is the proposal scene in Joe Wright's 2005 Pride and Prejudice. Rarely has a scene been so misjudged from page to screen... mini-rant over.





As you see - and as I'm sure most of us are familiar - Darcy is usually depicted in this proposal scene as having reached the very nadir of his arrogance, pride, and rudeness. That's certainly the way it has been acted (except, I should add, by Laurence Olivier), and it's how Sebastian Faulks interprets the book. But... I wonder.

I'm sure I'm not the first to say this, and I'd cite my sources if I could remember any, but... Darcy's proposal is super-genuine! He really is being astonishingly sacrifical. Let's not forget that he is willing to marry beneath him - an act which Lizzie herself dismisses, having been cautioned against it by Aunt Gardiner, when she considers Wickham. He is throwing away all manner of things, all for the love of Elizabeth.

What does he say in the proposal that is not true? What does he say, in its aftermath, which is not justifiable (to his period, not to our 21st century sensibilities, that is)? Could she expect him to rejoice in the inferiority of her connections? Would it have been better if Darcy had, in the manner of most romantic heroes of the time, lied through his teeth during proposal, or at least exaggerated every virtue and sidelined every qualm to the extent that he might as well be lying? Elizabeth is entirely justified to reject him on the basis of his treatment of Jane - but this, too, is really the misreading of her intentions, and thus an act of kindness to his best friend. Certainly not, as Faulks suggests, simply to keep Bingley to himself.

I think film and television adaptations have tended towards seeing Darcy as the villain-made-good, and Elizabeth as the woman who makes him good. She may be a bit impetuous (this line of thought goes), but essentially she is the one in the right, and he comes to realise this. I think Jane Austen is much cleverer than this. Elizabeth's shortcomings are not incidental or irrelevant - she really has as far to travel as Darcy, in terms of her character, before the match is equal. Yes, she is always a delight to the reader - but that is neither here nor there, in terms of morality or character defects. Which of us does not adore Emma? Yet which of us would say she needs no reforming?

There is a common acknowledgement that Lizzie needs to reform her character defects - that she can be proud and she can be prejudiced - but, in practice, or at least in adaptation, interpretations of her encounters with Darcy all suggest otherwise. And most especially the proposal. His bluff manner does not make him wrong; her eloquent outrage does not make her right. If we allow ourselves to think only in the context of the period - how generous Darcy is! How ungrateful, Elizabeth! And how wonderfully both reflect upon the scene, and - accordingly - change themselves for the better, and for each other. But let's recognise that Darcy's change is not a 360 reversal, and Elizabeth's, on the other hand, is not inconsiderable.

41 comments:

  1. I don't know... I have always thought, from the book and the movie adaptations, that Darcy was being genuine in that scene, and generous in a way. But at the same time, he is quite blunt, he is not exactly courteous. I don't think he is villainous, there is a lot of misunderstanding going on in all directions, but it doesn't mean that his behaviour doesn't need some improvement. I think the Lizzie Bennet diaries play him as a bit socially awkward, and that works I think. There are flaws on both sides of the Lizzie/Darcy relationship (Pride and prejudice) that they both grow to acknowledge by the end. At least, that's how I remember it. It's interesting to see though how many ways people read it, since it's such a talked about book.

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    1. I agree with you, Catie! Well said.
      Simon, I can't agree that Darcy is portrayed as villainous. Rude, definitely (or at least seen as that by Lizzie et family, I take the point he might also not be great at socializing), but not bad per se, except for in the false account given by Wickham of his maltreatment. Also agree with Catie re: his portrayal in the LBD - I think they give a nice angle on both protagonists; I hadn't been able to see Lizzie's flaws & prejudice quite as clearly before (though this may say more about me and how I identified a lot with her when I read the book originally as a teenager! :/) but the diaries perhaps show Darcy more sympathetically. I certainly have a more generous or understanding view of Lydia now.

      It is indeed interesting to see how different people read it - I think this is very much a story in which people identify (or otherwise) and sympathise (or otherwise) to quite differing extents with the various characters, and consequently end up having different takes on the rights and wrongs of things. I thought this about Sense and Sensibility too, even though I didn't really like the book in general: some people will closer to Elinor, some to Marianne. I guess that's a tribute to Austen and her ability to write believable, 3D characters rather than simply having heroes and villains. (I know you’ll join me in the Austen love!)

      Ooh, so much to say about this post! Good topic, it has really got me thinking. I think I’ll have to thrash it out with you in person, Si. But I must also say I agree with Diana below - whilst what Darcy says is not untrue, there's a time and a place to list one's misgivings about the attractiveness of their beloved, and a proposal isn't really one of them! I don’t doubt his sincerity for a minute, but that doesn’t mean he is entitled to reciprocation. No-one’s asking him to lie, but to expect her to be grateful for insulting her family is a bit rich! Like your mum says, in his pride he thought his eligibility meant Lizzie had to accept him. How romantic! Not.
      - Rachel

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    2. Well, Rachel, we've discussed this in person now!

      I think basically all three of us agree, Rachel and Catie, about how to interpret much of the novel - only I think that other people interpret it differently, and you don't!

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  2. Ever since I found out about social anxiety disorder (which I've suffered from all my life) I have been convinced that that is precisely Darcy's problem. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it: http://spectrumofperspectives.blogspot.com/2011/10/mr-darcy-me-and-s-d.html Darcy displays all the classic symptoms of social anxiety disorder. I, too, think he was completely sincere in his proposal scene; he was simply incapable at that time of expressing himself "in a more gentleman-like manner."

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    1. Intriguing! I'm always uncertain about how to apply 20th century diagnoses to earlier characters, because they could only be created from what the author knew, but perhaps she could see people with these symptoms around her?

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  3. I am in complete agreement with your reading of the book, rather than Faulks'. And as for wanting Elizabeth as a sort of "lifelong Prozac", that seems an almost natural reaction to her regardless of one's mental state. She is one of the most delightful, charming, winsome heroines in literature and given the number of people who have fallen in love with her over the last two hundred years, I think we find Darcy in good company, whatever his reasons.

    I also like your comment about the various adaptations portraying Darcy in an almost villain-made-good manner. For me, this is why none of the adaptations has ever been quite right. Both our hero and heroine are flawed but, in the end, it is she who must change the most.

    Also, I just have to say how much I love this line: "His bluff manner does not make him wrong; her eloquent outrage does not make her right." Quite right and very elegantly put!

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    1. Thanks very much for your final line! That was my favourite part :)

      Elizabeth is an absolutely wonderful heroine to read about, and by the end I think she'd be a wonderful friend and make someone a wonderful wife - but, as you say, she needs to change to get there!

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  4. I just want to say how much I enjoyed this post. It's been too long since I read the book to say who's more correct here. There must be enough that's right about Darcy though, since he is nearly as beloved as Elizabeth is.

    I once had a student whose parents named her Darcy after Darcy in P & P. She had much better manners than he did.

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    1. Thanks so much!

      How curious to name a girl after a man... but perhaps a better name than Georgiana

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  5. I agree with your interpretation entirely, but in the Colin Firth clip he didn't really appear to me like the villain -- in fact I feel the scene is designed to elicit some sympathy for him and his struggle. Personally I liked the 2005 film too, though I know you disagree violently.

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    1. Whilst I didn't much like any of the 2005 film, I thought this scene was particularly badly done - well, badly directed - with the rain and heaving chests, and almost-kiss at the end... chuh!

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  6. I think you make a great point, Simon. There is something terribly romantic about Darcy's first proposal that is often overlooked. His social status and certain family members are so completely against the match and yet he's willing to disregard them. Mrs. Bennet is the classic example of a nightmare mother-in-law, yet he doesn't care. And as we see later, he's doesn't that care that marrying Elizabeth will connect him to his archenemy. Talk about a grand gesture.

    But Darcy, you could have phrased it a way that was more flattering to Elizabeth. It is a proposal after all. ;)

    I like that you've mentioned The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, as I think they've done a wonderful job conveying Elizabeth's faults. Readers of the book often overlook it, but our heroine can be quite vindictive. Her self-reflection and subsequent journey are just as important as Darcy's.

    Great post!

    P.S. Slightly off subject, but since we're talking about LBD I wanted to say that I loved what they've done with Georgiana's character. The matchmaker machinations she and Fitz concoct are such a delight to watch.

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    1. Thanks Diana!

      I was saying to my friend yesterday, I probably still think his manner was enough to justify Elizabeth in turning him down - but that he isn't as bad as some people like Faulks think!

      I love Fitz so much! I want more of him in the videos...

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  7. I was listening to a piece on the radio yesterday about a business which two women have set up to 'assist' with proposals. The idea came to them after they helped a romantic 'Darcy' reorder the candles he was arranging in Hyde Park to spell out his proposal (he had spelt 'happiest' wrong!) Do you think Darcy could have done with a bit of help? He was obviously very keyed up about the proposal - but not for the usual reason: in view of his eligibility he had no doubt at all that he would be accepted! HIS struggle was with himself - rather after the style of the dieter gazing at a cream cake! By yielding to his weakness he would be consigning himself to a life of submission to his weaker side. Oh what a compromise he was prepared to make! Oh Lizzie - how right your were to tick him off! (Perhaps Mr Collins was right in his comments about 'delicate females'!) ;)

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    1. Incorrectly spelled words definitely NOT a good proposal technique...

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  8. I re read pride and Prejudice a week or so ago and was struck by how little Darcy actually changes through the book and how much Elizabeth does. She's the one that does the 360 turnaround on so many things. We only really see Darcy through her eyes so how much of his perceived pride and social awkwardness is due to the version of him she presents to us? I think it's interesting too that whenever she's removed from Longbourn and the more vulgar than not society there she comes to appreciate Darcy more.

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    1. That is the thing which surprised me most when I thought it over - the change ratio, if you will!

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  9. I loved reading this post Simon! :) And I'm definitely closer to you than Faulks, although it's always interesting to see well-known books through different lenses.

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    1. Thanks Eva! I suppose it's the mark of a great book and great characterisation that people don't all agree.

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  10. I picked up Faulks on Fiction at the weekend because I was intrigued by the thematic layout of the book (also the library didn't have the copy of John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen I was looking for and I couldn't leave empty-handed :)). I'm intrigued that he sees Darcy as depressed and thoroughly wrong rather than socially correct and arrogant but it suggests I'm going to have fun arguing with him...

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    1. It is an interesting book, so far, and I like the personal viewpoints he gives - it makes it feel less staid than literary criticism.

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  11. Well I love Sebastian Faulks, but really. He has read Darcy completely wrong! I agree with you entirely. I read Darcy as being intensely shy, inexperienced with women, and socially awkward. Also, his blunt honesty is more than matched by Elizabeth - she certainly doesn't hold back the punches! Darcy's proposal is incredibly romantic, I think, for someone so painfully shy - he is simply telling Elizabeth that despite all of the drawbacks of their alliance, he is prepared to put up with them all, including the strong objections of his aunt - his closest relative - because he loves her. Elizabeth is upset because Darcy spells out the wrongs of her family - she knows he is right, but she's too proud to admit it. And Darcy DOES realise his mistake about Elizabeth very early on, and takes great pains to defend her in front of the Bingleys and his aunt. Also, Catherine de Bourgh is similarly blunt with Elizabeth - perhaps this is a class/upbringing issue too? Elizabeth has grown up the daughter of a poor clergyman, used to having to be deferential. Darcy has grown up the son of an incredibly wealthy and prominent landowner - he's used to being deferred to. Can we blame him for not having the social mores of Elizabeth? (though she arguably lacks tact too!) I think not. I haven't seen an adaptation that truly captures Darcy. His vulnerability is very clear in the novel, and not even Colin Firth manages to convey that side of him properly. Depressed...not at all. Socially inept? Definitely!

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    1. Very good point about Elizabeth's bluntness, Rachel! She certainly gives as good as she gets. And, as you say, to overcome his shyness in that way shows immense courage - and how crushing it must be to him when he is rejected (even if there is some just cause.) The novel mentions - which no adaptation I've seen does - that Darcy's proposal includes lines (not given in direct speech) saying he doesn't expect to be accepted. The novel also says that he doesn't mean this, but it's interesting that it's still left out of adaptations.

      (but Elizabeth's father isn't a clergyman, is he?)

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    2. HOW embarrassing! No he isn't. NO idea where I got that from. I was so cross I started spouting nonsense. Ignore me!

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  12. I haven’t read Faulks but I absolutely agree with you. I have only read Jane Austen as an adult, so I did not see Elizabeth through rose colored glasses. Darcy’s proposal is sincere, just ill-timed and badly put. He does come off as arrogant, but not as a villain. I have read every Austen novel with the exception of Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice and Emma are my favorites because both Elizabeth and Emma are flawed yet entirely understandable and sympathetic.

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    1. Absolutely! Although Emma is pushing it a bit... even more so than Elizabeth, because Elizabeth genuinely cares for Jane's happiness, and Emma doesn't really care about anybody else for a long time - Harriet is definitely her pawn, isn't she?

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  13. Very interesting - I've not read Faulks, but it does rather sound like he's talking nonsense. I've heard Colin Firth say something similar to what you're saying, Simon, and certainly he approached it from your point of view - to such an extent that he was surprised and almost hurt when others saw Darcy as acting unforgivably in the scene.

    I have to disagree with you on a couple of points, though: I don't adore Emma by any stretch of the imagination, and I thought the 2005 proposal scene was done rather well - Darcy's "Are you laughing at me?" was a great insight into the character's insecurities behind his proud exterior.

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    1. You don't adore Emma! Awful though she is in some ways, I still find her adorable.

      Well, that line might be a good contribution in the 2005 film, but... the rain! the almost-kiss! No, no, noooo....

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  14. It's a very good thing Elizabeth turned down Darcy the first time. I don't think he was _at all_ willing to put up with her family at that point, and I think if he and Elizabeth had married then they would have had a very bad time of it. Elizabeth and Darcy both needed to do some soul searching. I do agree that Elizabeth was the one who changed more ... and, I rather grudgingly admit, the one who needed to.

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    1. It does feel grudging, doesn't it? My instinct is to say that Elizabeth was much closer to perfection - but I've realised that an enjoyable character to read isn't the same as an enjoyable character to marry!

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  15. What a great blog. Makes me rethink the whole Darcy scene, well, the whole Mr. Darcy. First of all, I love that scene, I love that proposal (and the 2005 film is certainly NOT one of my favourites, either). I can see how Darcy does have problems with strangers or even acquaintances. Will have to re-read Pride & Prejudice, I guess. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks Marianne! Re-reading P&P is no hardship, is it? :)

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  16. I definitely agree with you more than Faulks. I wonder.. could it be that movie adaptations focus on the "arrogance" side, because they're made from a contemporary point of view, meaning that in today's society we are more prone to dismiss the class-based feelings as "arrogance", while they were more "real" (however deservedly or not from an equality point of view)? How interesting that you mention Lizzie's dismissal of Wickham out of the consideration of him being beneath her in station. I have to reread the book (again, yay!), I've never noticed that before although it always does seem to me that Lizzie was never quite serious about Wickham.

    As for the proposal scene in the 2005 version: THANK YOU. I definitely agree. I mostly love that scene in adaptations, but that one sadly sadly disappointed me.

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    1. I hadn't thought through the Wickham thing until it hit me - Lizzie *is* doing much the same thing Darcy is castigated for. By that point, she definitely isn't serious about him, so there's many reasons why she wouldn't marry him - Aunt Gardiner says this:

      "Seriously, I would have you be on your guard. Do not involve yourself or endeavour to involve him in an affection which the want of fortune would make so very imprudent. I have nothing to say against him; he is a most interesting young man; and if he had the fortune he ought to have, I should think you could not do better. But as it is, you must not let your fancy run away with you."

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  17. Just followed Claire's link and find such a fascinating post about exactly what I posted about yesterday! I am thoroughly enjoying all the comments and rejection of Faulks' argument for depression. Although... perhaps he knows something of depression first-hand and sees in Mr. Darcy something of himself. While I don't see evidence of depression myself, I'll be interested to read how Faulks makes that leap.

    I think there could be an argument made for Mr. Darcy being attracted to Mr. Bingley and to Elizabeth Bennet because they have what he doesn't: they both of them are at ease socially and there is comfort in that for the socially anxious.

    Anyway, here are my thoughts!
    http://lilyoakbooks.blogspot.ca/2013/01/pride-and-prejudice-by-jane-austen.html

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    1. Thanks Lee-Anne!

      I definitely think Faulks' argument was interesting, and not entirely wrong by any means, but perhaps rather too black and white - and also too dismissive of love for Elizabeth factoring into Darcy's actions and decisions...?

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  18. Excellent post. I watched the T.V. broadcast of 'Faulks on Fiction' a coupla years ago. My resounding memory of it is Faulks wearing a really, really garishly pink shirt in every single shot - even when said shots' locations were hundreds of miles apart. He must have been wearing that thing for months!

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  19. This was an interesting post, it was fun to read. I think you were right on all points here, and some things I had not thought of myself. While I love the movie adaptations, especially the 2005 film with Kiera Knightley, I think someone really needs to read the books to truly understand the proposal scene and the feelings around it, from both sides.

    I feel by the end of the book they both made tremendous sacrifices and changes for each other, but the movies really don't portray how Elizabeth had to change for Darcy. Like you said, they seem to focus on Darcy as a villain gone good, while not emphasizing enough the character progression toward the relationship on her part.

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  20. It makes me SO happy to hear that you've seen the Laurence Olivier version! And don't get me started on the 2005 version... The 'American ending' is an absolute disgrace...

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  21. I think that the reason why most people consider Elizabeth as being closer to perfection than Darcy is because today her refusal of Mr Collins seems like a fair and good choice. However, at the time it was published this would probably seem like an incredibly selfish choice on Elizabeth's part - she is sacrificing the a good marriage and the financial security of her entire family because she doesn't like the man. The very fact that all five daughters were 'out' at one shows that the Bennet's were, financially, in quite a predicament, and many readers at the time would have probably considered Elizabeth a selfish person and an ungrateful daughter (not that I agree). So when P&P was first published, it would have been the other way round; Darcy would have been viewed as the better one of the two.
    As for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I agree that they are great. A lot of the characters in P&P were quite one-dimensional, despite the fact that they had pretty big roles in the plot line (especially Lydia), and the LBD has really managed to create developed characters.
    And yes, the proposal scene in the 2005 version was a disgrace. In fact, I will go so far as to say that every scene in the 2005 version was a disgrace. So utterly unlike the book...

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  22. Hi! Poking around looking for bits to cite for a final paper I'm writing about Pride and Prejudice, and I stumbled across this thread. I haven't seen the 1995 adaptation, so have no opinion of it. I have, however, watched the 2005 version countless times, and used it as a subject for analysis in an earlier paper. Wright does take liberties in his translation to the screen, but I have never had an objection to any of them. One of the themes I analyzed was weather as an external reflection of Elizabeth's inner emotional state. In this context, the thunderstorm makes perfect cinematic sense - Elizabeth has literally just learned of Darcy's role in the departure from Netherfield, and any movement towards easing her opinion of Darcy from continued acquaintance at Rosings has just blown up.

    The two characters find themselves unhappily attracted to one another, and even though Jane Austen never even suggests anything like sexual attraction (how could she have done, properly?), us readers can still interpret that there is real sexual chemistry between them. I found it utterly natural that at the height of their argument, they were physically drawn closer - kissing or clawing would have seemed appropriate in that instance.

    Katie

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