Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Enduring Appeal of Mr Darcy

"Elizabeth, you have bewitched me body and soul..."

I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 15 and I honestly couldn't stand it. I found the style of writing old fashioned and boring and the characters were stuffy and unrelatable- including the supposed ultimate romantic hero, Mr Darcy.
Interestingly then - why, as a woman with (a bit) more experience under my belt, does a rereading of Pride and Prejudice prompt me to consider that Darcy deserves his position as ultimate romantic hero after all? Well for one thing, Darcy represents a man who is constant but strong in his affection, kind at heart, willing to acknowledge when he is in the wrong, stoic and of course, rich (oh wait that's five). But I think what ultimately makes Darcy everyones favourite romantic hero is his heroine.
Elizabeth Bennet is opinionated, witty and confident. It is unimaginable that Darcy could become the romantic hero he does without Lizzy to rebuff him. It is her rebuffal of his first proposal that prompts Darcy to self-reflect on his proud and arrogant behaviour and ultimately become the Darcy we all know and love. Through the character of Elizabeth Bennet I believe that Austen is making a comment on the importance of certainty of self in women as a means to achieve happiness. Elizabeth refuses to be submissive and sticks up for those she loves, regardless of her gender and class status. Her refusal to be intimidated by Darcy, answering back to him and holding his gaze despite their different social standing would have been incredibly risque and demonstrates an assertiveness of character that is almost sexual by Austen's standards. Unlike other women of the time Lizzy doesn't see Darcy's worth in his money and connections but when she realises the honour and honesty of his character. It is because of her own self confidence and expectations of what she deserves that he has to prove himself worthy to her, not the other way around. 
Despite the fact that this novel was published over 100 years ago, Elizabeth Bennet remains a refreshingly modern character. I would argue that the enduring appeal of Mr Darcy as a romantic figure is as much to do with how easily readers continue to identify with Lizzy as it is his standalone appeal as a romantic hero.
Rather than being as old fashioned as I originally thought, this book is ahead of its time in encouraging women to be assertive and bold and in its creation of a hero that isn't afraid of a opinionated woman. Perhaps the prejudices I felt towards this book in my first reading may have betrayed me as more similar to Lydia, but I really hope that 22 year old me can learn to be more like Elizabeth Bennet!

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