Would the real Mr Darcy please step forward?

By | October 2, 2005

Men just don’t get Mr Darcy and how could they? For Darcy is not a man at all; he is the anti-man. He is everything a man is not and therefore we women adore him. Unfortunately for the fevered brows and beating hearts of Pride and Prejudice fans, he remains a work of fiction.
It’s not about the wet shirt, though that gratuitous scene from the BBC series set our pulses racing. It’s not about Colin Firth, though he is beautiful and the casting director deserves an award for that act of genius. Matthew McFayden, the Darcy of the current film of the Jane Austen novel, is not fit to wipe Firth’s shoes. Yet even he cannot destroy the overwhelming attractiveness of this great romantic hero.

Austen wrote a story that could never happen, and it never will. Elizabeth Bennet bravely points out to the rich, handsome and aloof Fitzwilliam Darcy that despite his many attractions, he also has serious faults. Crushed by her criticism, he chooses not to resent her rejection. Instead he reforms himself in a public and determined fashion in order to make himself worthy of her.

He even thanks her profusely for correcting his character: “You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled.” Her integrity and bravery do not lose her his love. Instead it deepens and Darcy renews his proposals and is accepted. This is the ultimate nagger’s fantasy.

It would never happen in real life. The normal course of events is the complete opposite of Austen’s romance. Overwhelmed by his superiority in social status, money, age and good looks, most women would work very hard to please Mr Darcy. We are very practised in the art of indulging men with smiles and reassurances. Only when she has managed to inveigle him into a marriage would the process of dismantling and rebuilding his character begin.

It is highly unlikely that he would appreciate these efforts. Do you think the husbands of the world ever say: “My object was to show you by every civility in my power that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill-opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to.”

Sadly, no. Strange as it may seem, most people, especially men with their precious egos, do not like being told that the arrogance bred into them by their proud parents is an overbearing and dispensable quality.

Would-be Elizabeths should act with caution. Attempts to reform flawed characters will rarely find a grateful recipient. Typically, they will be greeted by outrage and disdain; she wouldn’t see Darcy for dust.

The entire Darcy-Elizabeth relationship runs counter to everything our own bitter experience has taught us. In the beginning he doesn’t fancy her at all. He finds her merely tolerable. His admiration for her grows as he gets to know her. Most relationships begin with intense attraction which peaks within three months and inevitably declines once the parties get to know each other. Usually, there will be a huge row and a break-up. At best, a combination of platonic regard and fear of being alone will keep things trundling along for a while.

Then there is all that repressed passion. Darcy and Elizabeth never kiss. She can’t even look at him when he makes his declarations of love. Women love repressed passion. Pride and Prejudice is 350 pages long, which if you’re watching the BBC version translates into six hours of foreplay. I’m not sure there is a man alive who can keep a woman excited for that long without so much as loosening his cravat, even if he does get the shirt wet.

The new film fails utterly in this respect. Apart from the unavoidable cutting of time and courtship, Kiera Knightly’s Elizabeth accepts the marriage proposal by taking Darcy’s hand and rather ridiculously remarks that it is cold. He makes creepy references to being bewitched body and soul. Then they lean their foreheads against each other. Sweet in any other movie, but not my Pride and Prejudice. Had over-ripe vegetables been available, I would have fired them at the screen. Darcy and Elizabeth don’t do touching.

Firth’s Darcy only needed to look at Elizabeth to convince us of his love. Their language is formal and even when they are hostile to each other, manners and politeness reign. It heightens the tension until it is almost unbearable. It’s tantric sex, but in conversation.

But above all this, Austen’s Darcy has one outstanding quality. We can put aside his wealth, looks and reformation. His greatest achievement is that he loves Elizabeth; ardently, violently and passionately. And we are Elizabeth, so he loves us. And oh, to be so loved.

Elizabeth is not the prettiest girl in the room. That distinction is reserved for her sister Jane. She hasn’t got the nicest clothes; Caroline Bingley wins the fashion stakes. She can’t even play the piano as nicely as Darcy’s own sister Georgiana. According to the measures of the day, she falls short of the accepted standards.

Most women will identify with her position. At every party there will always be somebody better looking, better dressed, with a better job, and who plays tennis or sings or cooks or does something, anything, better than us.

Therefore we have to hope that somewhere out there exists a thoughtful and intense man who is unimpressed by looks and clothes and charm. Because he is not distracted by the wiles and tricks of prettier women, he will notice that we are good and intelligent and worthy of love. He will forgive us if we temporarily fall for the charming but evil Wickhams of this world. In short, we can do no wrong. He is the perfect lover.

Real men need not apply.

16 thoughts on “Would the real Mr Darcy please step forward?

  1. Mike

    Being an American, I am very happy to see that you in the British Isles have questioned the casting of the new film Pride and Prejudice. Not only was the character of Darcy not strongly cast, but I think that Keira Knightley was not the best of all possible Elizabeths.

    I never thought of Elizabeth as a quite the winsome and sprightly type she was represented as in the film. To me she seemed to be a very precise thinker and exact in her judgements, perhaps also very mature for her young age, and that was something which would have showed in her appearance. A couple of years ago I saw in a lit class (being a middle-aged male graduate student in literature) a BBC production of Pride and Predjudice. I though, if anything, that the curly Elizabeth of that production was getting closer to the right look. Maybe I’m the only person in the world who knows what Elizabeth Bennet looks like, but since I can’t draw, she remains trapped inside me. I will describe her thusly. She would have a thin face, curly light brown or honey blonde hair and blue eyes. She would be fairly tall (maybe 5’5″) with an athletic build and large hands and feet. My point is, Knightley, although decent casting, just was never the actress to play the part the way it really was.

    An American reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle called Knightley an Elizabeth even Jane Austen would approve of. Yes, Austen would approve of her. She would say, movies are movies, and for a movie, she was pretty good.

    Now we can move on to the story itself. I think there is something about Jane Austen that everyone misses. This is her literary naturalism, or species of it. As I use the term, I mean it as presenting things as they are, as fact or information, without any mediation by ideas or cultural concepts. A lot more of that in Austen than you think. Maybe Austen is all naturalism even when she seems to involved in ideas and cultural concepts.

  2. ted

    That man hateing rant was plain stupid. It says that a man’s flawed character comes from his parents? If this was so, wouldn’t women have equally flawed characters? Or do parents discriminate for some reason? Austin’s book came before Darwin and the intelligence of the above author seemingly did too. In fact, Darwin taught us that women men bred men to have the qualities they have. If women can’t relate to their own creations perhaps the fault lies within? Oh dear, imagine women be asked to consider that they should play a part in the creation of a loving relatioship that probably shouldn’t include a foundation of senseless feminist male bashing?
    Ted Baiamonte

  3. Palabra

    I agree that the new movie is utterly ridiculous in nearly every respect, especially in the casting and character development of the Darcy character.

    To suggest that Darcy does not exist in non-fictional men is as ridiculous as the aforementioned movie. I have found my Mr. Darcy despite the fact that I was not the prettiest or most accomplished girl in the room in which we met (and, at sixteen, I was still a “girl”). His previous relationship began on a blind date on the night that we met, and so it is safe to assume that I was not handsome enough to tempt him on that occasion. This polite acquaintance became my friend, and then my lover, and then my husband.

    My Mr. Darcy was not wealthy, but he was relatively good looking. There were significant social circumstances that kept us apart. It was a question of propriety, as we were both coming off on the losing end of relationships with close mutual friends. The awkwardness of this arrangement led to six months of “foreplay” during which we did not so much as kiss and we even tried to deny our feelings, but the sexual tension was evident to all who observed us. He did not care about all of my Mr. Wickhams even though he had met and disapproved of most of them. Both of us were used to taking the lead in our relationships, so we had to learn the subtle art of compromise before, eventually, I gave up on my resolve to remain a single woman forever and agreed to marry. Just like Elizabeth and Darcy, we had to improve ourselves and take significant social risks in order to approach one another as equals and achieve happiness. Although my husband had no improper pride to sacrifice, he made a sacrifice of a different sort: he left his friends, family, and job and moved to the opposite side of the continent for me. Our romance took six years to lead us to the wedding chapel, but, in its essentials, it is very much like Pride and Prejudice.

    In terms of overcoming social risk, repressing passion, and actively seeking personal reformation, my husband is every bit as appealing as Mr. Darcy. He is a thoughtful and intense man who loves me for my intelligence and for my ambition. He cares little for looks or fashion, openly preferring my natural appearance to my made-up one. While he does not stare with the intensity of Colin Firth and while I will grant that his two or three proposals were somewhat lacking in Austenian eloquence (One, “You know, we’ll have to marry someday.” was refused outright), I still hold to my belief that, in essentials, my Mr. Darcy is very much the same as Austen’s ever was.

    Real men can change for women, just as women can change for men, and real, passionate love can still blossom even before a single article of clothing is removed. If the attempts of would-be Elizabeths fail, perhaps it is because they are making those attempts upon would-be Wickhams rather than would-be Darcys. Women should not settle for Wickhams merely because men prefer to be Wickhams. If the majority of women adamantly demand a Darcy before they put an end to the “six hours of foreplay,” men will simply have no choice but to become Darcys. It is not a question of possibility, but of probability. The odds would be increased in favor of Elizabeths everywhere if only they were willing to hold men to Darcy’s standards rather than to accept the first Wickham or Collins to pass by.

    I don’t think the original post was feminist male bashing. In fact, I don’t think it was very feminist at all. To suppose that women cannot have Darcy because men will be Wickhams and women must accept them for fear of rejection is quite a patriarchal idea. It seems to me as though people will meet the standard that is set for them. If men were to set the standard for women at Elizabeth-like levels and if women were to set the standard for men at Darcy-like levels, then I daresay we would all have much better grammar as well as more meaningful intimate relationships.

  4. faolain

    The problem is that one woman (or person – let’s not be sexist)’s Darcy is another person’s Wickham: and equally unfortunately, the appropriate Elizabeth and Darcy are not necessarily in a geographically contiguous relationship. So what does one do?

  5. Samantha

    Bravo! Although it is obvious that this article is somewhat offensive to certain parties, I think it a superbly written one that, if anything, will encourage men to “prove the author wrong” by showing that Darcy lurks inside every one of the male species. And maybe he does. Perhaps every man secretly has the ability to portray a convincing Darcy. But seriously, folks, think about it: Darcy is handsome, charming, willing to change for the woman he loves, and SO much more! And men wonder why we are so entranced! Hmmm.

  6. Tony

    First, let me say – what a bizarre article! It is horrible how bitterness twists some people into terrible depths of hatred for half the population. I am sorry that the men in your life never made it up to the standards of Darcy, but HE’S NOT REAL!!! I can only recommend going out into the real world and meeting some nice men to talk to, try it, you might like it. Failing that, get some therapy, all that hate is not good for you!

  7. Fitzwilliam Darcy

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a wife, must be in want of a good fortune.

    I can assure you all….I am in fact real. I must admit to being somewhat humbled by some of the gracious flattery and sentiments. To all the men who might feel a deflation of self-esteem, you needn’t feel slighted, since my attentions will be focused on a singular fine eyed lady.

  8. zaya

    I very strongly disagree that the new pride and Prejudice had a poor cast, personaly I though Mathew McFcFaden was an excllent portrail of the real Mr.Darcy, and Keria Knightly also played a magnificent Elizabeth. The passion those two actors showed on screen was one of the most believable performances i have ever whitnessed. I am sorry if anyone who has seen the movie and did not care for it but I believe it to be one of the best movies ever made. I am fifteen yrs.old and i own everything ever done by Jane Austine and I am sure that more than one person will agree with me that Pride and Prejudice is her greatest novel(although she has written only great novles) i have several different versions of each movie and the newest version of Pide and Prejudice is still yet to be beaten. If i were the casting director I would have not seatled for any one else that Knightly or McFaden not even the wonderful Collin Firth.

  9. nadine

    I agree with Zaya – Matthew McFayden is a wonderful Mr. Darcy! I have not been the same since I read the book nor since I watched the movie! No movie can quite catch the feel and sentiments of the book but the new movie has done a good job. Not perfect but certainly delightful and satisfying in many aspects.

    I felt Keira Knightly could have shown some more feeling in her “fine eyes”! No, I don’t want sappy and showy sentiment, just some refined, reserved but strong emotion pouring out of their eyes and I think Matthew McFayden did a great job of showing his pride, shyness, confusion, attraction for Elizabeth and all the angst he should feel for being so inclined, considering his station in life!

    All in all, my world is changed forever since I read Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy is forever my fantasy. I do have to say that just as we are none of us exactly like Elizabeth Bennet, no man out there could possibly be completely like Mr. Darcy but there are many men who share similarities to him and it would be an injustice to denounce all men and relationships as being completely unlike P&P.

    However, maybe Pride and Prejudice will never completely be realized by anyone and this is not a bad thing, is it? It give us something to fantasize about and something to long for as long as we don’t lose ourselves in the unattainable and as long as we don’t undermine all who don’t match up to our fantasy.

  10. Sindy Bennett


    How dare you talk about Matthew McFayden like that! Are you kidding me. He “bewitched me body and soul”! Firth although a brilliant actor, could not demonstrate the hidden vulnerability of Mr. Darcy that Austin was trying to convey. So, please give Matthew some credit since he is a lot younger then firth and has less experience. Besides, he is so so so DELICIOUS!!!

  11. Tracey

    I love both versions of P&P Although i must admit i feel the actors in the 1995 version with Colin are too old for the roles they are playing. Elizabeth looks like she is about 35 and I feel the actors should look their age in the story approx 20 and 25.

    It a romantic story and I feel Keira and Matthew so a magnetism that goes with the story. I am hook , hook line and sinker and secretly in love with Matthew

  12. Ionna


    I checked that Colin was 35 and Jennifer 24 when the 95 P&P was made – a bit older than in the book but not that much.

    I loved both Darcys, Matthews and Colins. Colin was more intense and will probably always be THE Darcy for me. That look he gave Elizabeth.. If I hadn’t first seen Colin, I might not love the character Darcy as much. But Matthew was lovely, vulnerable, sensitive (and very sexy – despite the strange hair-do) and has made me sigh many times also after the movie.

  13. Cheryl

    I am studying P&P with my senior English students, who have to do an alternative reading of the male characters. That is, they have to look at the author’s presentation of her characters and read them differently, eg… Mr Colins as sensible, Mr Wickham as a good catch. My problem is that I can not read Mr Darcy as anything other than a good catch. Yes, Darcy is flawed and yes Elizabeth helps him improve his ways. But, I can not read him as playboy / manipulative / not in love. My initial solution with my students is to make Mr Darcy out of bounds. They may do a resistant reading of any other male character, from any of the texts we have studies, but they may not play around with Mr Darcy!!! That is, until I can work out how to view him differently. Thanks for the thoughs so far. As for both film versions, the directors are entitled to interpret / play around with the characters. By doing this, we are challenged to view the new Darcy / Elizabeth differently.

  14. Sean Redmond

    I never really found Elizabeth or Darcy that appealling to start off with, but, then each to their own. My not being at all female may account for it.
    When I was doing my Leaving Cert., I much preferred the character of Catherine Earnshaw in ‘Wuthering Heights’. Now there was a passionate girl. And I have never seen ‘Wuthering Heights’ on TV or in the cinema because I know that their Catherine would fall short of my Catherine. I’m bizarrely neutral on the theme of Heathcliff though. I suppose, that despite his prominent role in the book, I ignore him. Maybe the masochistic women among ye might fancy him.

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