Whenever I engage in a discussion of the relative merits of Jane Austen as a writer, the conversation inevitably returns to the subject of Mr. Darcy. Even if I’m trying to talk about Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion – you know, one of Austen’s other novels – Mr. Darcy is always mentioned. Usually, the person who brings up Mr. Darcy is the one who doesn’t like Austen, and his argument boils down to the same thing: “Austen is only popular because women think Mr. Darcy is hot.”
OF COURSE! It all makes sense now! Our admiration of Austen’s writing has nothing, nothing to do with the way she portrays a close, sisterly relationship in Sense and Sensibility, or the homage/satire on the Gothic novel in Northanger Abbey, or the mature story about love and forgiveness in Persuasion, or the hilarious original Mommie Dearest story in Lady Susan, or the pointed commentary on hypochondria and gossip in her unfinished Sanditon. It’s ALL ABOUT MR. DARCY. “I watched Colin Firth crawl out of the lake and I jizzed! in! my pants!”
Right, okay. I could – and possibly will – write an entire thesis praising the merits of Jane Austen, but that post is for another time. For now, I’m going to entertain the idea that Mr. Darcy is the source of Austen’s popularity.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Darcy is the main reason women love Pride and Prejudice. I counter with, “If that is the case, what’s wrong with that?”
Seriously. What’s wrong with loving Mr. Darcy?
In fact, what’s wrong with women wanting real men to be more like Mr. Darcy?
Some people would claim that there is something seriously wrong with that. Not all of these people are men. They assume we ladies can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality and we’re imposing unrealistic expectations on real-life men.
That would be true…except most people don’t understand the real reason women love Mr. Darcy.
It’s not the Colin Firth factor. It’s not the handsome exterior. It’s not the money. It’s not even the way he swoops in to save the day and rescue Elizabeth’s stupid little sister and their family from shame.
No. The real reason women love Mr. Darcy has to do with his powers of receptive language. When Elizabeth tells him that he’s full of crap, he listens to her.
Every single woman I know has had the frustrating, circular conversation with her boyfriend/husband/significant other where she tries to express her feelings and explain what’s bothering her about their relationship. And every single woman I know has had to deal with the frustrating aftermath as her partner refuses to understand, or genuinely doesn’t understand, why she’s upset. Worse, he will often mansplain to her why her problem isn’t really a problem, how it isn’t that serious, how she’s overreacting/being emotional/being irrational…and then wonder why she’s even more frustrated and won’t talk to him. Even the best of men do this.
Not Mr. Darcy. His initial reaction, yes, is to assume that Elizabeth was angry because of her hurt pride, but she puts him in his place when she explains that she was truly put off by his “selfish disdain for the feelings of others.” That cuts him to the quick. The next time she sees him, he is considerably more pleasant and social than he was before, generous to her aunt and uncle and engaging them in conversation. He makes an effort to make them feel comfortable, when he would have given no thought to their concerns before meeting Elizabeth.
At the end of the book, he acknowledges that he would never have changed his ways if not for “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” He makes a comment about Mr. Bingley forgiving him, to which Elizabeth almost replies before checking herself because he “has not learned to laugh at himself yet.” He has improved since the beginning of the story, but he can stand to develop a stronger sense of humor.
In short, we don’t love Mr. Darcy because he’s perfect. We love him because he’s not perfect, he recognizes that he’s not perfect, and actually works on his imperfections in the name of self-improvement.
What would the world be like if everyone was a little more reflective, and thought a little more about how their behavior affects others?
I’ve heard men say that characters like Mr. Darcy and Edward Cullen (and I hate mentioning them in the same sentence, but they’re unfortunately lumped together too often) make women have unrealistic expectations of the men they date. Isn’t that a convenient excuse for not trying harder to change? It’s the Homer Simpson way: “Well EXCUSE ME for having ENORMOUS FLAWS that I DON’T WORK ON!”
And call me blunt or dismissive if you must, but in a world where women get plastic surgery on their vaginas to trim their labias, hoping they will make their ladyparts more attractive to men, I really, really don’t want to hear about the unrealistic expectations that we have for you.
Yes, gentlemen, you should be more like Mr. Darcy, in the sense that you should listen when a woman tells you she’s upset about your behavior. You don’t have to agree with her in the end, but you have to show that her opinion matters to you.