Darcy: Hero or Bad Boy? from Martine Roberts, Guest Blogger

Darcy: Hero or Bad Boy? from Martine Roberts, Guest Blogger

Today, we welcome Martine Roberts, with a post on our favorite hero (or is that our favorite bad boy)? Thanks for joining us today, Martine. 

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

This is the first, and undoubtedly the most famous sentence from Jane Austen’s popular, and much-loved novel, Pride & Prejudice

It is now 203 years since this magnificent piece of fiction was published, but it is still, if not more, popular than ever. I cannot help but ask why? Is it because we all love a love story, or maybe it’s because we enjoy the lively exchanges between Elizabeth and Darcy. Alternatively, perhaps it is because we all secretly love to see a bad boy turn good? Did Jane purposely write Darcy in this style? Or maybe she underestimated the attraction Darcy’s character would have on the female population?

There have been many visual incarnations of the Fitzwilliam Darcy character over the years, and everyone who has watched one, or all of these productions has their favourite.

My personal introduction to Mr. Darcy was at the tender age of 9, when I first watched the 1940 film version starring, Sir Laurence Olivia.
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Unaware of the multitude of inaccuracies in the film, I was nevertheless hooked.  I was seduced by the language, the clothes, their manners, and courtesies. I can’t think of anything more romantic than to have a man bow to me and then press a light kiss on my outstretched hand, (sigh). Though for a star-struck child from a working-class family, it was the prospect of a happy ending.

However, today’s generation have a plethora of Darcy’s to choose from. The two most recent, and apparently most popular, are the BBC mini-series starring the delectable Colin Firth, and his now iconic wet shirt scene. And the deliciously handsome, Matthew MacFadyen from the 2005 film version. And although Matthew did not walk out of a lake half undressed, his proposal during a thunderstorm was just as seductive. (Hands up all those who longed for him to kiss Keira Knightley in that scene?)

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Before either of these, there was the rich-voiced David Rintoul in the 1980 mini-series, which is for some reason is rarely shown on TV.

We must also include a slightly different incarnation of P & P, and one of my personal favorites, Lost in Austen, which is another TV mini-series set in both modern and the Regency times. It is a must for all Austen fans. Though Elliot Cowen’s Mr. Darcy is the only character that remotely resembles the one Jane invented, it is still very watchable.

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images-3These are just a few of the versions available to us. We also have the Bridget Jones films, Death Comes to Pemberley, Austenland, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc., etc., etc.

So, what is it that attracts us to this man? Jane’s initial description of him is rather vague.

‘Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend’

Miss Austen does not describe Darcy as having a thick head of curly hair, or that he possessed piercing blue eyes, yet these are properties we automatically attribute to him.

Undoubtedly she describes him as a gentleman of noble birth, yet he lacks all the social niceties considered essential in the day. He is rude, arrogant, proud, intolerant and over-confident of his self-worth. Having said that, let’s not forget that Jane also tells us that Darcy is tall, handsome, AND incredibly wealthy. OK, the last two items might have some influence on us, but what about Darcy as a person.

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images-5Is it because we secretly like the excitement that inevitably comes with a bad boy? Alternatively, it may be that we like to imagine that we could be the one person who could touch his heart, and by doing so, reform him? Or, is it that we cannot resist a challenge?. For me, it is all these reasons.

Jane Austen certainly knew one thing; a good novel had to have four things;

A hero, a villain, and a love story and a happy ending

In fact, all of Jane’s books follow a very similar recipe.

Each novel has a hero.

Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Knightley in Emma, Captain Wentworth in Persuasion, Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility, Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, and finally Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey.

And the proverbial ‘bad guys.’

George Wickham, Mr. Elton, Mr. William Elliot, Willoughby, Captain Fredrick Tilney, and Henry Crawford.

Thankfully, (spoiler alert) Jane provides us with a happy ending in all her books.

And who could fail to be impressive by how Jane misleads us throughout the book, intertwining the character traits of Darcy and Wickham, making them both appear slightly bad while remaining generally decent. Only later in the story, as their real natures are revealed, do we discover their true worth. Darcy is the good guy with a bad reputation, while Wickham is a scoundrel, with all the appearances of being a good man. 

Yet no other of Jane’s novel have been so reproduced, or are so loved, as her baby, Pride & Prejudice. There are also thousands of spin-off books written every year on the subject. These are generally described as ‘What if’s’ or Pride & Prejudice Variations, usually involving some, or all of her characters, and some, or all of the plot lines from Jane’s original story. Indeed, I write them myself. Amazon.com: Martine J Roberts: Kindle Store

So, what is it about this book in particular? It is Darcy!

georgiana-and-wickham-at-ramsgate-2-300x225Imagine you are seeing or reading Pride & Prejudice for the first time. Initially, Jane gives us permission to dislike Darcy. Indeed, we could do nothing but dislike him. To promote this, Jane made his character rude, cold and aloof, in stark contrast to, Elizabeth and Wickham’s, which are warm, witty, and charming. It is only as the story unfolds that we learn of Darcy’s struggles, especially where Wickham and Georgiana are concerned. Only then, does our hearts begin to soften.

The heavy responsibility of a large estate, a young sister to raise, the friend who turns out to be an enemy, not to mention suffering delusional relatives or the dozens of servants and tenant’s that rely on him. His responsibilities are heavy indeed.

Then, as our budding like of Darcy begins to unfold like a flower, he does the most selfless thing imaginable. In rescuing Lydia, and by default all her sister’s, Darcy bind’s himself to his nemesis forever. With this final act of chivalry, Darcy’s transformation is complete, and our hearts are finally won.

Personally, I liked Darcy just the way he is, gorgeous, rich, and a little bit dangerous. (I loved how he dealt with Mrs. Younge and Wickham).

For whatever reason, you like this novel, I would like to think that Jane was sending a message through the media of her book.

Love can cross any divide; we should never give up hope, and real love is worth the wait.

What do you think?

You may find Martine Roberts at these links: Amazon Author Page and Facebook

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15 Responses to Darcy: Hero or Bad Boy? from Martine Roberts, Guest Blogger

  1. I did not read P&P or any other Jane Austen book as a teen or young adult. I watched the 1995 movie and then HAD to read the book. So it was not a matter of not liking him for his behavior in the book…it was a matter of drooling over this gorgeous man and figuring he had to be the man she was going to somehow fall in love with. After all Hollywood has given us certain expectations and, yes, I know this was a BBC not a USA production but the intent is still there. So many stories (look at all the historical romances) have the BAD boy, the one who snubs the beautiful, innocent, down-on-her-luck lady as the one she falls into love/bed with. I have all the movies, even those which are take-offs, Mormon, Bollywood, etc. I love them all. I have read so many JAFF and am still obsessed…is that sad or a good thing?

  2. Yes, Austen certainly did her best to fake us out and make us despise Darcy at first. As the story continued, however, it became clear (at least to me) that Elizabeth was far from worthy of Darcy’s attention. To be sure it was his vulnerability, as much as his heroic rescue of the Bennet family, that makes us love him. Along with Colin Firth I like Elliot Cowan’s Darcy. David Rintoul was IMNSHO miscast — he reminds me more of Frankenstein’s monster than the romantic Mr Darcy (altho’ I will admit that he does have a wonderful voice).

  3. I have all the DVD versions of P&P. I collect them religiously and am always on the lookout for extended version with how it was made sections or behind the scenes. The director usually talks about the Jane research that went into the making of the movie. Although I loved all the various Darcy’s, Firth with always be my Darcy. I have not seen the Lost in Austen version and went to Amazon and watched a clip. I just may have to have it.

    Like other readers, I was totally against this haughty man who was above his company…and completely horrified when I learned Wickham was so bad. Jane Austen gave us [the first time reader] a glimpse of how Elizabeth felt when she realized the depth of his wickedness. Notice how similar the word wicked is to Wickham.

    Oh and one more point. Notice how different the reception of those beneath him at the Assembly compared to his reception from the ton. After a bit, the majority of Meryton society no longer cared that he had ten thousand a year, declared him above his company and ignored him. Whereas the ton would have put up with Lucifer himself for the ten thousand a year. I thought that interesting.

  4. Enjoyed your post very much, Martine. I will admit that Matthew Macfadyen is my favorite Darcy. Darcy’s haughty, rude manner rubs us the wrong way at first, but when we learn more about him, we understand why he is the way he is: how he was raised and how he protects himself in society. Then we are willing to forgive him. Thank you for the additional insights into his character.

  5. Like you Martine, the 1940 version was my introduction to Jane Austen. I was about 11, in around 1966/67 when I saw it, and checked it out of the school library the very next day. Apart from being somewhat disappointed that the “archery scene” wasn’t in the book, the lasting impression the book made on me was the interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth. One thing I do regret is not having the memory of reading the book without knowing more or less what was going to happen; not having that OMG moment when the Hunsford proposal appears out of nowhere.

    One thing that’s noticeable in Austen’s novels is that she gives very little in terms of physical description of her characters. Darcy is tall, handsome and rich but what colour eyes and hair did he have? Regency-set dramatisations usually depict him as dark haired but he could have been a green-eyed redhead for all we know! The 1980 version is unusual in depicting Elizabeth as fair and Jane as dark, whereas it’s usually the other way around.

    For many years, Laurence Olivier WAS Darcy for me, right up until David Rintoul in 1980. Then came Colin Firth in 1995 and he remains Darcy for me to this day. Matthew MacFadyen hasn’t been able to supplant him. Lost in Austen (my favourite Mr. and Mrs. Bennet) was my first dramatised variation, followed by Bride and Prejudice, which I totally adore, despite not being a fan of musicals (snake dance scene, anyone?). P&P&Z is my latest – it’s so totally bizarre but even my husband enjoyed it and he doesn’t ususally watch anything from my “costume drama” DVD shelf. I think that one has my favourite portrayal of Mr. Collins, by Matt Smith.

    As to why most of us have fallen in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy, I think we’d all like a tall, handsome and wealthy man to fall in love with us for ourselves and for us to be able to reform what we see as the deficiencies in his character. Then when we get to know his true character, it’s game over!

  6. The very first Darcy I ever saw was David Rintoul and he’s always been my favourite. I have this version on dvd and often watch it. Darcy isn’t at all likable at the beginning of the book. He grows on us though over time. However he’s not my favourite Austen character. Captain Wentworth will always have that place.

  7. Unfortunately for the 1940 film I had already read P&P (at age 13) before I ever watched it, so I really dislike it. My favourite Darcy is David Rintoul as he portrays haughty so much better than Colin Firth. But Darcy is not really a favourite character of mine, and though I read fanfiction about him I am finding that I prefer to read more about the other characters.

  8. You make terrific points in your post. I really appreciate insight into what makes a great Darcy. I agree that Darcy is pivotal to the success of Pride and Prejudice. A great Darcy is definitely a must! He has to be one of the most (the most?) loved male characters of all time.

    And I do like Darcy, don’t get me wrong. The thing is, and don’t tell one me, but I’m not much of a romantic. I grew up a tomboy. It’s Elizabeth who draws me to the novel more than Darcy. I’d be happy to do a version where she runs off, becomes a highly successful pirate (but one who rights wrongs and is only a ‘pirate’ because they won’t let a woman captain a navy ship), rescues Darcy on the high seas when he comes looking for her, and only agrees to wed him if she can keep pirating (saving people on the high seas).

    I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice when I was young, though. I mostly read fantasy. I did read Zorro. I will admit to having a crush on him, but I didn’t dream of falling in love with him . . . at least that wasn’t the whole dream. I dreamed of being him. Well, a female version of him. Riding, fighting and setting the world right. It’s not just a man’s job 🙂

  9. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was about 12. My mother was a great one for reading everything she got her hands on, and so I learned my lessons well. I did not despise Darcy immediately for I grew up during a time when the man’s word was the “law.” What I adored about Darcy was his fascination with a girl who was pretty, but not gorgeous and who was a reader and often spoke her opinions (ones she had not tested out on many beyond her own family). This could very much describe me as a child. I did not have my elder cousin’s beautiful voice, nor did I possess my younger cousin’s vivacious personality. I was stuck in the middle, and except for the notice of a few teachers and my mother, I was considered quite unremarkable. I fell in love with Darcy because I always figured if he were real, he might fall in love with me. Egotistical, perhaps, but true, nonetheless.

  10. I think one of the major attractions of Pride and Prejudice isn’t Darcy or Elizabeth, but their interactions. Wickham is attractive at first, but upon rereading, all he does is complain. Darcy and Elizabeth sparkle.

  11. I see what you mean Martine. Although I do think Elizabeth would have liked him earlier if he hadn’t been so distracted that he insulted her regardless of how proud he seemed. But then there wouldn’t have been much of a story!!! P&P is by far my favourite of Jane’s books. I do have them all but only read variations about ODC. I have your books and must thank you for sharing your ideas.

  12. Martine, Thank you for a thoughtful analysis. I have always found Darcy’s fear of appearing vulnerable to Elizabeth to be his most appealing quality. He is a little boy with a soft heart, trying to act as he thinks a man should. We all know he is one layer away from being exposed for a softie. I love that in him. Any woman who instinctively understands men, delights in his ultimate reveal.

  13. Brilliant piece! This line stood out for me – “Imagine you are seeing or reading Pride & Prejudice for the first time.” As it happens that is easy to imagine because I’ve only recently read it for the first time and it has gripped me like no other book. I. Am. Obsessed! I’m new to the JAFF stories too but am lapping them up too, can’t get enough of them.

    I absolutely hated Darcy in the first part of the book and kept saying out loud, “Who would want him?!! He’s horrible! She’s better off without him!”, but then as I kept (fervently) turning pages I softened and I’m not sure how it happened but (obviously) by the end of the book I was besotted. I have no clue where the change took place, I only know that I went from hating him to adoring him in less than 300 pages. Marvelous writing and I’m only sorry I found it so late in life.

Your thoughts are precious!