Of course, Jane Austen has written several outstanding gentlemen in her unfortunately small body of works. Visit the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting and you will hear brisk conversations discussing the merits of Henry Tilney versus Edmund Bertram, whether Mr. Knightley will make Emma a good husband or whether their mentor/youth relationship will be a problem when they are instead a married couple, and what about Willoughby? Will he be changed by losing Marianne and then finding out that he might have done just as well (or better) to marry her and be forgiven by his wealthy relative instead of marrying a wealthy shrew for her money and the independence it gave him? Austen has given us 200 years of fodder for lively conversation about her characters and our perceptions of them.
But what about Austen’s eternal hero…Mr. Darcy? Let us take a page from that immortal poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and “count the ways.”
Naturally, a hero should be attractive, but Austen’s are not always perfect specimens of manhood…except Mr. Darcy. Tall, handsome, well-dressed but not foppish, Austen lets us fill in the details…whether he has Colin Firth’s dark wavy hair and expressive eyes, or Matthew Macfadyen’s straight hair and sad and longing orbs, we can each put together our favorite combination. Darcy is physically the most handsome of her heroes (her antiheroes have more generally good looks- after all those looks are their stock in trade- if the villains all had black hats on we would never fall for them!). But…Ms. Austen has shown us over and over that perfect looks may hide a villain and a less than perfect man may steal a heart with an engaging smile and a reliable character.
Darcy is tall- Bingley even comments on how much more respect Darcy gets because of his height when he comments: “I
assure you, Miss Bennet, that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference.” Tall is always a plus, especially when you want to wear that new high poked bonnet and don’t want to look like you have a head like a pumpkin.
Rich…Mr. Darcy is indeed wealthy; wealthy enough to get the respect of the upper crust of society when it comes to selecting a bride. Ten thousand pounds
a years puts him in the top thousand families in England for wealth. Not too shabby, and certainly there are many women who would accept Darcy for his money and handsome appearance and would accept that one must make some compromises in the marriage game.
All of these details are areas where Mr. Darcy can affect the hearts of women everywhere, but I do not think that these are the characteristics that make Darcy the man of so many women’s dreams…
No…Mr. Darcy’s most heart-stopping characteristic is that he, a man, is willing to admit he was wrong, out loud, in person, to both Elizabeth and Bingley. And THEN…he changes! All of Austen’s main characters have transformative experiences which make the characters work, but Darcy is her crowning glory. I’m gasping just thinking about it! A man who will admit he is wrong and then change his behavior is a treasure not to be easily put aside.
There you have it…Mr. Darcy’s secret. I guess that is why I am still married to my Mr. Darcy…he is also honest and willing to look at his faults (but I wish I could get him into knee breeches and swallowtail coat!)
What do you think is the secret to Mr. Darcy’s attraction?