Fitzwilliam Darcy, Caregiver

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Caregiver

I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice. It seems, though, that every time I read it, I find something new to ponder or appreciate.

It happened again when I re-read the book last month, and reached one of my favorite parts in the story: Darcy’s disastrous marriage proposal to Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy calls on Elizabeth at Hunsford parsonage.

You know the set-up: Elizabeth is staying at Hunsford with Charlotte and Mr. Collins. After learning from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy is responsible for separating Charles from her sister Jane, Elizabeth becomes so upset, she stays home while everyone else goes to Rosings.

While she is home alone, Mr. Darcy unexpectedly calls upon her:

In an hurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better.

Mr. Darcy, in an agitated and hurried manner.

It’s funny that after reading that sentence so many times over the years, this time it suddenly caught and held my interest. For the first time I realized there are two different ways to interpret Darcy’s manner.

Option 1: Darcy simply used Elizabeth’s illness as an excuse to visit her, knowing she’d be alone, which would give him the ideal opportunity to propose marriage.

Option 2: Or, Darcy’s hasty manner shows his real concern for her. He shows up at Hunsford because he really needs to satisfy himself that she is all right. Only then does he realize, with everyone else in the house at Rosings, that he can take advantage of the situation and make his offer of marriage.

Which scenario do you think is true?

In the past, I always read that sentence in the light of Option 1; but I have to confess, I kind of like Scenario #2. It appeals to the romantic in me.

I like the idea that the “hurried manner” in which he asked after her health resulted from Darcy’s genuine concern for her. After all, hasn’t Darcy already shown us he’s a caregiver by nature?

Here’s what I mean. By the time we reach this part of the story, we already know that Darcy:

  • Takes care of his friend Charles and helps him settle into his new digs at Netherfield;
  • Cares for his younger sister, Georgiana, and shares guardianship of her with his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam;
  • He makes extended visits to his aunt Lady Catherine and cousin Anne at Rosings to check on their welfare;
  • And he saves Charles from an “imprudent marriage” with Jane. His own cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam divulges the story to Elizabeth, emphasizing the fact that Darcy takes “a prodigious deal of care of” Charles.
Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet.

While it’s the Colonel’s disclosure that upsets Elizabeth so much and makes her dislike Darcy all the more, we readers know Darcy acted out of true friendship with Charles. After all, when he played a part in separating Charles from Jane, he didn’t know Jane and barely knew Elizabeth; it was his devotion to his friend that was uppermost in his mind. He merely wanted to take care of Charles.

Immediately after that scene in the drawing-room at Hunsford, we learn other ways Darcy shows himself to be a caregiver. We learn:

  • He has helped Wickham financially numerous times until (in a Regency version of tough love) he ultimately cuts him off.
  • He saves his younger sister from a disastrous elopement with Wickham.
Georgiana Darcy and Wickham, about to embark on an elopement.
  • He is scrupulously polite to, and takes care of, his servants and pensioners (and they adore him for it).
  • He saves Elizabeth and her family from certain ruin by effectuating Lydia’s marriage to Wickham.
Lydia and Wickham’s wedding, with Darcy and the Gardiner’s in stern attendance.
Lydia and Wickham’s wedding, with Darcy and the Gardiner’s in stern attendance.

Do you see other hints in the story of Darcy’s caring nature I didn’t mention here?

It’s funny to me that I always read the novel as Jane Austen wrote it, from Elizabeth’s perspective; and from Elizabeth’s perspective, I only really saw Darcy change at the end of the story.

But for some reason, this time I was more aware of all the hints Jane Austen gave us of Darcy’s real nature: that he truly was a caring man who tried to do the right thing all the way through the story, whether or not Elizabeth (and we readers) recognize it.

I wonder, do you read it the same way? Or am I starting off the new year by giving my wishful, romantic streak a little too much license? 😀


32 Responses to Fitzwilliam Darcy, Caregiver

  1. I agree with #2 — always have. He’s upper-crust upper-class. He’s been chased by women desperate to marry money since he came of age. With his parents death — especially his father’s — he’s been responsible for huge numbers of people and properties since his early 20s. And we know that his sister is very shy and that he’s uncomfortable in social situations when he doesn’t know the people well. So, he’s developed his public face to hide his true feelings.

    I really think that playing with his signet ring whenever he was in an uncomfortable situation (in A&E version) as well as the going to look out a window (in Austen’s writings) was his way of remaining above the fray and keeping from saying things he probably shouldn’t.

    But, as you and several other commenters wrote there instances of his kindness and caring throughout the book. Once you clear the barriers and become someone he considers a friend — he can’t not care and try to help where he can. On the other hand, he’s used to being in control and that attitude mixed with trying to solve everyone he cares about problems can seem very officious to an outsider (or one who wants to see him in a bad light).

    • Gayle, I really like what you said about his nature being the same as Georgiana’s: quiet and shy. And when he plays with his ring or walks to the window, it’s his signal that he’s coping and thinking and figuring things out; but those around him read his actions as stand-offish and proud. Good point, Gayle! Thanks so much for sharing your insights.

  2. Interesting post! I got with Option 2. He had several opportunities to speak with her alone and never got the words out before. Leaving Lady Catherine’s dinner is the least obvious way of proposing. I think he was genuinely concerned for Elizabeth.

    You asked if there are other examples of his caring nature. I’d add that he sought to comfort Elizabeth after she read Lydia’s letter before he even knew the nature. He knew she would want her aunt and uncle. He offered wine to calm her and anything else he could do. When approaching Lydia, he suggested that she leave Wickham rather than marry him. Lydia cannot be happy for long with the man and while it would have been a scandal and might have damaged the Bennet reputation, he suggests something that would ultimately ensure Lydia’s happiness rather than worry merely about reputations. I think he also takes care when he doesn’t put Caroline in her place more forcibly when finally confronted or any time at all before even though he’s clearly annoyed. Nor does he criticize his aunt. He tolerates Mr. Collins at Hunsford. That he visits at all when Collins irritates him so much is really quite something. Even in Hertfordshire, while Elizabeth constantly interprets his looks to mean he’s dissatisfied, he never actually says something when annoyed. He doesn’t cut Sir William Lucas when he pesters him to dance. He doesn’t embarrass Mrs. Bennet with her own stupidity when she accuses him of snobbery. He shows up for Bingley’s ball when Bingley says he could stay upstairs. He stops arguing with Elizabeth when he considers that it makes Bingley uncomfortable. I could find dozens of other examples. I think he has some issues with respecting people who mean nothing to him but I think he tempers that with caring very much for those he does know. He would never have wanted to embarrass Bingley or, once he met Elizabeth and was attracted to her, Elizabeth.

    • Rose, I’ve been rereading your comments for the last several minutes because you make so many good points! You’re right that Darcy had plenty of opportunity to be alone with Elizabeth and propose (I’m thinking back to all those times he joined her on her walks in Kent). He could have proposed in any of those instances; it wasn’t until his true feelings were revealed (in the form of his concern for her) that he finally/spontaneously offered marriage.

      You’ve given so many wonderful examples of Darcy’s caring nature that I never saw when I read P&P through Elizabeth’s perspective, but they’re definitely there. Thank you for adding so many meaningful examples to the list. I’ll definitely keep them in mind as I go back and re-read the scenes you mentioned. You’ve given me a lot to ponder and appreciate!

  3. Like, you I believe that mr d had rushed to see if EB is any beter. Seeing she was, he delivered his marroage proposal (part of it he couldn’t contain what is in his heary and mind I bet). His being a caring person is shown also when he happen to see EB rushing to find her after reading the letter about Lydia’s elopemen. He automaticaly took scare of EB. ask if she needed anything and asking for another person to search for her uncle/aunt. It is simple but the immediate care is what is striking. His adherence to propriety is also admirable – cares enough for their reputation as it not only afects them but others. Thak you Nancy for such a wonderful post.

    • Oh, yes! Darcy definitely showed his feelings for Elizabeth after she learned of Lydia’s proposal. That’s such an important scene; it really showed his concern for her and how much he immediately wanted to make things better for her. I can’t believe I left that off my list, but I’m glad you reminded me!

  4. This was a delightful character study of our favorite P&P leading man. I go for Option 2. I agree that he was worried for her health.

    Darcy knew that Collins would never go against [disappoint] Lady Catherine and would attend her and force his wife to accompany him. That would leave his cousin alone and in the care of the servants. Darcy would be horrified. He would cancel any engagement or appointment to attend his ill sister. To see Collins acting as though nothing was amiss, while his cousin was alone at the parsonage and ill, went against everything Darcy stood for.

    So, just what was the purpose of his visit? I figure his initial plan was to ascertain just how ill she was. He wouldn’t trust Collins to give an accurate account while at Rosings. He also would not want to hang around and listen to Lady Catherine’s diatribe on wellness and the lax behavior of the Miss in becoming ill in the first place. He would need to determine if Collins was neglectful… not that Mrs. Collins would neglect the care of her friend. Darcy would need to make sure the servants were in fact taking care of Miss Elizabeth while Collins was at Rosings. He would want to know if a physician was needed. He would already be formulating a plan to send for his own if the need was there. Propriety demanded that if she were in bed, or even in her chambers, he couldn’t see her. So he had to know this as he headed for the parsonage. Interesting.

    When he arrived and saw that she was downstairs and recovering, he was probably so relieved that during their conversation he declared his feelings. Once that door was open, he blurted out his proposal. Poor man.

    Years ago, I had established the habit of reading P&P every year. I had managed to do so until this last year. Real life interfered and I missed reading my favorite Austen book. I will have to make sure I do that this year. I have dozens of Post-It notes marking my favorite sections. It is funny to look at my book with all the colorful tabs sticking out of the pages. Blessings on the new year.

    • Your copy of P&P sounds very much like my favorite copy–lots of sticky notes and tape flags! I think you nailed it when you described what might have been going through Darcy’s head as soon as he learned Elizabeth was left behind at the parsonage because she wasn’t feeling well. He would not have been able to rest until he satisfied himself as to the state of her health and that she was being cared for. You’ve give me a lot to think about! 🙂 Happy New Year to you!

    • J. W. I loved your view of this part of P&P. You remind me it’s time to read the original myself. It may be digital this time around. But I have a soft bound annotated edition that has the sticky notes you describe. That thing nearly got worn to a nub. 🙂 Also a blessed new year to you.

  5. That’s a fascinating question. I guess I always believed he was truly worried for Elizabeth and wanted to see her to make sure she was alright. But he also knew he and the Colonel would be leaving soon and wanted to see her in private anyway. He’s so inept about courting though, having avoided that in order to not raise expectations with the ton mamas. That’s not the whole story. Yet he totally believes he HAS raised her expectations (by broodingly staring at her from across the room? No, probably his silent walks with her on the trails of Rosings park,) and wants to not only reassure her of his honor, but that he also really loves her so much that he has had to fight to overcome his worries over their social disparity. You know, what his family will think, what his circle will think, the ton in general. yadda yadda Oh boy, he doesn’t have a clue. Sometimes I really believe he had Aspberger’s Syndrome. No filters. He keeps his mouth shut until…he doesn’t…then OUCH. I guess I never had to really give thought to him being a caregiver as such, but it’s there being revealed little by little. I thought of it as heaps of responsibility and he wore ‘that cloak’ well, having taken on such a load at an early age and feeling honor bound to his duties. I felt so bad for him after her rejection. Yet even though he’s hurt, he shows that he still feels responsible, and writes that letter so she would know Wickham’s real character. But taking responsibility and caregiving are often the same thing.

    • Michelle, you make so many good points! “Yet he totally believes he HAS raised her expectations.” Yes! He danced with her when he wouldn’t dance with anyone else; he engaged in conversation with her when he wouldn’t talk to anyone else; he took walks with her at Rosings (which you mentioned), which he wouldn’t do with anyone else. In his mind, he probably did think he had shown his hand and revealed his growing love for her. So, naturally, the next step was an offer of marriage. He just never anticipated her response. That makes total sense. Thank you for shedding some new and interesting light on this D&E scene!

  6. I have always seen it as Option 2 as well. Darcy takes care of those who he feels responsible for. He knows there natures and in regard to Charles, he feels he is helping not only Charles but Jane too. As for rushing to the parsonage, for me, he is clearly concerned about Elizabeth’s well-being. Happy New Year!

  7. I’ve always read it as Option 2. I think that the results are obvious: because he came to the parsonage out of concern for Elizabeth’s health, he hadn’t thought through his proposal much at all. I think he realizes that because he was so compelled by his love for her that he excused himself from the dinner at Rosings and came rushing to Elizabeth to make certain she was well, his love for her is of such strength and depth that he must have Elizabeth in his life always…despite all of the marks against her in wealth, connections, and especially family. Thus, all of his repressed love comes tumbling out in his mess of a proposal.

    Thanks for helping us to view this (in)famous scene in more depth!

    Susanne 🙂

    • That makes perfect sense, Susanne, and helps explain why Darcy (so articulate in almost every other scene) manages to say all the wrong things in his proposal! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. Thanks for this post Nancy. I have read so many JAFF versions of this scene along with the many readings of the original that I have no idea how I actually interpreted it! However I do like your option 2 as I love to think of him as a caring person and I personally feel so sorry for him in his suffering.

    • Same for me, Glynis. With all the JAFF stories I’ve read and the different film versions I’ve watched, I sort of lost track of the original scene and its context! Now you’ve given me something new to think about: How Darcy must have suffered after Elizabeth rejected him, which isn’t covered in the book. After everything went wrong, I’m certain he suffered, as you said. Thanks for commenting.

  9. i agree with you about his caring nature, and I bet Mrs. Reynolds would have as well. When that’s coupled with his shyness, his caregiving nature might be overlooked. I’m getting ready to read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ again. I’m wondering what I’ll discover when I do. Will let you know. 🙂

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