Why Have Colonel Fitzwilliam?

Why Have Colonel Fitzwilliam?

It can be postulated that Colonel Fitzwilliam served multiple purposes in Pride & Prejudice aside from his one, main, purpose: letting Elizabeth know that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley. These other functions include:

  1. Fitzwilliam confirms Darcy’s statement about his sister, Georgiana, nearly eloping with Wickham. Although the actual confirmation is a slight reaction to Elizabeth’s teasing, Darcy’s willingness for Elizabeth to question Fitzwilliam offers further confirmation.
  2. He shows the reader that Darcy has respectable relatives he need not be ashamed of. I certainly wouldn’t want Pride and Prejudice to be without Lady Catherine, but I am quite happy she isn’t a relative that I would have to spend weeks visiting every year.
  3. He shows that Darcy has a good relationship with a sensible person other than Bingley. In Pride and Prejudice, there is an ongoing theme of judging people by the company they kept, and Darcy keeps good company by choice.
  4. He shows us that Elizabeth is attractive to a man of sense. From what we’ve seen in the novel up to the point of their brief friendship, Elizabeth attracted Wickham, Mr. Collins, and a non-redeemed Darcy. That is not a very good collection of suitors.
  5. He shows that even a good man needs to consider money when marrying. Colonel Fitzwilliam is kind enough to Elizabeth not to raise her expectations, which he does by letting her know that he has to marry for money, which conveniently lets the reader know that a man whom Jane Austen obviously respects, will not marry a poor woman.
  6. He helps the reader realize how much Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth and sets up a great interchange between Elizabeth and Darcy, shown below. This scene also shows that Elizabeth has some recognition of Darcy’s merits, when she calls him “a man of sense and education.”

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

“I shall not say you are mistaken,” he replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”

Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire–and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too–for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said he, smilingly.

“Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of,” cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I should like to know how he behaves among strangers.”

“You shall hear then–but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball–and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.”

“I had not at that time the honor of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”

“True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”

“Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”

“Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”

“I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy,” of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault–because I will not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam is an example of Jane Austen’s brilliance. He appears as almost an incidental character, but manages to be very important to the story.

  1. Can you think of other purposes Colonel Fitzwilliam serves in Pride and Prejudice?
  2. Would you include or, as done here, exclude one of his main purposes for the modern reader: Being another appealing gentleman in the story and, furthermore, one who remains single, allowing the reader’s imagination to plan his future?
  3. What other characters appear to be unimportant, but serve multiple purposes in Pride and Prejudice?

23 Responses to Why Have Colonel Fitzwilliam?

  1. Darcy’s comment about “neither of us perform to strangers” was, to me, said to let Elizabeth know that he had observed they were alike and that he understood her, in that they both had a public persona that was a bit limited because they were very careful of whom they shared their true selves with, if that makes sense. Elizabeth’s later comment “there are few people I really like and even fewer whom I love …” carries on from this statement. Her public persona is more “pleasant” than his, which was probably a man’s prerogative back then – and still is now! Austen is so timeless!

  2. A thought-provoking essay, and the comments are enlightening too. I’m of the opinion that there’s a Colonel Fitzwilliam so that the adorable Anthony Calf could play the role in 1995. 😉

  3. A most excellent post. Y’all have taken a lot of my ideas. That’s great as we think the same way. I’ve always loved the cousin/brother relationship between our dear Colonel and Darcy. In many JAFF variations, Darcy tends to brood and it is usually the Colonel that brings him out of it. Sometimes he is the voice of reason when Darcy thinks all is lost. When Darcy clams up, it is the Colonel that gets him to tell of his love of Miss Elizabeth and usually gives good advice on how Darcy can win her back or garner her good favor.

  4. As for other purposes served by Col Fitzwilliam:
    * he’s a good sounding board for Darcy–like the big brother Darcy never had
    * he provides a strong role model–while Bingley is a good friend, he is easily led by others
    * as one who has a familial relationship with Darcy, we assume he’s probably in a position to offer Darcy his own opinion on a variety of subjects (even though he knows Darcy may not want to hear it.
    * he’s someone Darcy can trust; in a world where everyone seems to be after his good opinion, his cousin accepts his own social status as a second son, responsible for his own future, not dependent on Darcy.

    Loved this post, Renata! As you can probably tell, Col Fitzwilliam is one of my favorite characters and I am so pleased he features in so much of JAFF!

    • Renata is having some difficulties in responding to your comment, Regina. She sent me her response and asked me to add it here:

      I had not thought of Colonel Fitzwilliam as being a role model for Darcy, but you are right. He probably was one.

      He serves a surprising number of purposes, considering how little page time he gets in P&P. However, he gets much more page time in JAFF.

  5. Jane’s novels are so intricately and meticulously written, every single line has a purpose. She really was a master of her craft. Reading the piano scene again, it strikes me how Darcy could misunderstand Elizabeth’s opinion of him and believe that she was flirting with him. What I never understood is what he meant with “We neither of us perform to strangers.” If anyone could enlighten me?

    The good Colonel, in my opinion, also serves the purpose of showing Elizabeth and the reader what kind of gentleman would be a good match for her, a man of a good family, well-educated, intelligent, responsible and charmed by her wit. I am quite partial to him and thoroughly enjoy reading about him in variations. It may not have been Jane’s purpose but I am delighted all the same.

    • I agree, both in Jane Austen’s meticulous writing and that she was a master of her craft.

      I understand Darcy’s saying that he does not perform for strangers. He, I believe, is saying that he will not go through the normal social niceties with strangers. As to how it refers to Elizabeth, I’m guessing (emphasize guessing) that he believes she plays well enough and she does not need to work harder to please strangers.

  6. Related to item 3 – similar to Mrs Reynolds later on, he is used to show that people who have known Darcy a long time have a positive opinion of him and think he is a good person, thereby causing Elizabeth to start thinking a little better of him.

  7. I have always loved the scenes with Col. Fitzwilliam and am glad of his inclusion in the story. I think it helps to flesh out characters to show family/friends that are in their life. I also love him in variations where he finds love as long as it isn’t with Elizabeth.

  8. I kind of thought too Colonel Fitzwilliam was unnecessary but I guess you do need supporting actors(so to speak) and he”s not a bad character either!

  9. Love your list, and I have one more for you. I only found this out recently but research has confirmed it is true. It was rare in those times to have an older sibling be named as the guardian due to the potential for what is essentially a financial conflict of interest in terms of inheritance. In the case where a sibling was to be guardian, they would require that another relative, nearly always from the mother’s side of the family also be named as a co-guardian to look after the younger sibling’s interests. Modern readers wouldn’t give a second thought to Darcy being the sole guardian of Georgiana, but people from that era would not buy it as plausible. There needed to be a Fitzwilliam relative share that duty with Darcy.

      • That is interesting. That means, without the Colonel, Austen would have had choose a different co-guardian. Anne would be too much of a conflict, if it was really assumed by the family that she and Darcy would marry. Lady Catherine would be an obvious choice, but that would have altered the story tremendously, I think. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother would have been busy, so might have worked, but he too may have altered Georgiana’s path too much, taking her too far from what Austen needed her for. We wouldn’t want her too well looked after or living most of the year with some wealthy relation, after all.

        • Anne couldn’t. guardians gave to be male. technically, someone other than her mother had to gave. even her guardian. probably the Earl was and justxas probably he let Catherihe and when necessary, his lawyers, handle it.

          • and obviously Lady C couldn’t fit dane reason. it says something about me D arcane tge earl that the earl want named.

    • Thanks for that info, Diana. I always assumed it had to do with his being male and busy with estate business or that “two heads are better than one.” Fascinating to learn that one guardian needed to come from the mother’s side. Makes sense as doesn’t the daughter’s inheritance come from what was the mother’s dowry?

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