I will never forget the first time I was exposed to Austen’s masterpiece. It was the second episode of the BBC’s 1996 adaptation, and Lydia Bennett was running away from Mr Collins in her under-dress, giggling like a naughty schoolgirl. Then…out of nowhere….he appeared. Tall dark, incredibly snooty…with a slight hesitation, and a very dry wit.
Mr Darcy. I was hooked.
And the reason? Because Mr Darcy…is a secret bad boy. He’s the villain we love to hate, but fall for anyway.
WHAT? I hear you cry! What about Willoughby? What about Elliot? Or the worst of the worst, Mr Wickham?
Before I get any emails, hear me out….I have some good reasons to back this up!
1. Uncommunicative and rude.
The first time he meets Elizabeth at ball in town, he acts like a complete pillock. By refusing to dance with anyone, this leaves several ladies without partners for each dance…i.e show off their figures to the best advantage, socialise and have fun. He also ignores most of the people there, only speaking to his friends. It’s the equivalent of turning up at a party and sulking in a corner all night.
When Bingley tries to entice him out of his shell with the lovely Elizabeth (huzzah!) he says, within her earshot:
“I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”
This is clearly a slappable offence, but Lizzie is far too sensible to be offended by this miserable rich sod in the corner, and decides to take the piss.
2. Doesn’t rate her looks.
His initial comment of “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me” is followed by the equally charming: “She, a beauty! I should as soon call her mother a wit!”.
Again, a snap judgement, and roughly the same level as “Run along darling, I want to talk to your pretty friend.”
Sadly for him, almost the second he disregards her, be begins to warm to her…ignoring her muddy petticoats when she comes to visit Jane, and
“…no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.”
This is a wonderful example of karma in action, causes him plenty of anguish, and serves him right.
3. Proposes in the worst way possible
Now, it is important to remember that in the days of Austen, marriage was still more of a business contract to secure wealth and a place in society, a mutual contract to provide an heir, increase power connections and place in society. It involved more politics than passion. Love was for the lucky.
With that in mind, wooing was still required, and feelings had to be taken into account. Darcy’s cack-handed first proposal is basically car crash reading/T.V. He manages to insult Elizabeth, her family, in particular admits interfering with Jane and Bingley, preventing what would have been a good match. He says he’s going against his own better judgement, and the wishes of his family.
But after comparing her and her family to eighteenth century Jeremy Kyle scum, admitting to seriously upsetting her sister, and generally acting like a superior unfeeling dick, he’s actually surprised when she turns him down, and how:
“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”
So why do we end up loving him?
The thing is, as Darcy admits himself later on, is that he was allowed to grow up with a snobbish attitude and pride. Being very wealthy, he wasn’t forced to be sociable and make an effort to please, which left him with an attitude problem and a lack of social graces. Elizabeth is the thing that saves him…mainly by refusing to take his crap, pointing out his faults, and challenging his thinking.
Darcy shows her a different side to himself when he’s in Pemberley, and later on, when the predictions about Lydia’s behaviour come true, he goes above and beyond the call of duty to save her reputation, and help Lizzie. Most importantly of all, he admits his mistakes and apologies. He shows a willingness to change, and will no doubt be helped in the future by his easy going,fun loving wife.
He may have started out a bad boy, but he redeems himself in the end, with a lot of encouragement because of his love for a good woman. In return, Lizzie learns not to judge people too quickly. It’s obvious that this isn’t going to happen over-night, and there won’t be a typical happy ever after, but this isn’t Disney. They’ll also have to deal with unfortunate in-laws, family judgement, and Wickham.
Neither Darcy nor Elizabeth is perfect. Their love story is full of mistake, but it’s undeniably wonderful, and all the more human because of the flaws.