…but his friend 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 Narrator on Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 3
It is a well known fact that Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is one of the most acclaimed and beloved novels of literature. It has been recognized as such by reaching the top of many of the ‘best‘ or ‘favorite‘ book lists from readers, publishers and academia that have been conducted as of late. It is all very flattering and gratifying to Janeites who have long held it in high esteem among Austen’s milieu, but when society elevates its cultural accomplishments with accolades, one is compelled to ask why.
To answer the question properly, one could write a book extolling Pride & Prejudice’s merits, so to ‘cut to the chase’, I will go with gut instinct and credit the hero, Mr. Darcy for its success. The quote above is Jane Austen’s introduction to the character from the opening chapters of the novel, and aptly condenses all of my arguments in his favor quiet nicely. Mr. Darcy is interesting by nature of his physical appearance, refined manner, and financial situation! At this point in the novel he has not spoken yet, so I will throw intellect into the mix as well. Any one of these attributes alone could recommend a new man in the neighborhood, but combine all four of these qualities and he is a male sex bomb! The Regency Icon equivalent of hunky actor George Clooney, aristocratic Prince William, and filthy rich Warren Buffett, all rolled into one intriguing personae. Irresistible!
If we look even deeper yet, physical charms and big bank accounts can be a bit shallow and unrewarding spiritually as we see in Austen’s other charming rich boy of Pride and Prejudice, Charles Bingley. He is appealing enough to readers as a side dish, but he lacks the intellect, air of dignity and mien mystique of his particular friend Mr. Darcy. Bingley’s open and engaging manners make him agreeable and approachable, but there is no ‘back story’ brewing in Bingley’s life. He does not challenge our intellect or stimlate our passions. He is exactly what he appears to be – a fine, friendly young man of good fortune – end of story.
Darcy is another matter. His haughty, quiet, and refined demeanor elevates him in our minds (and his) above the country gentility of the Meryton Assembly. His sharp intellect and reserved manner are what captivate our interest. Who is this man, and why does he act that way? Why does he think our heroine Lizzy Bennet is only tolerable? Why won’t he dance with any of the local ladies? Is he just a snob, or is shy? Austen has established an aire of mystique, and our romantic curiosity is arroused.
Many people read Pride and Prejudice and think that it is about the five Bennet girl’s quest for husbands. The main character Elizabeth Bennet is often credited as the finest literary heroine ever written. These points may be true, but I put it to you that if Austen had not created such an arrogant, intellectual, and mysterious hero as Mr. Darcy to pique Lizzy Bennet into crisp dialogue and strong prejudices, the book would be forgotten, languishing as a Regency era amusement in the British library catalogue of early female writers.
Do you want to know what others think of Mr. Darcy and his incredible influence on our culture? Check out some of these great online articles.
*illustration of Mr. Darcy by Robert Ball, Double Day, Inc., Garden City, New York, (1945)