Friday, July 19, 2013

Mr. Darcy is a Lie

So you're a guy and just finished all six hours of Pride and Prejudice. Congratulations. You and my mother now have something in common. But while it's fine for my mom to profess a crush on Colin Firth (and okay, maybe me too), it's not okay for you to do so. Why? Because you're a guy, because Colin Firth is old enough to be my father, and because the fact that you just referred to Colin Firth in a wet shirt means either you are in fact in denial about yearning for a Mr. Darcy of your own, or that you think this is the quickest and safest route to get into a nice girl's pants. 

I've had several guys confess to me a fondness for Jane Austen and Mr. Darcy. My first impulse is always to run. This is akin to a girl saying that she loves James Bond, and not the new Daniel Craig James Bond but the old, chauvinistic James Bond of the original Ian Fleming books. I also don't like their tones in which they admit their longings, which always comes across as rather smug, condescending, and just plain creepy.

Let's just be clear about this. Mr. Darcy is completely fictional. Jane Austen created him out of her own head, and that's the only place where he is real. The whole wet shirt thing was something out of Andrew Davies' head, so referencing that in your Facebook post or your email to me does not convince me that you're intelligent, straight, or, to borrow from dear Jane, a sensible person. Instead I think you're a Mr. Collins. In other words, you are desperate, embarrassing, and spend your time "suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions". Unfortunately that didn't work on Lizzy Bennett, and it's sure as hell not going to work today.

Jane Austen wasn't writing just so we could all daydream about Mr. Darcy riding around with black curly hair, top hat, and a long coat on his favorite horse. She was writing it because her heroines were doing the things society did not wish them to do. Lizzy didn't accept Mr. Collins, although her economic and social status dictated that she should. Emma is perfectly happy with becoming a single lady of good fortune, and Catherine Moreland, thank God, does not end up with a Gothic hero who is fond of whips and chains. Instead they all become who they are meant to be by the ends of their novels. Jane Austen was not idly dreaming up the perfect men. Instead she was chipping away at the wall keeping women from fully exercising their rights as independent human beings capable of making their own decisions. Without Lizzy Bennett there would have been no Jane Eyre, no Margaret Hale, no Isabel Archer, no Mrs. Dalloway.

Do girls really want to be married to guys who secretly dream of being Mr. Darcy? If so, more power to them. They have my blessing, and I hope they enjoy re-enacting Colin Firth's wet shirt scene for marital excitement. I'll be over here rereading Jane Austen's novels for what they are. Stories about independent women who refused to settle for the Mr. Collinses of the world and are rewarded with guys who think. Or, like Jane, you realize that there are an awful lot of Mr. Collinses, and decide not to settle for any of them. Instead, you live a perfectly happy life, focusing on your passions. She will always be remembered as one of the world's best loved authors. Either way it's a win-win. 

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