History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

10 March 2014

The allure of Mr. Darcy

Mélanie, my two-year-old daughter, has a wonderful collection of books, including two age appropriate retellings of Pride and Prejudice. One is part of a series of classics told with felt dolls and one word per page ("Friends", "Sisters"). The other is a counting book ("One English Village", "Two Rich Gentlemen"). She loves both (I confess her mother picks them to read often but now she grabs them herself). When we were leaving the house recently, and I was gathering books up to read with her nanny she said, "Bring Pride and Prejudice." But long before she said the title, she said the name of one of the characters. Mr. Darcy

Mélanie learned Darcy's name before the names of the other characters. She likes to say "Mr. Darcy say - No!" which is a rather garbled version of Elizabeth saying ":no" to Mr. Darcy in both books (when we read the book recently and I asked her what Elizabeth said to Darcy she said "No!" and giggled). A few weeks ago, Mélanie was protesting when I wanted to turn off a Barney video to watch Downton Abbey. Finally I said, "You'll like it, it's like Mr. Darcy." Mélanie said, "Oh, Mr. Darcy" and settled down with me to watch Downton Abbey.

Aside from appreciating my daughter's early literary tastes and hoping she grows up to love the Regency era as much as I do, this prompted me to think about the allure of Mr. Darcy, which seems to extend to the youngest of readers. What is it? His looks? They aren't dwelt on particularly in the book, though of course it doesn't hurt that modern readers are likely to picture him as Laurence Olivier, Colin Firth, or Matthew Macfadyen. His wealth? That doesn't hurt either but if it were enough to create a romantic hero, everyone would be in raptures over Maria's husband Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park and no one is (including Maria). There's the fact that, in Regency parlance, he has "a remarkably keen understanding" (or in X-Files terms, "smart is sexy"). I think there's something intriguing about Darcy's elusiveness, the fact that the reader gets to know the man beneath the façade along with Elizabeth (there's something fascinating about characters who reveal themselves in layers, a large part also of the fascination of Francis Crawford of Lymond). And the bone deep integrity beneath that aloof façade has an undeniable appeal. But I think there's a glamour that goes beyond that, something that even my two-year-old picked up on.

Is Mr. Darcy one of your favorite heroes? What do you think accounts for his appeal?

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Blogger Helena said...

I'd love to research the question as to whether Mr Darcy was as popular as he is now before his depiction by Colin Firth in the TV adaptation. My belief is that he was not, and I suspect that many people who are fans of Mr Darcy now are in fact fans of the Colin Firth version. Some (many?) have not even read the book.

It might be argued that CF was merely portraying Mr Darcy as he is in the book, and therefore any distinction is invalid, but I don't think that the screenplay (and therefore CF) does accurately reflect the Darcy in the book. I think that he is made more romantic and more sympathetic - perfectly understandable in a TV adaptation, of course.

I remember when the series was first aired, and being amused and rather surprised at the response to CF's Darcy. Much as I like the book, and enjoy the way Darcy's character is slowly revealed - and improved - by Jane Austen, I very much doubt if he would be as popular as he is now without the enhancements of the TV screenplay.

4:37 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

It's a good question, Helena. Speaking for myself, Darcy was my favorite romantic hero growing up, long before the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle adaptation. Of course my fascination may have been influenced by Laurence Olivier, but I don't think that was all of it. I'd love to hear from others reading this who were introduced to Mr. Darcy before Colin Firth.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I fell in love with Laurence Olivier's Darcy and his performance remains my touchstone for the role. Olivier himself was a heartthrob at the time, coming off of his Oscar-nominated Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" and his Michael Ingolby in "Fire Over England," in which he and Vivien Leigh fell in love in real life. Darcy's integrity and loyalty and honesty are evergreen admirable qualities on the page. And of course every woman wants to be the one to melt his chilly demeanor.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:18 PM  

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