"We Neither of Us Perform to Strangers"
A Posting on Jane Austen's Darcy
A Male Voices Web Page
December 16, 1997
Updated: June 30, 2001
I had thought that Jane Austen might have made a single mistake in the writing of Pride and Prejudice, a mistake when she changed the title away from her first choice, First Impressions. I was interested to read in Deirdre Le Faye's biography [LeFaye-89, Chapter 13] that Jane Austen was required to make this change because some other author had already used her original title.
The thesis advanced by C.S. Lewis is compelling. His view is that, at the core, Jane Austen was a serious writer, and that she was a moralist, and a great teacher of moral principles. (To treat her work as low comedy - as burlesque - is the great and unforgivable offense.) For example, it seems that Pride and Prejudice is a gentle warning against too much reliance on "first impressions" and I want to discuss that with you.
In particular, I want to discuss Elizabeth Bennet's first impressions of Darcy, Wickham, and Bingley. I believe the main point of the novel is to build to that moment when Elizabeth realizes the entire truth - her epiphany - when after a study of Darcy's letter,
"She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
'How despicably have I acted!' she cried; 'I, who have prided myself on
my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often
disdained the generous candor of my sister, and gratified my vanity in
useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how
just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more
wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with
the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the
very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and
ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this
moment I never knew myself.' "
Jane Austen builds to that point rather slowly, and so shall I. I begin, in the middle, with an interesting passage. This occurs at that wonderful and awkward chance meeting of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy at his estate, Pemberley. This is the first meeting of the two since Darcy had proposed to her - he had proposed and been refused. Darcy recovered sufficiently from his surprise to invite Elizabeth to introduce him to her companions who, unbeknownst to him, were her aunt and uncle. Jane Austen describes Elizabeth's thoughts:
"... 'What will be his surprise' thought she, 'when he knows who they are! He takes them now for people of fashion.'
The introduction, however, was immediately made; and as she named their
relationship to herself, she stole a sly look at him, to see how he bore
it; and was not without expectation of his decamping as fast as he could
from such disgraceful companions. That he was surprised by the connexion
was evident; he sustained it, however, with fortitude, and so far from
going away, turned back with them, and entered into conversation with Mr.
The thing I noticed is that Jane Austen describes Elizabeth's thoughts and reactions and does not take the voice of the all-knowing narrator. I believe only what the narrator tells me in a Jane Austen novel, and I remember that Elizabeth is not infallible and has made other mistakes by this point.
It seems to me that Elizabeth is accusing Darcy of pre-judging people based upon their class. But is that fair? Or, does Jane Austen intend that we should understand that Elizabeth stills misjudges him to a certain extent? I think she does, and would explain Darcy's surprise at the "connexion" to be natural based upon the Gardiners' deportment rather than upon their cast. Think on it, he must have been absolutely astounded when he discovered Mr. Gardiner to be Mrs. Bennet's brother!
Let me try to justify this opinion based upon selections from the text. The crucial passage occurs near the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, at the place where Jane Austen (I mean, the narrator) describes Bingley's family background. That begins with a reference to the Bingley sisters.
"...They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brothers fortune and their own had been acquired by trade."
"Mr. Bingley inherited property to the amount of nearly a hundred
thousand pounds from his father, who had intended to purchase an estate,
but did not live to do it."
Fortune acquired by trade! Why, that would make Bingley's father of about the same circumstance as Elizabeth's Uncle Gardiner! This explains a great deal. (It is so-oo typical of Jane Austen to drop crucial facts like this, and barely within our notice.) Now we can understand the class-consciousness of the Bingley sisters as the too usual attitude of the "newly rich". Also, Darcy's family is "old money" and so we should not be surprised at the unusual degree of Bingley's respect for Darcy's opinion. But, the main point is this, if Jane Austen intends for us to think of Darcy as class-conscious, then why does she place him in such company at the beginning of the novel?
No, I believe that Jane Austen intends that Darcy's reputation in Hertfordshire - largely a matter of Elizabeth's invention - was born of one of those false "first impressions". It was far easier for Elizabeth to believe that Darcy was class-conscious than that he was entertaining valid criticisms of her family's manners. Also, to her, those boorish remarks he made about her at that first assembly, must mean that he was capable of every character flaw.
Darcy's flaw was that he was too judgmental. He thought of himself as the best gentleman among other gentlemen. Of those privileged to have had an education, he believed he attained the best. In those days, the word "education" meant what it means today, and then it meant much more as well. It meant book learning and it also meant manners, and character, and drawing-room performance as well as parlor-room opinions, the values of which were all weighted equally, I think. Read that wonderful tete-a-tete between Elizabeth and Jane Bennet on this very matter in Chapter XL. (I am not a philosopher and so I will not attempt to discover why we now so misinterpret this word which was once properly understood. I think it might have something to do with the industrial revolution.)
And so, Darcy had a kind of intramural conceit and was critical of the education of the Bennets or of anyone else of his class. I can forgive him completely because I can remember how young he was and I know how easily these things can be unlearned.
These are important distinctions, because Jane Austen's time was one of continual and widespread revolution, revolutions in thought and action directed toward the destruction of hereditary rule and of the European class structures. Jane was born in the first year of the American Revolution, she was seventeen at the outbreak of the French Revolution, and twenty-three during the Irish Rebellion. I suppose that, if Jane's family were somehow displaced to present-day America, they would be moderate Republicans. Jane was much involved both in forming and in being formed by the attitudes and culture of her family, so my guess is that she would be a moderate Republican as well. Now, a great deal of good can be said for moderation, and moderation as a Republican is not one of the exceptions. Moderate Republicans often have liberal views as well as some of the others, they simply don't feel the need to express the former frequently or as vehemently. Jane Austen herself consistently expressed liberal views, but in a beautifully subtle and most interesting way. The winds-of-change were at hurricane force in those days, but expanded into a steady, gentle, and useful breeze at Chawton Cottage. (Liberal views are expressed in nearly all her major works, but a liberal view is an especially important sub-text of Emma.)
If Darcy had truly suffered from class-consciousness, Jane Austen would not have liked him very much and she would never have allowed him to win Elizabeth Bennet's heart. She would have sent him to some foreign land, New Guinea perhaps or America. Clearly, Elizabeth expressed her own views on these matters of class with her behavior in Kent? (If you read some biography or other of Jane Austen, you will discover that Jane Austen often visited an estate in Kent, where the society seems suspiciously like that at Rosings. Also, as best we can know such things, JA's behavior there was much like that of Miss Elizabeth displayed before Lady Catherine.)
My primary goal is to join in a debate with some readers of P&P - to challenge the current, orthodox view of Darcy. I begin that with a quote from my good friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, made in a speech to Elizabeth shortly after she accepted his second proposal. They turned almost immediately to the resolution of past differences and he said this:
"... I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good themselves, (my
father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable) allowed,
encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for
none beyond my family circle, to think meanly of all of the rest of the
world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared
with my own. Such I was from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might
still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!
I venture that Jane Austen's contemporaries would have noticed, and been pleased, that Darcy addresses Elizabeth by her given name and for the first time. In the context of their culture, that one unmodified word "Elizabeth" had an even more passionate resonance than "dearest" or "loveliest". But, all that is not to the point. A little further on, in the same chapter, he continues in the same vein.
"... My object then', replied Darcy, 'was to shew you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. ..."
I think that some readers misinterpret these lines. To them, Elizabeth has literally changed this man, in a most fundamental way and for the better. See! he even admits it. My own take on Darcy's speech making is different. This speech comes just after his second proposal has been accepted and during his reconciliation with Elizabeth. He is a man in love, and now engaged after a long and tortured suit. He is grateful and euphoric, and sincerely believes his object to be perfect in every way. He thinks her the author of everything good including any possible admirable quality of his own. To put things in that wonderful manner so often used in Jane Austen's own family, there is "much of nature and probability" in his words. But is he to be taken literally? Should not we cut him a little slack at a time like that?
Jane Austen allows Elizabeth to put these things in a way that best expresses my own sense of things. That happened much earlier in the novel when she was in a discussion with Wickham, that conversation when she cleverly let him know that she was no longer his dupe and admirer. She did this beneath a cover of sweet civility and spoke to him between the lines - and between the eyes. Elizabeth remarks that she had recently been introduced to the likeable Colonel Fitzwilliam and Wickham begins the exchange in this way:
" 'His manners are very different from his cousin's.'
'Yes, very different. But, I think Mr. Darcy improves on acquaintance.'
'Indeed!' cried Wickham, with a look which did not escape her. 'And pray, may I ask?' - but checking himself, he added in a gayer tone, 'Is it in address that he improves? Has he deigned to add aught of civility to his ordinary style? - for I dare not hope,' he continued in a lower and more serious tone, 'that he is improved in essentials.'
'Oh, no!' said Elizabeth. 'In essentials, I believe, he is very much
what he ever was. When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not
mean that either his mind or manners were in a state of improvement, but
that from knowing him better, his disposition was better
Yes, that is my point exactly, Darcy is "very much what he ever was" and "that from knowing him better, his disposition is better understood". Come on my orthodox friends, the man is twenty-eight years old, a strong-willed man in good health and in good command, how much can he have changed? He is the kind of man that sat at Jane Austen's breakfast table her entire life, and of the type of personality that was well known to her.
On the other hand, to say that Darcy does not change at all in the course of the novel would be to say that he could not learn. That is not my position. Darcy was a good man and had been so all his life. He was a benefactor to the poor, a resource to his dependents, an excellent brother and son, and an attentive, generous friend. He was handsome and accomplished; but, he would learn that all this was not enough - he would learn that he must be more sensitive to and more considerate of the effects of his manners. Ironically, Darcy would improve in those ways that Wickham suggested were superficial - Darcy would correct the errors in his "address" and he would "add civility to his ordinary style." And that was important.
Elizabeth was not stupid or dull; she would not easily have been led astray by first impressions. Our heroine is bright, lively, and of good character; so, an explanation is required. Here, I want to highlight those exquisitely written passages that Austen wrote to give Elizabeth rational unfavorable first impressions of Darcy, while, at the same time, preserving his character. It is my main contention - the reason-for-being of this web site - that Jane Austen did this with such subtlety that the majority of modern readers, including much of the academic elite, misread Darcy in much the same way as did Elizabeth at first.
Start with this: This is from that initial conversation between Darcy and Bingley that Elizabeth overhears, the conversation that poisons her opinion of Darcy. First, I give these sentences as most people remember them. Bingley had just approached Darcy and reproached him for not dancing.
" 'I certainly shall not. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.' "
That is the way most of us remember things. (Unhappily, that is the way the dialogue is written for most filmed versions.) So, maybe Darcy was supercilious! Get him, Elizabeth! Well - except - that is not the way it is written in the novel. Jane Austen's Darcy actually responded in this way.
" 'I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.' " [Chapter III]
I underscored the sentence that most modern readers forget or failed to notice in the first place. Beautiful! Actually, the underlined sentence does not have as much force until you lay it alongside other passages in the novel. I do that in the next section of this page, where I show that this sentence is the first indication of the way that Jane Austen would have us think of her Darcy. I will show that, in fact, the sentence is crucial and preserves Darcy's character at even this earliest stage. Also, I should mention, parenthetically, that this is not the only instance in which Elizabeth is allowed to reasonably misinterpret Darcy's true meanings in his conversation with Bingley - more on that in the second page of this posting.
My more immediate goal, here, is to give another example of the way many modern readers misinterpret subtle justifications of Elizabeth's first impressions which are, in fact, false impressions. This next passage describes an evening at Netherfield; Elizabeth has just come down from attending her sister to join the Bingleys and their friends. Many readers gain a mis-impression of Darcy because they start the interpretation of events too late in the passage, they start with a comment by Bingley.
" 'It is amazing to me,' said Bingley, 'how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are... 'They all paint tables, cover skreens and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.'
'Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,' said Darcy, 'has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse, or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than halfa dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.''Then,' observed Elizabeth, 'you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.'
'Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.'
'Oh! certainly,' cried [Miss Bingley], 'no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.'
'All this she must possess,' added Darcy, 'and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.'
'I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished
women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any... 'I never saw such a
woman. I never saw such capacity, and taste, and application, and
elegance, as you describe, united.' "
Boy! - more supercilious Darcy remarks! - and matched by those of Miss Bingley as well - and, didn't Elizabeth just tell Darcy a thing or two? Well, not exactly; Elizabeth missed something that many modern readers miss as well. To get it right, you have to begin a few paragraphs sooner, begin where Elizabeth first entered the room.
"...On entering the drawing-room [Elizabeth] found the entire party at loo, and was immediately invited to join them; but suspecting them to be playing too high, she declined it, and making her sister the excuse, said she would amuse herself, for the short time she could stay below, with a book. Mr. Hurst looked at her with astonishment.
'Do you prefer reading to cards?' said he; 'that is rather singular.'
'Miss Eliza Bennet', said Miss Bingley, 'despises cards. She is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else.'
'I deserve neither such praise nor such censure,' cried Elizabeth; 'I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things.' " [Chapter VIII]
THAT was the part of the conversation that set Darcy to boiling and THAT was what he was reacting to with his "accomplished women" comments. He was trying to defend Elizabeth from Miss Bingley's mean-spirited jibes by defending her choice of reading to card playing. And, it was at that point that Elizabeth decided to place her foot in his mouth.
Finally, I suspect that one might achieve the fullest appreciation of this passage only with an understanding of the term "blue stockings" as it was used in Jane Austen's time. This was a term applied to certain women beginning about two decades before Jane Austen's birth. I found this description of the term in the Oxford Companion to English Literature:
"... The origin of the term is to be found in the evening parties held
about 1750 in the houses of Mrs. Vesey, Mrs. Montagu, and Mrs. Ord, who
endeavored to substitute for card-playing, which then formed the
principle recreation, more intellectual modes of spending time, including
conversations on literary subjects ..."
The term "blue stocking" was a reference to the casual dress adopted by such groups. By Jane Austen's own time, the Blue Stocking Societies were the principle intellectual women's groups and had become a bit radical. They were considered an oddity in some quarters and an object of derision in others. I think that in the passage I have excerpted, Darcy and his inventor cast their lot with the Blue Stockings.
The Nature of Jane Austen
Well then, what kind of "disposition" does Jane Austen paint for Darcy? I want to discuss that matter because it is very interesting how she develops his personality and character. Perhaps surprisingly, I begin by relating some of the contemporary opinions of Jane Austen herself. I begin that with a description offered by her brother, Sir Francis Austen. This was after Jane's death (1817) and he was describing her in a letter (1852) to a family of her American admirers.
"... In her temper, She was cheerful and not easily irritated, and tho'
rather reserved to strangers so as to have been by some accused of
haughtiness of manner, yet in the company of those she loved the native
benevolence of her heart and kindness of her disposition were forcibly
Perhaps, Jane's friend Darcy whispered to his creator, "We neither of us perform to strangers."
A female cousin had this to say
"... Yesterday I began an acquaintance with my two female cousins,
Austens. ... The youngest [Jane] is very like her brother, Henry, not at
all pretty & very prim and, unlike a girl of twelve ... Jane is
whimsical and affected."
(An irony here is that the letter is addressed to still another cousin and a future wife of Henry.)
A childhood friend of Jane's nieces and nephews remembers her in this way.
"... We saw her often. She was a most kind & enjoyable person to
Children but somewhat stiff and cold to strangers. She used to sit at
Table at Dinner parties without uttering much and probably collecting
matter for her charming novels which in those days we knew nothing about
... but my remembrance of Jane is that of her entering into all Children's
Games and liking her extremely ..."
Are you beginning to get the picture? Here is some corroboration from a neighbor.
"... a friend of mine who visits her now says that she has stiffened
into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of 'single
blessedness' that ever existed and that till Pride and Prejudice
showed what a precious gem was hidden in that unbending case, she was no
more regarded in society than a poker or a fire screen or any other thin,
upright piece of wood or iron that fills its corner in peace and quiet.
The case is very different now; she is still a poker but a poker of whom
every one is afraid. ..."
I can imagine that Jane Austen must have been scolded by her friend Elizabeth Bennet and in this way, "I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. - We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb." (Elizabeth gets things right - eventually - so I also imagined that her judgment in this case was soon to soften.)
My point is this - we all know (well, hope) that Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen. But how many of us had guessed that Darcy is Jane Austen? I refer to the Jane Austen documented in the previous section. You may say impossible! Jane Austen was not schizophrenic! However, I take a different view and the point that I will attempt is that Darcy and Elizabeth are very much alike - I mean they were intentionally created that way! But first, there is one other long preliminary: What can explain this kind of public behavior? Let me begin with an appeal to authority, with a quote from the diary of another famous author of Jane Austen's day, an author she admired.
"... Mrs. Thrale is a very pretty woman still; she is extremely lively and chatty; has no supercilious or pedantic airs, and is really gay and agreeable. Her daughter is about twelve years old, (stiff and proud), I believe, (or else shy and reserved; I don't yet know which). ..."
Diary of Fanny Burney (March 1777)
Now there is an author's eye and the way I perceive things as well, the two dispositions are manifest in public in the same way. I appreciate that most would choose the former disposition for Darcy and the latter for Jane Austen; however, my guess is that Jane Austen often suffered the pain of the "shy and reserved" and perceived the effects her behavior had on other people - who could doubt that - and felt these to be unfair judgments based upon unexamined first impressions. And it was this same unfairness that she chose to impose upon Darcy. But, that point has to be proved - it must be proved that this was Jane Austen's intent.
I begin my proof by repeating Darcy's response to Bingley's angry admonition to him to dance: 'I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. ...' The beauty of this is that this comment would have the full meaning to someone like Bingley because the two men were the closest of friends. However, Elizabeth did not know Darcy at all, so the remark was far too cryptic for her comprehension, and it is only natural that she should choose the other Fanny-Burney possibility, "stiff and proud."
Well, that is not enough in itself; but, Jane Austen supplied other clues. Next, remember how Darcy tried to explain his boorish behavior at that first assembly. Elizabeth gave him a chance to do just that during one of her visits to Rosings. Darcy was also there with his cousin and confidant, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy had very nearly reached the lowest point in Elizabeth's estimation of him, and it is at this point that Darcy chose to approach Elizabeth who was flirting with the Colonel while the two of them sat at the piano. Elizabeth seized upon this opportunity to embarrass Darcy in front of his cousin. She related Darcy's failure as a gentleman, his failure to dance at the assembly, and then mocked Darcy with irony when he claimed he could not dance from a lack of acquaintance with the women there present.
" '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 ballroom. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers await 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. ...'
No, Darcy did not have that talent, nor - I would wager - did his author. Incidentally, if you read the finish of that conversation, you will see that Jane Austen ends this scrimmage by giving Darcy the final and telling bantering remark. She often made just that choice in P&P, did not she? But, why did she so often allow Darcy the final word in those parlor-room skirmishes? What female author of our generation would dare break her own conventions and do that?
Perhaps many will discount Darcy's claim of shyness. If so, then one is required to think him a liar or an excuse maker. Let us turn to a similar development, one that is quite explicit and one that will not be argued. Let us turn to Jane Austen's development of the nature and education of Darcy's sister, Georgianna. The most reliable voices in Pride and Prejudice, beyond that of the narrator, are those of Elizabeth's aunt and uncle Gardiner and it is with this couple that Elizabeth is visiting Lambton, a village near Darcy's estate and the girl-hood home of Mrs. Gardiner. The aunt still has many friends there, and that means the travelers hear special, comprehensive, and candid opinions. Elizabeth and the Gardiners are introduced to Georgianna and this follows:
" ... With astonishment did Elizabeth see, that her new acquaintance was at least as much embarrassed as herself. Since her being at Lambton, she had heard that Miss Darcy was exceedingly proud; but the observation of a very few minutes convinced her that she was only exceedingly shy. She found it difficult to obtain even a word from her beyond a monosyllable."
That is in Chapter XLIV. This is an echo of something that Jane Austen placed in Chapter XXV; that was the social occasion at which Elizabeth introduced her favorite Wickham to her favorite aunt, Mrs. Gardiner. Wickham was busily spoiling Darcy's reputation and he invited Mrs. Gardiner to join in the project. The aunt wished to appear a good sport and she certainly wanted to please the new love interest of the niece; so, she thought very hard about her youth and - yes - did seem to remember - she was not sure - she perhaps "recollected having heard Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy formerly spoken of as a very proud, ill-natured boy".
Chapter XLV describes a return visit of Elizabeth and the Gardiners to Pemberley. We are told this:
"... Georgianna's reception of them was very civil; but attended with all that embarrassment which, though proceeding from shyness and the fear of doing wrong, would easily give to those who felt themselves inferior, the belief of her being proud and reserved. Mrs. Gardiner and her niece, however, did her justice, and pitied her."
Yes, things are quite clear in this case. But does Jane Austen intend that we recognize a family trait here - my contention - or is all this merely artsy filler? It seems to me that the last thing that Jane Austen might be accused of is the authorship of filler.
It is reasonable to ask why Jane Austen would be so subtle on this point? - what possible purpose is served? The answer might be simple: the subtlety is required if we are to be made to believe that while Elizabeth's impressions were wrong, they were also reasonable. Our heroine's judgment was colored by prejudice, but she was not unintelligent or mean spirited - quite the contrary.
Well, I have one final excerpt that might help my point. Here, the word, "shy", is explicitly applied to Darcy. This is from near the end of the novel. Elizabeth had been completely turned around on all matters of reference to Mr Darcy. Miss Bennet was now ready to accept Mr Darcy's proposal - should he ever offer it again. And he was back at Longbourn - and sister Jane was engaged to Bingley - and everybody was happy. But! Darcy did not make much of an effort to even approach her! Elizabeth was disconcerted, almost despondent, and she was even angry enough to give him up forever. However, all that was circumvented, Darcy made his second proposal and was accepted. Wonderful! Darcy and Elizabeth then began a series of intimate conversations, one of which went this way. Elizabeth begins,
" '... it belongs to me to find occasions for teasing and quarreling with you as often as may be; and I shall begin directly, by asking you what made you so unwilling to come to the point at last? What made you so shy of me when you first called, and afterwards dined here? Why, especially, when you called, did you look as if you did not care about me?'
'Because you were grave and silent, and gave me no encouragement.'
'But I was embarrassed.'
'And so was I.'
'You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.'
'A man who had felt less, might.'
'How unlucky that you should have a reasonable answer to give, and that
I should be so reasonable as to admit it! ...' "
Ah yes, my modern, orthodox friend, do you not know that it is sometimes the man who feels more that is "silent and grave", the man who is "shy?" I think Jane Austen knew. Well, I leave off this part of the discussion until I can read your own postings. This is the place to return to my main theme.
Elizabeth Bennet's Nature
What other things can be said of Darcy's nature and disposition? Well, I believe that Jane Austen envisioned Darcy to be very much like - well, Elizabeth. Jane Austen begins the novel by describing the way in which they differed; Elizabeth Bennet was a social adept and Fitzwilliam Darcy was not. In every other way they were very much alike in outlook, temper, and situation. Both were bright and quick-witted, both had an equally quick temper, both could be judgmental, both resisted family pressure to marry a cousin, both were embarrassed by the manners of some family members, and both were devoted to family and especially to a sister. Most importantly, both were determined to marry for love and both were highly attractive and much sought after.
I was struck by the following passage.
" '... There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom
I think well. The more that I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied
with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all
human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the
appearance of either merit or sense. ...' "
A typical Darcy outpouring, so cynical and so above-it-all. Actually, this a speech that Elizabeth made to her sister Jane. Yes, Darcy and Elizabeth shared a dark view of the world, a dark view consistent with that of their inventor I think. (I have long believed that a keen sense of humor always shields an angry sense of things.)
I excerpted from Chapter LX in the previous section; notice that this points to a kind of shyness in Elizabeth's nature as well as Darcy's. That is consistent with a family trait that Jane Austen breathed into Jane Bennet. After all, it was Jane's unwillingness - or inability - to show her attachment in public that led Darcy to misjudge her sentiments. Yes, and it was that which Charlotte Lucas found remarkable and that which Elizabeth Bennet would eventually own during her epiphany.
On the Orthodox View
I believe that by studying Jane Austen's writings - all of her writings - you can begin to discern principles of authorship that evolved in her thinking. These things evolved and then guided her in the creation of her novels. In fact, the adherence was so consistent and clear, the admonitions themselves so precise, that the principles might even be called axioms.
For example, there is this principle set down in Chapter XIII in Vol. III of Emma.
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure [or thought]; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.
One might also point to an axiom more properly attributed to Alexander Pope (1688-1744), because it also served as one of Jane Austen's guides.
Do not write for such dull elves
As have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.
These principles serve a useful purpose because they are what lend so much nature and probability to Jane Austen's writing. I mean that there is a great deal of ambiguity, disguise, and mistake in this world and you must be ingenious to perceive and make sense of it all. And so, the probability and nature of a novel can impress only if these features are reflected. The failure to understand this is the reason that the current orthodox interpretation of Darcy is so astray. There is, of course, one other tendency-to-error at play here. Any orthodoxy is a fashion and the current fashion is best coordinated with Elizabeth's first impressions rather than with her corrected ones.
So! how is all this to play out?
"How It All Played
Full text of Darcy's Letter to Elizabeth
A focus on the passionate passages - the emotionally evocative passages of P&P
Was Richardson's Charlotte Grandison
Was Fanny Burney's Mrs. Selwyn
Other Local Links
Filmed Versions of the Novel
The good version is discussed in the
... and the bad version is discussed in the first part of Jane Austen Disaster Films
Was Jane Austen ever in love? Did our Lady have a model for Darcy? No one knows, but see Jane Austen's Eleventh Letter.
Links to Other Web Sites
A list of e-texts of the