Despite having far too many piles of unread library books hanging around my apartment (I work at a library information desk and when I get bored, I put books on hold. Far too many to be read in any reasonable amount of time), I am reading Pride & Prejudice. Again. For the second time this year.
I’m developing an interesting theory about Mr. Darcy, since I’ve also been reading Belinda by Maria Edgeworth and she was, as Nicola at Vintage Reads recently quoted, perhaps one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers…
I have made up my mind to like no Novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, Yours & my own. Jane Austen, letter to Anna Austen, Wednesday 28th September 1814
So, in Miss Edgeworth’s novel, Belinda is sent to London with a woman of fashion, Lady Delacour, by her matchmaking aunt Mrs. Stanhope (who’s already set six of her penniless nieces up with rich husbands) who’s determined Belinda will also marry well and gives her plenty of advice on how to do it. But once in London, Belinda soon finds out that all the rich men are not about to be tricked into marrying a poor wife by Belinda’s by now famous matchmaking aunt and pretending that she is someone else at a
masked ball, a certain gentleman gives her an embarrassing hint:
‘…you don’t imagine I go to Lady Delacour’s to look for a wife? Belinda Portman’s a good pretty girl, but what then? Do you think I’m an idiot — do you think I could be taken in by one of the Stanhope school? Do you think I don’t see… that Belinda Portman’s a composition of art and affectation?’
This got me thinking about Mr. Darcy’s rude comment about Elizabeth at the dance where they first meet: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” and also about the fact that unlike how it’s shown in the various movies, where Elizabeth is innocently just around the corner from where Darcy is privately talking to Bingley and accidentally happens to overhear them, in the book it says he turns around, stares at her until she looks at him and then makes the remark. Knowing she’s right there and that she can probably hear him and not caring if she does, perhaps wanting her to hear so that she’ll realize he’s too good for her.
So with all this (and maybe this isn’t a new idea, I don’t know), I think perhaps Darcy has been chased by fortune hunters quite a lot in London. If the behavour of Caroline Bingley is anything to go by, she’s probably far from the only girl to try and catch him and is also probably trying to make the most of her time alone with him in the country, with no other eligible girls around! He’s likely very used to being fawned over by beautiful and accomplished women for everything he does, even for doing nothing, and he’s probably deliberately picked up the habit of rudeness to those he considers socially beneath him as a way of saying you don’t stand a chance with me, so don’t even try. He is also an introvert and doesn’t enjoy interacting with people he doesn’t know, he’s not a flirt with every pretty girl. He doesn’t have Bingley’s thrill of meeting a new girl to easily fall in love with. (To his credit, Bingley seems to prefer falling in love on occasion rather than making a hobby of having women fall in love with him, as Wickham, Willoughby and Henry Crawford all do.) To Darcy’s credit, he does value his family highly and is perhaps looking for a wife to create a new family with since losing his parents and also probably to be a good role model and sister/mother for Georgiana, his sister, perhaps since her misbehaving incident.
Darcy also seems to have very high standards for the kind of wife he’s looking for and has become rather cynical as he sees that women, even if they are rich enough to be admitted into his social circle (like Caroline Bingley), are often vapid and heartless. This could be why he tells Caroline so quickly that he’s become even passingly interested in Elizabeth (“I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow”), it could be a hint that he doesn’t really see Caroline in that way? I’ve never understood why he tells her that, as I would have thought Darcy would be more private about what he felt.
Even as Darcy begins to be attracted to Elizabeth, he is highly critical of her:
Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
More than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form! How dare she offend his critical eye (highly trained in evaluating women like this) in such a manner! He’s also used to evaluating women based on what they can do: “I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.” He’s made a list, out of the whole range of women he knows, showing also that he seems to know a lot of women trying to show off to men like him with a whole range of skills.
Darcy has also spent enough time around women like this to become cynically well aware of how they think: “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.” It’s funny, but also shows he’s used to women assuming that because he danced with her once or twice, she has a chance with him, which is why he refuses to dance with women he doesn’t know at the first ball (he’s well aware that he gives consequence to whomever he chooses to dance with), especially poor country women who’ve been slighted by other men.
His cynicism comes out again when speaking to Caroline after she accuses Elizabeth of seeking to recommend herself to the other sex with ‘a very mean art’: “there is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.” He knows exactly what women do to get his attention, to try to captivate him. He probably enjoys the feeling of power it gives him (even if it annoys him sometimes to have all these women chasing after him), which he uses at that first ball, perhaps as a matter of course, to squish all hopes that he’s going to pay any attention to one of their poor girls.
Ok, this is long enough for now, I will continue my Darcy analysis in another post. It’s been quite fun to think about lately and makes him more human and understandable to me.