Today’s topic is another fun-filled edition of “The 5 Best…” – one of my sporadic looks at the 5 Best of…something. Last time I did this, I discussed the 5 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen (scroll down if you’re interested in what they were.) This time, however, I’m traipsing back through familiar Jane Austen territory. In the wake of the media hoopla surrounding the 200th anniversary of Pride & Prejudice, some instances of the typical backlash have appeared – against the book, Jane Austen as a writer, and Mr. Darcy’s legions of fans – who are stereotypically female and according to one blogger, “go angrily about their lives carrying tote bags that read ‘An Elizabeth In a Darcy-Less World.” (1)
Tote bags aside, there are times when the Darcy fangirls of the world get a bum rap. If you have ever had the audacity to say, “Oh, I love Mr. Darcy!” in certain company, you know of what I speak. Your Darcy Declaration may be answered with sarcasm, scoffing derision, or eye rolls – stereotypically from male listeners. The verbal responses can be a bit caustic, and typically take one of three turns:
1. “You only like Mr. Darcy because he’s handsome and rich. Women are all like that. In fact, let me tell you about my ex-wife/old girlfriend… blah, blah, blah”
Okay, we like rich, because a man who has his own money probably won’t always have his hands in your…pocketbook. And, we like handsome too. So sue us – we’re only human. But the better gals among us aren’t duped by these traits – at least, not for long. No, the fundamental reason we love Mr. Darcy is because, under all his handsome looks and deep pockets (and his haughty stares and blunt words) he’s good. Rewind that last sentence and play it again, because it’s the take-home message.
When Darcy finds Elizabeth’s wayward sister and rectifies her scandal, he puts the well-being of Elizabeth’s family above his own interests and convenience. It was a real bummer to track a man he hated and an empty-headed Bennet sister all over London instead of taking solace in a whiskey bottle at White’s (the Regency equivalent of your neighborhood sports bar.). He had to spend time thinking about aspects of his personal family history he’d rather not revisit. He had to shell out money he could have spent on another pianoforte for Georgiana or barouche box. But Mr. Darcy found Lydia and Wickham anyway. Why?
Some people say it was out of duty – he felt guilty for letting Wickham roam free when he knew what a creep he was. Mr. Darcy tells the Gardiners that very reason. But I don’t entirely buy it, because later on, in private conversation, he admits to Elizabeth that he did it for her, to bring her life back from the brink of irreversible humiliation. After the Battle of Hunsford Parsonage, he shared his story in a letter and asked Elizabeth to keep it confidential. Her discretion in the matter cost her – big time. But that letter and her response to it sealed a bond between the two. When the walls came crashing down, Darcy empathized with Elizabeth, and he acted on that empathy. Notice the two-step process there – empathy, followed by action. Action without empathy is overbearing, and empathy without action is flimsy and ineffective.
2. “Women want a man that caters to them. They want to change a man into something he’s not, and that’s why they love Mr. Darcy.”
Ahem, better read that 200 year-old text again, dude. Mr. Darcy doesn’t change into what Elizabeth wants. He doesn’t do everything Elizabeth thinks he ought. He’s still aloof at times. He doesn’t care too much for her mother’s company. Teasing can still make him uncomfortable. The end of Pride & Prejudice doesn’t leave me with an overwhelming impression that the two lovers are completely simpatico. Darcy does, however, listen to Lizzy’s criticisms at Hunsford, weed out the spit and vinegar, examine the rest, and try to better himself. Take note, he doesn’t do this to obtain her (he thinks that boat done left the dock.) Sure, a part of him must want to show her he can do better when they meet up again at Pemberley. But in the final analysis, I think he modifies his manners because once he thought about it, he could see her point.
It isn’t that Darcy really changes himself all that much. Because the story’s told through her eyes, a superficial read might suggest to some that he was the one who was more altered. But as Elizabeth herself says, “In essentials, I believe, he is very much what he ever was.” (2)
3. “Mr. Darcy is a fictional character – no real man could/would ever be him – which means that you, foolish creature that you are, are doomed to eternal disappointment.”
Well, duh. We know Mr. Darcy is fictional. However, that doesn’t mean his fine fictional self couldn’t teach a 21st century guy a thing or two about being romantic.
Yes, Virginia, there are romantic men out there. But the word “romantic” gets bandied about so much and has so many nuances, it’s hard to figure out what it truly means.
One definition of “romantic” is the 18th and 19th century movement that emphasizes the free expression of feelings, nature, etc. This is Romantic with a capital R – Drama King Romantic – like Lord Byron, and Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff, and music from Beethoven.
But if a guy is looking for an operational definition of romantic, he might consider this one from the Encarta Dictionary – English (North America): “suitable for love.” Suitable…appropriate…fitting. This is romantic with a capital MAN. What traits make a man “suitable” for love?
To answer that question, I present my highly subjective, but well thought-out
5 Best Characteristics of a Romantic Hero
(which also happen to be the things we love about Mr. Darcy):
- Honesty – even when it might hurt. Even when it’s about himself. An honest man can learn to see both the good and the bad in his own soul. He keeps the good – he works on the bad, annoying, and selfish bits he discovers along the way.
- Growth potential – The romantic hero can transcend his upbringing and his environment to obtain and hold onto what’s important and what’s right for him. Age and socioeconomic status matter not. There is nothing less romantic than someone who thinks there’s nothing left to learn.
- Prioritizes — because love isn’t hormones or drama. It’s prioritizing another person’s happiness and well-being, and following up on that priority, without eclipsing oneself in the process.
- Gives as good as he gets — whether it’s during an argument, or a discussion, or while making up.
- Keeps it real. The romantic hero likes the genuine article – in himself, in his friends and in his woman. If he ever had a perfect girl in his imagination, he’s not forever bound to her. He’s willing to suspend his prejudices for a bit, and see what the real girl in front of him has to offer. Like Darcy, he can love a woman who has some faults (such as Elizabeth’s prejudice, impulsivity, and denial). Mr. D still expects that she will deal with those foibles, but he’ll love her through that process.
So, when a woman says, “I l0ve Mr. Darcy!” don’t immediately roll your eyes or sigh and shake your head. Be intrigued, be glad, and sit up and take notice. Like the Master of Pemberley himself, you just might have found “a woman worthy of being pleased.” (3)
(1) The original blog has now been released as an ebook: Bitch in a Bonnet, by Richard Rodi. (My one-sentence review: It is chock full of sarcasm with a side of hyperbole, but Rodi makes some astute observations as well.)
(2) Pride & Prejudice: Volume 2, Chapter 18
(3) Pride & Prejudice: Volume 3, Chapter 26