Into the Darkness for Redemption
(Today is Blog Swap Day between Dark Jane Austen and Darcyholic Diversions. I am honored that they chose Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy as their group read book of the month. In addition to reading this post, I hope you will read mine on their site as well!)
Of all Austen’s men none venture into their own hearts to face their demons the way Darcy does. He looks at himself through Elizabeth’s eyes and takes action to make amends for his behavior even though he holds no real hope of winning her after her rejection.
I often wonder why so many swoony women quote his retched first proposal. If he had stopped after the whole ardent admiration and love, maybe, but he goes on to enumerate all the detractions of such a match, namely her inferiority and family status, his pride against such a match, and that done with an arrogance that she would accept him as “she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection.”
Once Elizabeth makes it clear that not only does she not want to marry him, but she never even entertained the idea enumerating his detractions with the interference in the happiness of others and his ungentlemanly behavior overall. Darcy is offended, but then he does something quite remarkable. Darcy takes her censure point by point to examine himself. First, to acquit himself in a letter regarding his involvement in Bingley’s separation from Jane. Secondly, of the true nature of his relationship with Wickham and all the turmoil involved. Finally, Darcy goes on to allow her words to influence his behavior, both with the Gardiners and with his intervention in the elopement of Lydia with Wickham.
Truly, was any other Austen man tested so? Many of the others had only to realize that their ideal match was with a woman directly in front of them that they need only ask. No great character change or adjustment was needed beyond that. And even with Wentworth, it wasn’t a character reform so much as it was a showing that he had never been unworthy of the woman he loved in spite of meddlesome interference.
Darcy is set apart, for while other Austen men might apologize for being blind to the woman in front of them; he had to atone for his being blind to his own behavior. It is one thing for a woman to be truly seen by the man she loves, it is quite another to be the woman that effects such change in a man. That is the fuel of the Darcy fantasy.
Sometimes, I want to hate him for the hype. I want to scream at the quotes used from the height of his arrogance. It isn’t the Darcy that is first presented that anyone celebrates, but the Darcy he proves himself to be. The transition from gentleman of social standing to the gentleman of moral standing that is the Darcy we love. And that this transition came about without the hope of winning the woman, but just hoping to be the kind of man she could esteem, how can that not be attractive?
The more I think about it the more I love Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy by Barbara Tiller Cole because she takes the exploration of this inner darkness with a creatively familiar twist. Over at Dark Jane Austen Book Club we chose to feature this novel because of its Christmas redemption theme, but as I’ve been reading and pondering my thoughts on the whole Darcy craze I find myself thinking that maybe it isn’t so irrational.