Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fitzwilliam Darcy

Fitzwilliam Darcy, generally referred to as Mr Darcy, is one of the two central characters in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. He is an archetype of the aloof romantic hero, and a romantic interest of Elizabeth Bennet, the novel's protagonist. The story's narration is almost exclusively from Elizabeth's perspective; she is portrayed as the sympathetic figure, and Darcy hardly so until the later chapters of the novel—as knowledge and ironic events are revealed to Elizabeth. Usually referred to only as "Mr. Darcy" or "Darcy" by characters and the narrator, his first name is mentioned twice in the novel.

In the novel, Mr. Darcy is a wealthy gentleman with an income exceeding £10,000 a year, and the proprietor of Pemberley, a large estate in Derbyshire, England. Darcy slights Elizabeth Bennet at their first meeting, but then is attracted to her, and later attempts to court her while simultaneously struggling against his continued feelings of superiority. Ironically, Darcy disapproves when his friend Bingley develops a serious attachment to Elizabeth's elder sister Jane, and subtly persuades Bingley that Jane does not return his feelings (which he honestly believes). He later explains this seeming hypocrisy by asserting "I was kinder to [Mr. Bingley] than to myself". Although he doesn't realize it, Elizabeth's discovery of Darcy's interference in Bingley and Jane's budding relationship, and Mr. Wickham's tale of how Darcy mistreated him, has caused her to dislike him intensely.

Eventually Mr. Darcy declares his love for Elizabeth, and offers her a proposal of marriage, yet expressing his ardent love, he reminds her of the large gap in their social status. Elizabeth is offended and vehemently refuses him, expressing her reasons for disliking him, including her knowledge of his interference with Jane and Bingley and the account she received from Mr Wickham of Darcy's alleged unfair treatment toward him. Insulted by Darcy's arrogant retorts, Elizabeth claims that the way by which he proposed to her prevented her from feeling concerns for him she "might have felt had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner". Darcy departs in anger and mortification and that night writes a letter to Elizabeth in which he defends his wounded honour, reveals the motives for his interference in Jane and Bingley's relationship, and gives a full account of his lifelong dealings with Wickham, who attempted to seduce and elope with Darcy's younger sister, Georgiana, the previous summer.

Although initially angered by Elizabeth's vehement refusal and harsh criticism, Darcy is shocked to discover the reality of how his behaviour is perceived by others, particularly Elizabeth, and commits himself to re-evaluate his actions. A few months later, Darcy unexpectedly encounters Elizabeth when she is visiting his estate in Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle Gardiner. Elizabeth is first embarrassed to be discovered at Pemberley, having only visited on the belief that Darcy was absent, however she is surprised to discover a marked change in Darcy's character. Having responded to Elizabeth's criticism, Darcy is now determined to display the "gentlemanlike manner" she accused him of lacking and astonishes her with his kindness towards both her and her relations.

On discovering that Elizabeth's youngest sister Lydia, has fallen prey to and run off with Mr Wickham, Darcy tracks them down and induces Wickham to marry Lydia, thus saving both Lydia and her family from social disgrace. Darcy's intervention was done not to win Elizabeth — he attempted to keep her from knowing of his involvement — but rather to ease her distress (the narrator hints that Darcy's intervention to help Elizabeth may have cost him as much as a year's income). Darcy also felt himself partially responsible in failing to warn Elizabeth's family and the public of Wickham's true character. His performance contrasts sharply with that of another Jane Austen character, in Mansfield Park, where Mr. Crawford, immediately before proposing to Fanny Price, attempts to obligate her to him by securing one of her fondest hopes—a naval officer's commission for her brother—which costs him, Crawford, essentially nothing.)

Darcy then releases Mr. Bingley to return to Longbourn and woo Jane, accepting his misjudgement of her character. Accompanying his friend to Longbourn, Darcy proposes to Elizabeth again, who accepts him. The couple reflect on their mistakes made, and Darcy thanks Elizabeth for showing him the error or his ways: "by you, I was properly humbled".

Darcy in Meryton is depicted as cold and aloof, a man with a large sense of personal pride that frequently expresses itself as arrogance. His distant manner and apparent contempt for those around him earns the disdain of Elizabeth and many others, particularly in light of the claims of the charming George Wickham—that he was wronged by Darcy. But it is eventually revealed that these first impressions are erroneous; that is, Darcy's seemingly arrogant character masks a sincerely generous and upright nature, and it is Darcy, in fact, who was wronged, by Wickham—whose own character is revealed to be untrustworthy and duplicitous. Even Darcy's interference between Jane and Bingley is explained as being motivated by genuine concern for his friend rather than of malicious intent; although, on re-examining his behaviour, Darcy acknowledges that his interference was harmful and wrong.

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