I’m sitting on my bed, next to my “Keep Calm and Read Jane Austen” tea towel. My mug is sitting on top of three (three!!) of my copies of Emma, I’m scrolling through the Jane Austen Text Posts Tumblr, and Colin Firth is awkwarding his way across my television in a top hat and Hessian boots. Although this sounds like a cringeworthy opening scene from Keri Russell’s Austenland, my only defense is that, thankfully, there’s no life-size cutout of Mr. Darcy lurking in the corner. By the way, I swear the framed postcard of Colin Firth is absolutely a joke.
If I take a step back, I can realize how ridiculous this looks, and I can argue to you that I’m not actually obsessed. I’m not some girl who sits at home and pines for her Mr. Darcy. My accidental collection of Jane Austen memorabilia aside, I’m actually quite rational. You see, I’m not looking for a Mr. Darcy—I am a Mr. Darcy.
Unlike a lot of bookish girls with sarcastic humor, I’ve never really seen myself in Elizabeth Bennet. A love of books and a passion for long rambles aside, I’m just not friendly enough to be Lizzy. It’s frustrating, to love a character so entrenched in literary history but be completely unable to relate to her. And Austen has hardly supplied me with another relatable heroine either. I’m too selfish to be an Elinor, too self-conscious to be an Emma, and way too mean to be Anne Elliot. I like to think I’m way less dull than Fanny Price, and I’m not even going to look for a comparison between myself and Catherine Morland.
As a great lover of classic books, it’s been a source of frustration for me. Where is the leading lady who suffers from some social anxiety that often makes her appear silent and taciturn? Why does Lizzy get to be a know-it-all without being thought exceedingly arrogant by her peers? I beg you, show me a leading lady who holds a grudge like no other, and is possessed of an uncanny ability to lose her temper and hate people forever. And not just some people — where’s my heroine who tends to hate and disdain most people, but underneath those layers actually runs quite deep?
It took me a while to figure out that this character has been there all along, if I had been willing to acknowledge some of the unfavorable comparisons. While I can’t lay claim to a tall and noble mien, I do see a lot of myself in this enigmatic man who has taken on a life of his own. I have his bad qualities, his reserve, his judgmentalness. But I also relate to his unwavering loyalty, his cool abilities under pressure, and the surprising emotional depths that are found underneath his social armor. In essence, aside from the stunning country estate and large fortune, I am very much a Mr. Darcy.
And why can’t I be? Sure, I may not be as adorable as Matthew Macfadyen (who is?), but I can be just as grumpy as Matthew Rhys, and I heartily appreciate Sam Riley’s entirely black wardrobe. So who the hell says I have to be our blushing heroine, navigating a three part novel in search of love? There’s something refreshing about admitting you’re the asshole in the story, the one who makes too many judgements and hates your enemy forever. I may not be searching for the Mr. Darcy in my life, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a literary ideal for me.
From my first reading of Pride and Prejudice at age eleven, I’ve learned more about Mr. Darcy with each reread, and in turn, myself. That, I believe is the greatest and most overlooked aspect of Austen’s books—it’s not about the romantic hype or the knight in a well-fitted waistcoat—it’s about the heroine, her convictions, her strength of character and journey into self confidence, growing and pursuing her own path and desires. And in turn, the books are about the reader, who is encouraged to find herself in these pages and characters, and grow alongside them, recognizing her own follies and strengths, and coming out the other side a little better for it.
But I’ve never credited Austen with the concept that her readers could find themselves outside of her lively heroines. As a (semi)-recent college graduate who blindly expected all things would fall in line for her, I can relate a lot more with Mr. Darcy’s haughtiness than Lizzy’s prejudice. Maybe, like Darcy, I had to grow up in order to examine possibilities outside of my preconceived notions. Maybe I had to fail a bit, to be harshly reminded of my own arrogance and presumptuousness in order to grow stronger and succeed.
So I’m okay with never being an Elizabeth Bennet. We don’t always have to be the plucky main character—sometimes it’s alright to be the asshole in the corner with the social anxiety and heart of gold.
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Loved this post. The struggle is real! Though if you want a brutal, grudge holding, totally-unlikeable-it’s awesome-and-you-love-her heroine, I recommend And I Darken by Kiersten White. It’s an alternative history of Vlad the Impaler…and Vlad is now a girl named Lada. It’s awesome.