So I’m still working on my analyses of Universal Horror films. Given how my work on Dracula (1931) turned out, however, I think that those analyses need something of re-think. At least in how I do them.
While I’m puzzling that out, I thought I’d keep my dedicated readers entertained by offering other analyses. In particular, today, we’re going to be talking about one Fitzwilliam Darcy and how is damn near literally the incarnation of Raymond Chandler’s hero as expressed in his landmark essay “The Simple Art of Murder.”
Join me under the cut!
But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid.
All right, so the English countryside that Jane Austen wrote about is not nearly as rough and tumble as the Los Angeles of… basically ever, but especially during Raymond Chandler’s time.
But it’s not without its own pitfalls. Elizabeth Bennet, our protagonist and a hero in her own right, must confront a ruthless con man and sexual predator (Wickham), a clueless, entitled prick (Mr. Collins), a minor member of the nobility who thinks she’s God (Lady De Bourgh) and a ruthless, jealous rival with all the morals of an American billionaire (Caroline Bingley). Any or all of these threaten Elizabeth’s happy ending: either by destroying her reputation, kicking her out of her own home, or ending her relationship with Darcy. And in the case of Wickham, all three.
Darcy, then, stands in contrast to all of these people. He lacks Wickham’s cowardice and willingness to prey on those weaker than himself, he lacks De Bourgh’s pettiness and bullying nature, Mr. Collins’ stupidity and entitlement and Caroline Bingley’s seething jealousy. His actions, though not always good, are (almost) always honourable and he holds himself to high standards.
But wait, you’re thinking. Wasn’t Darcy a complete and utter ass at the beginning of the book? Yes, he was. In fact, Darcy is an ass right up until that first proposal to Lizzy. When Lizzy confronts him with just how much of an ass he’s been, he does three very important things:
- Perhaps most importantly, he leaves. He accepts and understands immediately that Lizzy hates his guts, that she doesn’t want anything to do with him, and he can mount no effective defence in his present state. So he tells Lizzy that he understands her feelings perfectly and gets out of Dodge right quick. Compare Mr. Collins, who practically had to be beaten over the head with a frying pan to get the idea that Lizzy wanted nothing to do with him.
- The next day, he hands Lizzy a letter. The letter itself is important: by writing out what he was feeling, Darcy was able to keep a lid on his temper, give a logical defence of his actions (one that provokes serious soul-searching on Lizzy’s part, too), and start him down on the road to confronting his own actions and changing his behaviour. Not bad for one night’s effort. But the contents are important, too. Darcy begins the letter by reassuring Lizzy that the letter isn’t a restatement of his earlier proposal; it’s no desperate rom-com act, meant to win over the girl with its earnestness and cheese. Rather, it’s meant to clear the air: Lizzy has just accused Darcy of not merely being an ass, of not merely interfering in her sister’s love life, but of deliberately and maliciously sabotaging Wickham’s future. Darcy knows that at least some of these charges are totally false (Wickham) or that at least look better when put into context (his interference with Bingley and Jane), so he has to set the record straight. Lizzy might never like him, and he’s accepted that, but he needs to let her know that he’s not a monster; that at the very least, he does try to do the right thing.
- The third thing that we must keep in mind about Darcy is that, once confronted with just how much of an ass he’s been, he changes. De Bourgh, Collins, Wickham, Caroline, Lydia… none of them ever change or improve, save on the most superficial of levels. Darcy, on the other hand, goes away and does just that. There’s a great scene in the 1995 adaptation where Darcy is working out at a fencing club and swears to himself that he will overcome this. He’s not talking about Lizzy; he’s talking about himself. How he came perilously close to being just another mean, petty person in a country already overflowing with them. And so he works on improving himself. We don’t get to see any of Darcy’s self-improvement, unfortunately, only the results, but those results are spectacular: when he next meets Lizzy and her aunt and uncle, he behaves as the gentleman he was raised as, and not the ass he became.
This, then, is Darcy: a man with a sharp tongue and a razor wit, who has allowed himself to become conceited and arrogant but never loses his inner goodness. When given a mirror and seen how ugly he has become, he goes on and becomes a better man.
He Must Be A Complete Man and A Common Man and Yet An Unusual Man. He is a Common Man or He Could Not Among Common People
Certainly, Darcy is unusual by the standards of Hertfordshire. He’s rich for one thing, fabulously so, well-educated and well-travelled, and rather rude. And he is no commoner by the modern sense of the word; he is a member of the landed gentry after all.
However, we learn in Lizzy’s travels to Rosings Park that a lot of this is due to being out of his element. Once we find him amongst friends and family, Darcy becomes much more normal and behaving with some common decency. And later, after that disastrous first proposal, Darcy really doubles down on the common decency thing and starts acting with all the civil grace and manners that was expected of him, that he had been taught to have, and that he himself had let lapse. Jane Austen presents Darcy as a more or less normal member of the gentry who had gained a fat head, nothing more. Certainly, there were enough characters like that in Jane Austen’s works! Ergo, Darcy is quite a common man, even if he’s not always at ease with others or strictly a commoner.
And yet Darcy is still fundamentally weird. And he is weird because of his morals. Like Chandler’s famous detective, Darcy has morals of adamant, as absolute as the sunrise. However much they both succeed at hiding them from time to time.
But look at Darcy’s compatriots among the gentry. Bingley, Godzilla bless him, is mostly useless. Caroline Bingley is vile. Her sister and her sister’s husband are a) trash and b) as arrogant and hypocritical as Caroline herself is. Charlotte Lucas’ dad is not much better than Bingley. Lady De Bourgh thinks she’s God. Mr. Bennet spends all his time making fun of his wife, who’s a gold digger by proxy. And Mr. Collins is an entitled idiot.
Having a fat head among the gentry is clearly normal. Having morals, alas, is not.
He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
Darcy, let’s face it, is the best man in Pride and Prejudice. All the other men, though most of them are not without their good points, rather fail in comparison. Mr. Bennet likes Darcy’s sense of propriety and audience, Bingley lacks Darcy’s backbone, Mr. Collins is, well, Mr. Collins, and Wickham is the kind of guy who preys helpless women for petty revenge schemes.
But Darcy is quite different. Even his crimes are motivated by a sense of honour: he breaks up Jane and Bingley out of a very real concern about Mrs. Bennet’s gold-digging, Lydia’s total lack of anything resembling responsibility and Mr. Bennet’s unwillingness to do anything about it. As far he can see, with the exception of Lizzy and Jane, the Bennets are family of boors, social climbers, and gold diggers with no hope of happiness for his friend. Hell, he probably thinks he did Jane a favour, too: as far as he can tell, Jane isn’t interested in Bingley and is mostly being pushed into the relationship by Mrs. Bennet. Until Lizzy enlightens him, forcibly, he almost certainly figured that by not interfering, he would have doomed both Jane and Bingley to an unhappy marriage, not unlike the Bennets. Granted, he was wrong and there’s a certain degree of hypocrisy there given his own proposal to Elizabeth, but he was acting out of good intentions.
And there’s an even better scene where Darcy’s honour is established: right when Lizzy first learns that
Wickham abducted her sister that Lydia and Wickham have run off together, she blabs to Darcy. Not intentionally, mind, but still. Darcy learns way more than Lizzy is comfortable with. Still, what does he do with that information? Sends for Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, stays with Lizzy for as long as she needs, and then proceeds to hunt. Wickham. down.
ends him rightly forces Wickham to marry Lydia. No more than that: he also pays for the wedding completely out of pocket. Weddings are not cheap, not in any day and age. Add in the cost of settling Wickham’s debts and the sum total, as estimated by Bennet, is around ten thousand pounds. To put that into context, that’s the entire annual income of Darcy’s estate, double that of Bingley’s, and substantially more than the Bennet’s. And Darcy pays for it out of pocket, with the strictest orders that the Bennets are to have no idea that he was involved. He doesn’t want Lizzy to feel indebted to him and only marry him for that reason, but rather to do the right thing by her and her family.
Marlowe would be proud.
He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge.
Mr. Bennet says it best:
I shall offer to pay him to-morro; he will rant and storm about his love for you, and there will be an end of the manner.
Darcy is not interested in the Bennet’s money, or even their good will. Mostly, by his own admission, he was interested in easing Elizabeth’s pain. And so he won’t a take so much as a wooden nickel from them.
And then there are his interactions with Wickham. Wickham does all he can to besmirch Darcy, Darcy mostly ignores the man. It’s only when Wickham’s deeds are brought to light that Darcy comes down on him like the wrath of Godzilla… but he doesn’t kill Wickham (I like to think either the French or Sharpe did, but alas! Austen has the swine live). No. That would not be a due and dispassionate revenge, it would be murder. No, Darcy instead forces Wickham to grow up a little, to accept some responsibility for his actions. It doesn’t stick, but that’s not Darcy’s problem. Darcy has accounted for Wickham and Wickham’s crimes against him (Darcy), his friends and family. That’s more than enough.
I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things
It’s easy to get hung up on the details of this passage, but the point is is that the Hero, whoever they are, does not take advantage of others sexually. The duchess here is older, experienced; she’s probably lost someone before and could do with a friend. More, she’s protected: if somebody (who wasn’t Henry II of England) had had the balls to tell Eleanor of Aquitaine who she couldn’t hang with, they’d be dead before morning. Wealth, power, privilege: she has it all and isn’t going to be hurt by an affair. The virgin, on the other hand, is representative of youth and inexperience. She isn’t protected, either by experience or wealth or power or privilege or even previous loss. And so, like James Bond, all the Hero does is offer the virgin an ice cream cone.
It’s enlightening to take a look at who Darcy and Wickham chase after. Both Darcy and Wickham chase Elizabeth, but to different extents: Wickham breaks off from Lizzy to chase another girl with a fortune of ten grand before he settles on Lydia. And before that, he tried to pull the same stunt on Georgiana, Darcy’s sister. Wickham always chases the low-hanging fruit, the women who are vulnerable. He would not be very interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine, but what he’d do to Bella Swan would… actually, it wouldn’t be all that different from what Edward did. Never mind.
Darcy, though, is very consistent in his attraction to Elizabeth. Moreover, he’s not interested in Miss de Bourgh, the sickly child that the Lady de Bourgh demands he marry. Why? Simply put, she probably reminds him way too much of Georgiana: a helpless child who depends on him. Can we really see Darcy, who fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet, she of the lively mind, agreeing to that kind of match? Maybe to save the kid from something worse, but that’s about it.
He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him
Yeah, I don’t think this needs explaining. Darcy isn’t thin-skinned, exactly, nor is he without friends. But he is highly self-sufficient, proud almost to the point of conceited, and has no problem offering verbal smackdowns to those who offend him.
He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
I think, aside from the ‘lively sense of the grotesque’ bit (that’s really more Lizzy’s thing), this describes Darcy pretty well. His rude wit is well-established, he does not care for the pretences of others and his contempt for Caroline Bingley’s pettiness just grows throughout the book.
The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.
Chandler is obviously talking about a very different kind of adventure, here, but the same principle applies. Darcy, and Lizzy for that matter are built for Jane Austen’s romantic social commentaries. They are far too intelligent to not notice the flaws of the world around them, and too compassionate not to take issue with those who would abuse others. They are, as Marlowe himself was, deeply sentimental and would deny it venomously if asked. Yet they are: Elizabeth is motivated by her need to love and be loved, and Darcy is motivated by his love of his friend, family and Lizzy. It’s hard to get more sentimental than that.
And it’s hard to find a pair of heroes more suited to the genre than these two. Darcy is the good-hearted man who’s lost his way a little. Lizzy is the plucky, good-hearted girl prone to snap judgements. Both are sentimentalists, both are cynical, both care deeply for their friends and family, and both understand the world they live in.