I am reading The Duchess right now, about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. (I can’t wait for the movie!) Although the book is not directly related to Pride and Prejudice, it is still fascinating to see the parallels between the Duchess’ life and Jane Austen’s writing.
Lady Georgiana Spencer (the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales) married influential William Cavendish, the fifth duke of Devonshire, in 1774. She immediately became the toast of London, providing constant fodder for high society gossip and tabloid press.
The Cavendish family home, Chatsworth, was the most prominent home in all of Derbyshire. Indeed, our fictional Elizabeth Bennet visits Chatsworth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners. Jane Austen may have even borrowed the Duchess’ first name for Darcy’s sister.
Stephen Derry suggests the similarities between the Darcys and the Cavendishes were also political. “Fitzwilliam Darcy,” he writes, “has been associated with the Whigs, as his names recall those of two prominent Whig noblemen, Robert D’Arcy, fourth Earl of Holdernesse (1718-1788), and William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), who both held high ministerial office. Donald Greene considered that Darcy’s arrogance might have been ‘a satire on an aspect of Whiggism most obnoxious to Pittite lories,’ like the Bennets and Jane Austen’s family.”
Even the name Pemberley may have been derived from the Duchess, Derry writes. “The Duchess herself wrote a novel, The Sylph (1779), in which the name ‘Pemberton’ occurs. Fanny Burney may have borrowed this name, as it is also found in her novel Cecilia (1782), which was a major source for the plot of Pride and Prejudice – both are studies in snobbery – and which provided it with its title; Jane Austen’s ‘Pemberley’ may therefore represent a double allusion, to both Cecilia and The Sylph. It would be appropriate if Miss Darcy’s home ultimately owed its name to her namesake’s imagination. (Jane Austen may have conflated ‘Pemberton’ with ‘Beverley,’ the surname of the heroine of Cecilia, to make ‘Pemberley.’)”
Mr. Bennet is a fascinating character, in that he is almost an exact foil to Mr. Darcy.
Darcy is dedicated and loyal, Mr. Bennet is laissez faire and enjoys laughing at others. Darcy is fiscally responsible and Mr. Bennet is lax about the financial vulnerability of his family. Darcy is taciturn and reserved, Mr. Bennet enjoys embarrassing people and exposing their stupidity for all the world to see.
Given that Lizzy is Mr. Bennet’s favorite, it is surprising that she develops an affection for Mr. Darcy. It is said that many women love men who are like their fathers. Instead, Lizzy grows to love a man who is almost the exact opposite.
Lizzy starts off int he book very similar to Mr. Bennet. Witty, charming and fun. But also a little proudly condescending and hasty in her judgements. As her character grows and matures, she learns to balance out her pride and prejudices and finds a way to love Mr. Darcy, a man whose personality is so different than her fathers.
It is rather convenient for the Pride and Prejudice storyline that Mr. Darcy was an orphan. The influence of family wasn’t very strong on his side (other than Lady Catherine’s vocal disapproval); for the most part, he was free to do as he chose.
Lady Catherine said that he was promised to her daughter, Anne. She purports that Lady Catherine and Darcy’s mother had planned this union from their births. With Lady Anne Darcy deceased, Lady Catherine has no one to back her up, and Mr. Darcy is free to disregard her claim.
We know very little about Darcy’s parents. Mr. Darcy the elder was an “excellent” man who seemed benevolent and kind. He sponsored Wickham’s education and was kind to his servants and tenants. He valued duty and honor and responsibility. Had he survived, I wager Mr. Darcy would have been very involved in selected (or, at the least, approving) Darcy’s choice for a bride.
I have always wondered if Darcy would have been permitted to marry Elizabeth if his parents had survived. Would they have allowed him to marry so beneath his station in life? Would they have wanted him to marry his cousin Anne? Would they have approved of Elizabeth, both her situation and her personality?
Obviously, there are no answers to these questions, for Jane Austen (in her wisdom) didn’t burden the story line with these scenarios. But part of me (the un-romantic part) believes that, if Darcy’s parents had survived, he would not have married the wonderful Elizabeth Bennet.
I’m getting ready for a little road trip to visit family. About four days, with 550 miles of driving round trip. I’ll pack my trusty little car with an overnight bag, a few CDs, some beverages, and be on my way. Maybe I’ll make a pit stop part way to stretch my legs and purchase a snack.
My preparations have made me think about the difficulties of travel in Regency England. Although travel was getting easier, due to improvements in carriages and roads, it was still an arduous task.
Elizabeth and Darcy spar a little on the ease of travel and distance between family members. Darcy, with carriages and footmen at his beck and call, believes that fifty miles is an easy distance…little more than a half day journey. Perhaps one stop to change horses and to get a little refreshment. Elizabeth (not surprisingly) disagrees, and notes that ease in travel is directly related to ones fortune. Those with less rely on coaches and communal transportation. And ladies need a male travel companion, making trip planning more complicated.
I marvel that, even in Darcy’s world of good fortune, fifty miles of travel still takes a half-day. Let’s assume that means five or six hours, meaning that the best case is about 10 miles per hour. Our modern minds could not tolerate that rate of travel. My daily commute would become impossible, taking almost two hours each way. And my long-weekend 550 mile get away would involve 55 hours of sheer travel time alone!
“An easy distance, do you call it?” says Lizzy. Indeed.
There are numerous Pride and Prejudice “sequels” on the market today. They’ve become an unseemly addiction for me– filled with the shame and loathing that often accompanies additions. I know they will never measure up to our beloved Miss Austen. I should be strong, I should be able to resist, and yet…off I go with credit card in hand to my local bookstore or on-line retailer.
Also, like many addictions, it is never completely satisfying. Sure, some are better than others. Some are downright awful. And, in most cases, the characters are extremely one-dimensional.
Lady Catherine is always rude and selfish. Mr. Collins is always boring and long-winded. Lydia is always flighty and self-centered. Caroline is always petty and witchy. The characters often don’t evolve (except in the rare cases where the evolve SO much that they are hardly recognizable! In one “sequel,” Bingley has an affair and begets an illegitimate child, Darcy shoots three people while defending Lizzy, and Georgianna becomes a seductive temptress to entice Colonel Fitzilliam. WHAT! Who are those people!?!)
So, it leads me to wonder: What would happen to Darcy and Lizzy? Would she remain witty, charming, and a little bit bold? Would Darcy remain reformed from his previously aloof and prideful ways? Would their love remain pure and deep and fulfilling through the years?
Despite all the guessing in poor-to-mediocre sequels to come, we’ll never really know the answer. And maybe that’s a good thing. You never get details about the “after” in “happily ever after.” This way, Darcy and Lizzy remain the essence of romantic love and admiration, coming together despite all obstacles.
Colin Firth has often said he is most proud of his performance as Lord Wessex in Shakespeare in Love. Recently, he said of this character: “I love the boredom of the vacant, mediocre man who has got everything, a huge amount of money, spoiled, and this kind of blithe, lazy cruelty that he has.” [The Australian, May 10, 2008]
Although the quote is about Lord Wessex, I think it resounds with Mr. Darcy as well. Before meeting Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy was a mediocre man. He executed his roles as a landowner and a brother well. But he didn’t really care about people, other than his sister, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Bingley. He didn’t seem to be fond of many other people (including Lady Catherine, his cousin Anne, or even Miss Bingley), and usually was outright disdainful. I think he was a bit bored, vacant, blithe and lazy, like Lord Wessex.
I often wonder what would have happened if Lizzy had accepted his first proposal at Rosings. If she had, I think he would have stayed on the same path of selfishness and pride. Their marriage probably wouldn’t have been very happy, because it wouldn’t have been based on mutual respect, esteem and honor. He would be the acknowledge superior in all things.
Only through her refusal, and his later attempts to win her regard, does he lose his selfishness and become a better man.
Posted in Caroline Bingley, Charles Bingley, Colin Firth, Darcy, Lady Catherine, Lizzy, Rosings
Tagged Colin Firth, Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Jane Austen, Lizzy, Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
Modern psycho-babble tells us that we can’t love someone else until we know and love ourselves. Most of the characters in Pride and Prejudice are blissfully unaware. They all have faults and delusions which prevent them from achieving a deeper affection and intimacy with their partner.
Both Lizzy and Mr. Darcy start on similar paths. Lizzy prides herself on her ability to assess others accurately and rapidly, but later finds that her first impressions are filled with prejudice. Mr. Darcy is cool and distant, but later learns that he was tought to be selfisn and overbearing.
The journey to one another only begins when they start to look at themselves more honestly and critically. The depth of their affection is only reached when they honestly assess their own personalities and tendencies.
Both Lizzy and Mr. Darcy experience profound journeys of self-discovery and soul-baring. These journeys make them more compassionate and more able to find a deep love with each other.