I’ve seen The Duchess, and it is an amazing movie. Go see it!
I saw it with a friend who wasn’t very familiar with the story nor with English history and culture in the late 1700s. It was hard for her to reconcile today’s concepts of feminism and civil rights with Regency England. She also thinks Ralph Fiennes is ugly. Not just unattractive, mind you, but ugly. Even with the wig and tummy padding, I disagreed.
The movie didn’t delve into the psyche of William Cavendish, the fifth Duke of Devonshire. After seeing the movie and Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal, I went back to the beginning of the book to find out more about the duke.
Amazingly, he was orphaned at a young age. Sound familiar? His mother died when he was about six, and his father died when he was 16. Upon his father’s premature death, he was became the duke and gained control over vast land holdings throughout Derby and in Ireland. From his childhood, he became accustomed to his word being unquestioned and obeyed.
The Duke was considered highly intelligent–he was an expert on Shakespeare–but he was sullen and hardly spoke a word. He was unemotional and unwavering. He was seen as one of the most eligible bachelors in all of England, but because of his holdings and influence and not because of his charm and personality.
Although there are some general parallels to Mr. Darcy’s personality, the duke’s personality was quite diffent than our fictional Darcy. By many accounts, the duke’s personality didn’t get any warmer over time or intimacy. He was literally unable to express his emotions.
I don’t think Darcy’s character was inspired by the Duke of Devonshire. Irregardless, I find the continued parallels between this true story and the fictional Pride and Prejudice to be fascinatingly similar.
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.
I recently read a description of Mr. Darcy as a rescuer, and that gave me a little pause. Since he wants no notice of his heroic deeds, it is easy to underestimate this part of his personality. But he does seem to be a rescuer, and usually unbidden.
He rescues Georgiana’s virtue from the clutches of Wickham and rescues the Bennet’s reputation and respectability by forcing Wickham to marry Lydia. In both cases, he is unbidden but very welcomed.
There are a lot of positive personality traits associated with someone who comes to the aid of others. Loyalty. Selflessness. Generosity. Responsibility. Tolerance. Darcy has many of these traits (perhaps tolerance to a lesser degree, though), and that is why he is so appealing to Elizabeth and to readers.
Yet, he also “rescues” Bingley from association with Jane and the Bennet family by whisking him off to London. In this case, his interference is both unbidden and unappreciated by Bingley (although Caroline appreciates it to a great degree!).
But there can also be downsides to rescuing personality. It could be construed as, “you need me,” or “I know what’s best for you.” These modern psychological concepts are a little difficult to apply to Regency England, where being both male and wealthy inherently gives you power and dominion over others. Nonetheless, I think these elements are interesting traits in Darcy’s personality.
Does a person like Darcy who rescues others feel burdened? Get exhausted from exerting so much energy for others? Become resentful that no one else can behave responsibly?
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.