Read a character sketch of Mr Darcy
Mr Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy) is one of English fiction’s top romantic heroes. Jane Austen’s best realized male character, he displays all the worst, and the best, qualities of gentlemen at the upper end of the landed gentry class.
Being a gentleman at the time in which Pride and Prejudice is set – the last decade of the 18th century – has a specific meaning. Darcy is, of course, of the gentleman class, but when the community of mainly females first meet him they do not rate him highly as a gentleman, in spite of his ten thousand pounds a year and the rapidly circulating reports of his magnificent stately mansion, Pemberton: he does not behave in the way they expect a gentleman to behave. Manners are so important that they seem almost more important than the wealth of this single young man.
At the beginning of the novel Darcy arrives in Meryton with Bingley, who has rented Netherfield, and they both attend a local public ball. The communal opinion of Mr Bingley is highly favourable, whereas Mr Darcy gets the thumbs down. The ladies of Meryton have expectations of how a gentleman should behave and if he lives up to them he is approved. Bingly is polite, effusive, conversational, and attentive. There is a smile on his face throughout. He is consequently adored by the ladies of Meryton. In contrast, it doesn’t take long for Darcy to be condemned as ungentlemanly, and in the following days their conversation is as much about his sullenness, haughty reserve, and downright rudeness as is their raving about Bingley. Certainly, Darcy is proud and reserved and during the course of the novel that aspect of his personality becomes unravelled.
Jane Austen focuses on females in her novels and there is a heroine in each one who commands the point of view. As the female perspective is explored the male characters tend to be less developed. However, Mr Darcy is the exception. In this case, while still focusing on the heroine’s progress, Jane Austen engages in a parallel process. The novel explores Darcy’s developing yet conflicted feelings about Elizabeth as he struggles with his attempts to either forget her or secure her affections. His haughty, arrogant manner, instilled in him through his upbringing by aristocratic parents, misses the expected gentlemanly mark. It struggles against his deeper and truer decency and obscures his generosity and nobleness of character.
In the world of Jane Austen’s novels – that is the English landed gentry at the beginning of the 19th Century – a man’s masculinity is a matter of the judgment of the ladies in any community. In that sense, masculinity is tied up with gentlemanliness, regardless of any unexplored, deeper good qualities that there may be. Most important, though, is a man’s ability to attract a woman into marriage. Darcy can do that, of course, because of his wealth and social position, but he is judged less of a man than Mr Bingley because he tends to repel women with his ungentlemanly behaviour, whereas Bingley has everything – wealth, social position, and a high degree of the ability to attract women into marriage with his good manners. He is therefore the more attractive, and so more masculine.
Darcy’s masculinity is in question because even though he is handsome and rich, he is less attractive to single young women because he doesn’t have the manners expected of a gentleman. To say, within the hearing of a young woman at a ball, that she is not attractive enough to tempt him to dance with her, is definitely the opposite of gentlemanly. The word soon gets around that he is to be avoided. And from their first appearance in the community “Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared; Darcy was continually giving offense.”
The first impression of Darcy, with everyone wondering who he is, whispering about his great fortune, and declaring him handsome, evaporates and by the end of the evening of the ball “his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased”
Even Mr Collins is more masculine than Darcy because he makes up his mind to go on a short visit and return to his home with a bride. He applies himself aggressively to that task and succeeds. It doesn’t matter how repulsive and ridiculous he is, he has proved his masculinity by showing his ability to secure a wife.
The man judged to be the most masculine is George Wickham – fortune-hunter, sex predator, liar, and con man. Women love him for his charm and good manners and he proves his ability to attract the commitment of women by getting young women to agree to elope with him. He would have no difficulty securing a wife, should he so desire.
When we first meet Darcy, as we do through Elizabeth’s eyes, he is a snob. However, he is ripe for that to be modified by the right woman. He is arrogant, again, ready to temper that through love. His ability to change is because of his greatest qualities – his honesty and his willingness to think independently in spite of all the pressures to make him think in terms only of class and money. He is one of Jane Austen’s best male characters because we see his mind develop from the blinkered thinking of his upbringing to the softening of that as he encounters love for the first time. We are used to seeing Jane Austen’s heroines change as their experience broadens but the men are usually static. Darcy is refreshingly different.
Even his worst enemy, Mr Wickham, who has known him from childhood, owns, “His pride never deserts him; but with the rich, he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable — allowing for fortune and figure.” When we first meet Darcy though, that applies only to the very narrow social band of the richest gentry – basically his family and their connections. It is only later in the novel that he begins to exhibit those positive qualities in a more general way.
It is when Elizabeth turns down his marriage proposal and tells him that it is offensive, that Darcy is shocked into realizing just how arrogant and entitled he has been. He admits to himself that it was his parents who taught him to be arrogant and snobbish, and that he didn’t have to be those things. Elizabeth’s response to his behaviour makes him sensitive to other people’s feelings for the first time. By the end of the novel he is so transformed that he is willing to marry into a family that is on the bottom rung of the gentry ladder, with their three silly daughters, a vulgar, embarrassing mother, and with Wickham as his brother-in-law. Being aware of his own shortcomings he is finally prepared to accept the faults of others.
As the novel advances Darcy, still through Elizabeth’s eyes, the same eyes that saw him as ungentlemanly at the beginning, becomes more attractive until by the end he is, without doubt, the most attractive and masculine man of them all.
That’s our Mr Darcy character analysis. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!