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Darcy is from one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in England. He is the sole son and heir to a huge fortune and a magnificent estate at Pemberley. Although possessing a large estate, Mr. Darcy lacked the keen discrimination to comprehend Wickham’s character and forged a sentimental attachment for his steward’s son, which almost disgraced the family through Georgiana’s elopement.

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Darcy too lacks sharpness of mind. Darcy admires Elizabeth’s capacity to analyze character, a power with which she skillfully subjugates both Bingley and Darcy in conversation. Although taught to believe in goodness and generosity, he was raised in such an indulgent manner as to make him selfish and arrogant. Residing already in the highest rung of the society, there is little opportunity for upward social movement. His responsibility is to marry respectably in order to preserve the family’s lofty position and provide heirs for its continuity. His personal aspiration is not only to maintain that social position but also to so excel in acts of character that he will be regarded by his friends and dependents as kind, fair and generous. He is quite, reserved and careful in choosing friends. He looks down with pride and arrogance on the vulgarity of modern behavior and the inroads made by the rising commercial class on the status previously reserved for aristocracy.

Darcy is of the old order, but not its shining jewel. He is selfish, dull, and unequal to the management of Pemberley as a young man. He enjoys the company of submissive friends. He is traditional and undynamic. A clever Wickham is a danger to him and his establishment. His sister Georgiana is the chink in his armor. He is unable to choose a loyal servant as governess. The old order has started giving way. He needs a woman such as Eliza from the lower layer of aristocracy endowed with the energy of her newly acquired status to preserve his establishment. He struggles in the name of love and passion with the higher demands of the changing social situation, readily humiliates himself, apologizes to Eliza, reverses with Bingley, compromises with Wickham, and even subjects himself to the effusions of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Philips. He stoops to conquer.

His attraction to Eliza and Caroline Bingley’s opposition are symbolic. A rich, handsome, haughty Miss Bingley is unattractive to Darcy, while a less handsome, poor, unassuming Eliza is attractive. His choice expresses the need of the time, but goes by the name of romance. There is no real romance in the entire story. Eliza’s attraction to Wickham is infatuation falling a prey to a handsome face, a common phenomenon. No man or woman in the story exhibits the elevating passion of love that ennobles personality. The critical demands of the evolving social context admit no scope for romance.

Darcy was raised to feel his superior importance and look down on other than his own world. Eliza confronted him with the arrogant shamefulness of his manners and behavior. He confesses to her that he has been a selfish being all his life in practice, though not in principle.[1] His pride is a fortress to protect his money and status. But above his money and status, he values good character, which he recognizes in Eliza. For one who cherishes character, it is particularly challenging to find his own character questioned and distorted by Eliza’s view of him. That makes her all the more attractive.

Out of pride of position, Darcy was fully confident of succeeding in his proposal to Eliza. Her refusal wakes him to his arrogance and he loves her for it. Darcy takes himself seriously and has not yet learned to be laughed at himself with grace as Eliza laughed at herself.[2] After Eliza rudely rejects his marriage proposal, Darcy withdraws after offering his best wishes for her health and happiness. It is a moment when any man could feel bitter and humiliated and act meanly. Because he acts magnanimously, he keeps open the door of opportunity for Eliza eventually to accept him. Whereas when Eliza refuses Collins, Mrs. Bennet and Collins both react, permanently canceling any prospect.

WAS FITZWILLIAM DARCY MODELED AFTER MR. LEIGH PERROT?

Imagine Elizabeth Darcy had been accused of shop lifting. Wouldn't he act in precisely the manner described in Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters(105)?

Mrs. Leigh Perrot was selected as victim, people thought, because her husband was so extremely devoted to her that he would be sure to do anything to save her from the least vexation. If so, the conspirators were mistaken in their man. Mr. Perrot resolved to see the matter through, and, taking no notice of the many suggestions as to hush-money that were apparently circulated, engaged the best counsel possible, secured his most influential acquaintance as witnesses to his wife character, and spent the terrible invervening period in confinement with her in Ilchestrer. . . . <P>He was . . . prepared for a failure of justice; and, we are told, had arranged that in case of an adverse verdict, followed by transportation, he would sell his property and accompany his wife across the seas.

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Footnotes

  1. P&P, p.328
  2. P&P, p.330

P&P refers to the Oxford World's Classics edition of Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1980

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