The truth about Mr Darcy
When you think of Mr Darcy the odds are you think of something like this. And you’re not alone – the image of Colin Firth walking out of the lake in the 1995 BBC television adaptation of Price and Prejudice has become iconic. So much so that there’s a statue of Firth’s Darcy waist deep in a lake in Hyde Park that tries to simulate this very scene. Tall, talk and handsome, it is easy to imagine the attraction that Elizabeth Bennet felt towards him.
Image credit: www.washingtonian.com
However, recently academics have delivered the news that sadly, this iconic image is most probably not at all accurate. Nor is Matthew Macfadyen’s 2005 version of Mr Darcy, who carries a similar dark haired ‘rugged’ look. Instead, we have been presented with a drawing that pulls together the little written description of Mr Darcy along with the fashions of the time it was written. In this image, Mr Darcy is lacking Firth’s strong jaw line – instead sporting a rather feminine thin, pointed chin. He also has a slim chest, as being muscular in those days was a sign of a labourer, and almost certainly not the impression Darcy would want to give. To top it off, this Darcy doesn’t even harbour the beloved crop of dark hair. Instead, he wears a white powdered wig. Not quite so sexy.
But before we recoil and run to re-watch the Colin Firth version to reassure ourselves, let’s just take a step back and think about whether we should even care what Mr Darcy looks like in the first place. It was probably for a reason that Austen’s physical descriptions of Darcy were so scarce. Told from the viewpoint of Elizabeth Bennet, one of the most famously progressive characters of that time period, it is unlikely that she would judge a person on something as inconsequential as physical attractiveness. And isn’t that why we love her? Because she cares about more than trivial things like money and how handsome a man is or isn’t?
Perhaps just as importantly, Elizabeth herself is famously ‘not half as handsome as Jane’, her sister. Although both Darcy and Elizabeth are by no means portrayed as unattractive, it could be that the lack of physical description is deliberate. Instead Jane Austen describes Elizabeth as having ‘courage’, and Mr Darcy is shown to be dedicated to his sister and kind to his servants. In other words, Austen places the value in her characters in the form of personality traits, rather than in their appearances.
So perhaps we should try to be a little less concerned about what Mr Darcy did or didn’t look like, as when it comes to the story, if anything, it devalues the message.
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