Saturday, November 6, 2010

What estimate have you formed of the character of Mr. Darcy? Do you think that, in portraying him, Jane Austen has portrayed an incredible person?

A Handsome Man, with a Disagreeable Disposition
We meet Mr. Darcy quite early in the novel. In fact, we meet him at the very outset on the occasion of an assembly which is held in the town of Meryton and which is attended by all the leading families of the neighboured. Mr. Darcy is described by the author as a fine figure of a man, and as a tall person with handsome features and a noble bearing. All the ladies at the assembly look at him with great admiration so far as his appearance is concerned. But all the ladies turn away from him as soon as they perceive that he is a proud and haughty man with a most forbidding and disagreeable disposition.

Pride, his Most Glaring Trait in the Beginning
Mr. Darcy's pride is, indeed, the most glaring trait of his character when we meet him at this assembly. He is an arrogant man who thinks that there is hardly any lady attractive enough for him to dance with. He dances only with the two sisters of his friend Mr. Bingley and, when urged by Mr. Bingley to dance with Elizabeth, he gives the haughty reply that she is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt him. The ladies attending this assembly find him to be the proudest and most disagreeable man in the world; and everybody hopes that he would never attend an assembly again. Amongst the most hostile to him is Mrs. Bennet whose dislike of his general behaviour deepens into a strong resentment when he refuses to dance with one of her daughters (namely Elizabeth). Although Miss Charlotte Lucas defends him to her friends by saying that he has every right to be proud, we are not much impressed by this argument. Pride is an odious trait in a human being, no matter how sound and strong are the grounds for that pride. No intelligent man and no sensible woman can ever feel attracted by a proud man. Later in the story we find Mr. Wickham also describing Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth as a very proud man, though we cannot attach much importance to Mr. Wickham's opinions because Mr. Wickham himself turns out to be a most unreliable kind of man. Talking of his pride, we perceive a striking contrast between him and his friend Mr. Bingley. Mr. Bingley can feel sure of being liked wherever he goes, while Mr. Darcy can be sure only of giving offence to all those with whom he happens to come into contact. Mr. Darcy is clever but he is at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, while. Mr. Bingley, though not so intelligent as Mr. Darcy, has a most agreeable temper and most pleasing manners.
The Development of His Relationship with Elizabeth
Mr. Darcy's initial attitude to Elizabeth is determined by his pride which, at this early stage in the story, provides the clue to his character. He brushes aside Mr. Bingley's suggestion that he should dance with Elizabeth and he goes so far as to say, in the very hearing of Elizabeth, that he has not come to this assembly to dance with girls who may have been rejected by other men. This is hardly a gentlemanly way of speaking. Nor does this way of speaking about a girl show the good breeding which Mr. Darcy can otherwise claim. However, Mr. Darcy does have the good sense and the judgment to discover his error and to make amends for it. Soon afterwards he finds that Elizabeth's face looks very intelligent because of the beautiful expression in her dark eyes. Not only that; he now finds her figure and her manners also to be very pleasing. He now tells Miss Bingley that a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can be a source of very great pleasure to a man. Later, when Elizabeth has walked a distance of three miles or so, Mr. Darcy says that her face looks brighter because of the physical exertion she has undergone while others at Netherfield Park speak contemptuously of Elizabeth's having walked such a long distance. And so Mr. Darcy begins to feel more and more attracted by Elizabeth till he gets the feeling that he is almost on the brink of falling in love with her. In fact, he now admits to himself that he had never been so bewitched by any woman as he is by Elizabeth. And the only circumstance which prevents his proposing marriage to her immediately is her social inferiority to him. Soon afterwards he is able even to push the fact of her social inferiority into the background, and to make a proposal of marriage to her. Elizabeth, a self-respecting woman as she is, finds his very manner of proposing marriage to her to be condescending and patronizing; and she rightly rejects his proposal. This rejection deeply hurts his pride; and, in order to raise himself in her estimation, he writes a letter to her defending himself against the charges which she had brought against him, the charges being that he had treated Mr. Wickham most unjustly and cruelly, that he had prevented his friend Mr. Bingley from marrying her sister Jane, and that his very manner of proposing marriage to her had been insolent. But, to her surprise, the very tone of this letter, in which Mr. Darcy has tried to defend himself, is haughty and insulting; and so she takes no notice of it though, on second thoughts, she begins to modify her opinion of Mr. Darcy and begins to soften towards him. She reads this letter again and again, so that he greatly rises in her estimation. Later, when Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth meet again at Pemberley, the mutual attraction between the two has grown very strong. And then it is wholly and solely to render a service to Elizabeth's family that Mr. Darcy goes to London, traces the whereabouts of Mr. Wickham and Lydia, and brings about the marriage of the runaway couple by paying to Mr. Wickham as much money as has been demanded by him as a condition for his marrying Lydia. Lady Catherine's version of her meeting with Elizabeth and the talk which she has had with Elizabeth clinches the issue. Mr. Darcy now goes and renews his proposal of marriage to Elizabeth who has, by this time, discovered that Mr. Darcy is the right kind of man to be her husband, and that he and she would make the happiest couple in the world. She therefore, readily accepts his proposal.
His Misjudgment of Jane's Feelings
In spite of all his intelligence of which he feels proud, Mr. Darcy is unable to judge Jane's feeling for Mr. Bingley correctly. According to Mr. Darcy's view, Jane does not love Mr. Bingley as deeply as he loves her. Having formed this opinion, which is absolutely wrong, he then puts pressure on Mr. Bingley to give up his intention to marry Jane. Of course, we do not doubt Mr. Darcy's bona fides. There is no doubt that, in urging Mr. Bingley to give up his intention to marry Jane, Mr. Darcy acts from the best of motives. Mr. Darcy actually thinks that Mr. Bingley would not be happy with Jane. However, his advice to Mr. Bingley, well-meant though it is, causes much distress and pain to Jane. In fact, for several months Jane's life becomes miserable after Mr. Bingley's abrupt termination of his relationship with her. She simply cannot understand what has gone wrong and, even though she tries to put up a good face on her disappointment, her plight is really pitiable. And her sister Elizabeth too suffers deeply on her account. Mr. Darcy is to be held squarely responsible for the misery which he causes to both sisters, though he never intended to cause this misery, and though he is not even aware of this misery being experienced by the two sisters.
His Sense of Duty; His Kindness
to his Tenants and Servants
Mr. Darcy is a very loving brother. He looks after his sister Georgiana with great affection and tenderness, and takes every possible step to ensure a comfort­able life for her. He is a dutiful nephew to Lady Catherine, though he does not follow her advice blindly because he knows her limitations and her shortcomings. He knows that Lady Catherine is a selfish woman who wants him to marry her own daughter and who therefore goes to an extreme length in an effort to prevent Elizabeth from agreeing to marry him. Mr. Darcy is a good master to his servants. As a landlord, he is very kind to his tenants. His housekeeper at Pemberley, Mrs. Reynolds, speaks very highly of him. In fact, she describes him to others as a very considerate and generous master; and she cannot understand why people think him to be proud. However, it is possible for a man to be proud and yet be kind towards his tenants and servants.
A Serious-Minded, Grave Kind of Man
Mr. Darcy is by nature a serious-minded man. Gravity is the hallmark of his disposition. He never talks light-heartedly. He is not a jovial or gay type of man. There is nothing frivolous or flippant about his talk at any time. He is by nature a reticent or silent kind of man. Often he calls on the Bennet family and on Elizabeth, but talks so little during his visits that they begin to wonder why he came at all. But he is a thorough gentleman, though flawed by pride which, however, ultimately gives way to a balanced outlook upon life.
By No Means an Unconvincing Portrayal
The portrayal of Mr. Darcy is by no means unconvincing. He is certainly not an incredible figure, as is alleged by some critics. He is as convincing a man as is Mr. Bingley to whom he otherwise presents a striking contrast in almost all respects. Mr. Darcy is thought to be an unconvincing man perhaps because of the transformation which takes place in his character in the course of the novel. From a proud and haughty man, he changes, in course of time, into a man who has learnt to assess his own worth and the worth of others rightly and correctly. This change takes place in him as a result of the treatment which he receives from Elizabeth at various stages in the story. Towards the close of the novel, Mr. Darcy, speaking to Elizabeth, traces the development which has taken place in his character. He tells her that he had been a selfish person all his life. As a child, he had been spoilt by his parents. His parents were themselves very good people, and his father particularly was a very benevolent and amiable man. But they had taught him to be selfish and dominating, to care for nobody outside his own family circle, and to have a mean opinion of all the rest of the world. He further tells Elizabeth that he had been this kind of man from the age of eight to the age of twenty-eight; and that he would have continued to be such a man if it had not been for her influence upon him. And he concludes this account, which he gives to Elizabeth, with the following words: "What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." The last two sentences of this speech refer to Mr. Darcy's sense of complete complacency at the time of making his first proposal of marriage to Elizabeth. While making that first proposal, he had thought that he was conferring a great favour and a great honour on Elizabeth. But her summary rejection of his proposal had set him thinking. And by degrees he had begun to realize that he had been too presumptuous in dealing with her, and that he had under-rated her self-respect and her worth. Now, this change in Mr. Darcy is by no means something impossible. There are many cases in which the character of a man undergoes a change with the change of circumstances or with the change of environment or with the change of the people with whom one associates. Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Darcy's proposal of marriage had given a jolt to Mr. Darcy's feelings of pride and self-importance. Then her continuing indifference to him had made him realize that his high rank and social position were not by themselves such virtues as could place him on a pedestal. And thus he had learnt a lesson. This change in Mr. Darcy is not abrupt or sudden as is the transformation in Duke Frederick or in Oliver in Shakespeare's play As You Like It. The change in Mr. Darcy comes about by degrees, and occurs over a period of several months. There is nothing impossible or unbelievable about a change of this kind; and the portrayal of Mr. Darcy in this novel is therefore by no means faulty. If anything, this portrayal is a triumph of characterization. Jane Austen has shown great skill and subtlety in delineating the complex character of a member of the landed aristocracy which was in those days a highly privileged class of people.

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