Yesterday, my book group discussed Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read it, but there are so many pop culture takes on it, so many adaptations, so many memes, that sometimes it’s hard to remember what comes from the book and what’s been added along the way. Reading the book again is like a revelation, stripping away all the baggage and getting back to the source, and I always notice something new.
I’ve never been a huge Darcy fangirl. I remember thinking of him as a jerk the first time I read the book (but I was reading the book for a course on satire, so I wasn’t reading it as a romance. I was looking for the snark). I found Colin Firth quite attractive in the miniseries, but I still wasn’t entirely sold on the character. As much as I love the book, I’ve never been one of those women swooning over Darcy or wanting to travel in time and meet him or even to meet the modern version.
But I noticed on this reading that the text is pretty clear that a lot of what Lizzie read as pride was actually social awkwardness, with the pride and snobbery used as a kind of social armor. It’s a lot easier to say “I’m not going to speak to those people because they’re beneath me” than to pull together the nerve to speak to someone when you’re feeling awkward in a crowd where you don’t know a lot of people. He’s got enough social grace to manage to look aloof and proud rather than tripping all over himself and being a dork, but basically he’s a dork who hides it well. That makes him a lot more endearing. But at the same time, he’s terrible at reading people, but arrogant enough to think he’s correct about people, which is a problem when he imposes his views on others.
I know Austen Twitter has started promoting Darcy as the poster boy for recognizing privilege and getting over it, and that is a strong thread in the book, where he starts from a place of assuming he knows best and Lizzie will be glad to take him, then realizes where he screwed up, and then sets out to change his ways and his attitude, then show her he’s changed, even using his privilege to help without expecting credit for it. He really has a satisfying character arc. The contrast between his first proposal, all, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” and the second proposal, “My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever,” is like a master class in how to talk to women. It goes from being all about him and her being obligated to listen to being about her and giving her the power not to listen.
But he wasn’t all gone in the earlier proposal. There’s a line that I love: “He listened without attempting to interrupt her.” That’s rather swoonworthy.
Plus, the best description of a slow-burn romance, when Lizzie asks him when he fell in love with her: “I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
I guess I’m Team Darcy now.