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DavidShapard
Posts: 25
Registered: ‎05-24-2007
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How sympathetic is Darcy?

Early in the novel Charlotte Lucas says that Darcy has a right to be proud, considering his high social position. In examining the novel repeatedly for my book, as well as looking at other novels of Jane Austen, I was frequently struck by the prevalence of such attitudes, and by their function in this novel. In particular, it means that the novel can have a hero who often acts in a rude or arrogant way, but is still an overall decent person (though obviously someone who needs to temper his pride to some degree).

What makes me wonder is whether that creates a problem for current readers, inhabitants of a world in which Darcy's kind of social pride is completely unacceptable. Does it make it hard to sympathize with him at all, and therefore to regard him as a worthy object of affection?

I noticed that the recent movie version made Darcy more shy than proud, and I suspect one reason is that the filmmakers figured that the audience would regard shyness much more favorably than pride.
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Everyman
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?



DavidShapard wrote:
Early in the novel Charlotte Lucas says that Darcy has a right to be proud, considering his high social position. ... What makes me wonder is whether that creates a problem for current readers, inhabitants of a world in which Darcy's kind of social pride is completely unacceptable.

Great question.

It calls for the answer to a broader question of how one should approach older works. Should one judge the characters and their beliefs by the principles of the modern world, or should one evaluate the text by the standards of the time in which it was written?

For example, another group here is right now reading Book 9 of Paradise Lost, which contains the (in)famous line of Adam and Eve: He for God, she for God in him. This did not offend at all in Milton's time; it was a natural expression of the way of the world. But it offends modern thought. Should we find the line offensive, or not?

Huckleberry Finn has also been read on BN, and raised a discussion of whether the book should be looked down on because of its racial attitudes and languge.

This is relevant to your question, because it asks whether look at the issue with 18th century or 21st century values. Today, that kind of pride is obviously offensive. And even in Austen's day, it was obviously not a simple issue: as you say, Charlotte Lucas thinks Darcy has a right to be proud, but Elizabeth and Jane Bennet obviously find the pride excessive and objectionable.

As to modern readers, I think it depends on whether as readers they work to understand the book initially in the context of its times, in which case they will probably be a bit ambivalent about the pride issue, or whether they read it with a modern point of view, in which case they will almost certainly find Darcy's pride offensive.

BTW, every movie version I have seen makes Darcy's pride in the early parts of the movie so offensive as almost to be a caricature. Darcy is presented as haughty, insolent, and unbearably stuck-up. I don't think that Austen intended this excessive a portrayal of him. I think it was more the pride of, say, a high school teacher of a type we are all familiar with going into a student dance. It is natural to them to see the students as beneath them and immature, to comment to a colleague that there isn't one worth dancing with, without meaning to be personally offensive.
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sethsma05
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Registered: ‎05-26-2007
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?

The character turned me off with his attitude, but he still managed to make me want to keep reading. I wanted to find out what it was about this guy that he was in the book in the first place, how this guy managed to have a friend, and why, out of all the people at the ball, Darcy got that much attention. If he had been different, without rudeness or arrogance, I would have cared less, but it is that attitude that made the book what it was for me, because it really took me on a journey. I like being surprised as a reader. I don't like cookiecutter villains, and heroes, and I think that's why I had faith that he had more to give than what was shown in the beginning. So yes, if I met Darcy on the street as I knew him in the early chapters, then I would have been completely turned off by him, but in the context of the book, I wouldn't have changed a thing about him.
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Everyman
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?



sethsma05 wrote:
I wanted to find out ... how this guy managed to have a friend,...


That's a good point. Bingley is such a nice guy that if Darcy were really a twerp, Bingley would hardly keep him as a friend. Bingley has plenty of money so doesn't need to suck up to Darcy because he's rich, and there's nothing in Bingley's character to suggest that he would have a friend just because the guy has a title. Bingley obviously relies on Darcy's advice, and Bingley is old enough that presumably that advice has worked out in the past.

I haven't read the book yet with a specific eye to seeing exactly where our impressions of Darcy come from. Is it just because our favorite Lizzy feels snubbed by eavesdropping and hearing a remark not intended for her? There's that saying that people who eavesdrop seldom hear good things about themselves. Other than that remark, on what do we really base our knowledge of Darcy? I seem to recall either Lizzie or her mother saying that everybody at the ball thought him proud, but that's their report, which is suspect.

I'll have to go back to that section and re-read it looking for exactly what facts we have about Darcy that aren't colored by Bennet family opinions.
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Laurel
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?

We all seem to enjoy portrayals of the fall of a great man, and to watch him fall in love--well, what could be more fascinating?
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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DavidShapard
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Registered: ‎05-24-2007
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?


Everyman wrote:

I haven't read the book yet with a specific eye to seeing exactly where our impressions of Darcy come from. Is it just because our favorite Lizzy feels snubbed by eavesdropping and hearing a remark not intended for her? There's that saying that people who eavesdrop seldom hear good things about themselves. Other than that remark, on what do we really base our knowledge of Darcy? I seem to recall either Lizzie or her mother saying that everybody at the ball thought him proud, but that's their report, which is suspect.

I'll have to go back to that section and re-read it looking for exactly what facts we have about Darcy that aren't colored by Bennet family opinions.




There are a number of actions of Darcy that show his arrogance early on. At the initial ball, it is the narrator who explains that everybody became disgusted with his pride, and it is explained that he only danced with Bingley's sisters. Also, in his insulting remark overheard by Elizabeth, she may be eavesdropping but he catches her eye before he speaks, which means he probably anticipated being overheard.

In chapter 6 he answers the innocuous Sir William Lucas with fairly caustic words. In chapter 10 he is equally sharp with his own best friend, Bingley, delivering some fairly severe opinions of Bingley's character. He is also frequently harsh with Miss Bingley (of course, the reader sympathizes with him there, but his willingness to speak that way continually with his best friend's sister further reveals his character).

This is not to say that Darcy is always unjustified in his words or actions, or that they show his to be a bad person. But it is unlikely that someone who behaved that way would have had a harder time retaining his friends, and the generally respectful opinions of others, if he were not of such high social position, and the inhabitant of a society that habitually deferred to people in that position.
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Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy

Dr. Shapard, thank you for sharing this insight: he wasn't being a gentleman.


DavidShapard wrote:

He is also frequently harsh with Miss Bingley (of course, the reader sympathizes with him there, but his willingness to speak that way continually with his best friend's sister further reveals his character).
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CallMeLeo
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Re: Mr. Darcy

I think part of the attraction of Darcy today is not so different than Charlotte Lucas's observation: we are attracted because he is handsome and rich, and more easily forgive his pride and haughtiness because of it. He wins us over completely because he's smart enough to fall in love with Lizzie, and flexible enough to change.
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PEGSmom
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?


DavidShapard wrote:
>
What makes me wonder is whether that creates a problem for current readers, inhabitants of a world in which Darcy's kind of social pride is completely unacceptable. Does it make it hard to sympathize with him at all, and therefore to regard him as a worthy object of affection

SPOILERS
Many years ago when I first read Pride and Prejudice I could not warm up to Mr. Darcy. Even after the letters and the nice things that he did for ELizabeth. I was happy with the ending but kept thinking about the "first impressions". Re-reading it again shortly thereafter, I finally fell for him. :smileywink: I believe, we the readers get our opinions of Darcy not only from Jane but also the narrator and then JA tricks us in the end! We are just as prejudice as the characters!
~ PEGSmom~
"It's our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities" Albus Dumbledore
"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow"
Mark Twain
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Everyman
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy? SPOILER

CAUTION -- SPOILER -- REVEALS ENDING OF BOOK


PEGSmom wrote:
Many years ago when I first read Pride and Prejudice I could not warm up to Mr. Darcy. Even after the letters and the nice things that he did for ELizabeth. I was happy with the ending but kept thinking about the "first impressions". Re-reading it again shortly thereafter, I finally fell for him. :smileywink: I believe, we the readers get our opinions of Darcy not only from Jane but also the narrator and then JA tricks us in the end! We are just as prejudice as the characters!

I like that point.

P. D. James gave a talk to the Jane Austen Society, which is reprinted in her autobiographical fragment A Time to Be in Earnest (well worth reading, btw), in which she discussed Emma considered as a detective story, showing how Jane Austen scattered clues around the book that, if we had interpreted them properly, would have let us solve the "mystery" before it is revealed to us.

The same approach could be taken to P&P looking carefully at the book as though it were a detective story and trying to unravel the clues that JA scatters to see whether she is "playing fair" with the reader in the sense of mystery writers playing fair with their readers and giving us enough clues that if we interpreted them right we could have realized the truth before JA reveals it.

The cases aren't exactly parallel, because in P&P the realization of love comes in the middle of the book and much of the rest is Lizzie bemoaning a loss she thinks is lost forever, but still, approaching the book with the mentality of reading a detective story can have some appealing aspects.
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Gypsy
Posts: 15
Registered: ‎06-01-2007
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?

I haven't read the book yet with a specific eye to seeing exactly where our impressions of Darcy come from. Is it just because our favorite Lizzy feels snubbed by eavesdropping and hearing a remark not intended for her? Other than that remark, on what do we really base our knowledge of Darcy?


If you remember, even Bingley was critical and annoyed with Darcy at the dance in the beginning of the book. It would appear Darcy was far more overbearing than usual. In the point of view of the local society, Darcy was a snob. But Bingley seems somewhat surprised at Darcy's behavior. Was it due to Darcy feeling he was far superior to the others or discomfort being with surrounded by strangers?
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PEGSmom
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?


PEGSmom wrote:

I believe, we the readers get our opinions of Darcy not only from Jane but also the narrator and then JA tricks us in the end! We are just as prejudice as the characters!





Whoops......I meant to say not only from Elizabeth but also the narrator. Sorry for the mistake! :/
~ PEGSmom~
"It's our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities" Albus Dumbledore
"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow"
Mark Twain
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firewyne73
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Registered: ‎06-13-2007
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?

Look at the admissions people give for celebrities nowadays- Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, etc. Are they not "allowed" to be somewhat conceited by the average person and/or press simply because of their "higher" place in society? In my opinion some of this sort of thing Austen is referring to is still alive and well in our world today.

Thankfully, some of us can be a bit more detached and look at those haughty famous folks and laugh...

The metamorphosis that Darcy seems to make throughout the story is largely due to perspective. Austen is a master at this: through the perspective of her characters we are made to feel annoyance with Darcy, but as the story evolves and the characters' view of Darcy changes, we too as readers are subtly forced to change our views of him. First impressions are very strong at times, but are clouded by our own feelings and perspective.

So even if you read the story today without knowing much about society back then, Austen still helps you see how haughty he is by the reactions of her other characters to him. If none of the other characters in the story were visibly outraged or upset by his behavior, would we be? In this way, Austen can lead us along in whichever direction she wishes; She can form our opinions about the other characters before we even realize it is happening. That is skill! :smileyhappy:
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Laurel
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?

Great post, Firewyne! Please continue to contribute your ideas here.



firewyne73 wrote:
Look at the admissions people give for celebrities nowadays- Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, etc. Are they not "allowed" to be somewhat conceited by the average person and/or press simply because of their "higher" place in society? In my opinion some of this sort of thing Austen is referring to is still alive and well in our world today.

Thankfully, some of us can be a bit more detached and look at those haughty famous folks and laugh...

The metamorphosis that Darcy seems to make throughout the story is largely due to perspective. Austen is a master at this: through the perspective of her characters we are made to feel annoyance with Darcy, but as the story evolves and the characters' view of Darcy changes, we too as readers are subtly forced to change our views of him. First impressions are very strong at times, but are clouded by our own feelings and perspective.

So even if you read the story today without knowing much about society back then, Austen still helps you see how haughty he is by the reactions of her other characters to him. If none of the other characters in the story were visibly outraged or upset by his behavior, would we be? In this way, Austen can lead us along in whichever direction she wishes; She can form our opinions about the other characters before we even realize it is happening. That is skill! :smileyhappy:


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Li
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?


DavidShapard wrote:
Early in the novel Charlotte Lucas says that Darcy has a right to be proud, considering his high social position. In examining the novel repeatedly for my book, as well as looking at other novels of Jane Austen, I was frequently struck by the prevalence of such attitudes, and by their function in this novel. In particular, it means that the novel can have a hero who often acts in a rude or arrogant way, but is still an overall decent person (though obviously someone who needs to temper his pride to some degree).

What makes me wonder is whether that creates a problem for current readers, inhabitants of a world in which Darcy's kind of social pride is completely unacceptable. Does it make it hard to sympathize with him at all, and therefore to regard him as a worthy object of affection?

I noticed that the recent movie version made Darcy more shy than proud, and I suspect one reason is that the filmmakers figured that the audience would regard shyness much more favorably than pride.


Hello, this is my first post to the discussion of P & P. I enjoyed reading what everyone had to say on this question. I like to remember that perspective is indeed the key here-the title is Pride and Prejudice. Just like her title Sense and Sensibility and her characters Elinor and Marianne reminded and encouraged readers to remember to BALANCE our emotions. She paints a picture using the words Pride and Prejudice, and draws us inward to examine the effects of both on the different characters. It is not just Lizzie and Darcy whose actions examine pride and prejudice (even though we follow them the most), but all the different characters;from the haughtiness of the Miss Bingley to the various comments of Mrs. Bennet. With that said, I do feel Austen's portrayal of Darcy requires the first impression of pride, and then works through the novel to show more specific areas of his character that might be in conflict. It is a novel about growth and as someone said in this discussion developing flexibility. I enjoyed the scene in 2005 version, when Elizabeth is visiting Charlotte and it shows her gazing in a mirror after his confession of love. The use of reflection in that scene reminded me of the ways of seeing ourselves and others.
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loveroflit822
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Re: How sympathetic is Darcy?

I think Lizzie said it best when she said that she could more easily forgive Darcy's pride had he not insulted hers first (hugely paraphrased). I think the reader gets one of clues that was discussed earlier from this statement. The reader adopts Lizzie's prejudice, not because Darcy's pride was to the point of being unforgivable, but because of where his comments were aimed.
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