Discuss the character of Darcy.
Fitzwilliam Darcy is the hero of Pride and Prejudice. He is the owner of the Pemberley estate worth ten thousand pounds a year. He is twenty seven, tall, handsome and of majestic appearance. He is one of the complex characters in the novel. While comparing Bingley and Darcy, Jane Austen tells us that injudgement and understanding, Darcy is definitely the better of the two. “He was at the same time haughty, reserved and fastidious, and his manners, though well-bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared. Darcy was continually giving offence.” Darcy looks so stern and serious that everybody holds him in awe.
The first characteristic that we note about Darcy is his pride. It is evident right from the moment he makes his appearance. He refuses to be introduced to any other lady except the two in his own party. He is declared to be “the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world.” Several instances of his pride can be cited. He refuses to dance with Elizabeth : “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me.” In Chapter 11, he tells her, “I neither forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself…….My temper would perhaps be called resentful.” When he makes his first proposal to Elizabeth, his tone is very proud and haughty.
However, there are attempts to justify his pride. Charlotte Lucas does not feel offended by it : “One cannot wonder that so very fine a youngman, with family fortune, everything in his favour should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.” Wickham tells Elizabeth that “almost all his actions may be traced to pride, and pride has often been his best friend.” Some characters in the novel think that his pride is the result of his shyness. But after Darcy has been engaged to Elizabeth, he himself confesses his having been proud:
“I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son (for many years, an only child), I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good themselves, allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing – to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own.”
He is shy, but his pride is not just his shyness. And he is not just proud; he is even prejudiced against other people. Hence when he first insults Elizabeth, he is motivated by his prejudice against the rural people who are much beneath him in social status.
Humbled by Love
Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth quite early in the novel. Darcy feels that she is rendered intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. He is also attracted by her pleasing figure and the easy playfulness of her manners. He gets an opportunity to observe her more closely at Netherfield where she has gone to nurse the ailing Jane. He notices her exuberance of spirits, and her warm-heartedness. He is impressed by her intellectual sharpness and her sparkling wit. Darcy next meets her when she is on a visit to Hunsford. He repeatedly calls at the parsonage. He is again struck by her refinement and his sense of appreciation is shown in his compliment,”you cannot have been always at Longbourn.”
It is Elizabeth’s angry refusal of his proposal that marks the beginning of the great change in him. Elizabeth charges him with having broken Jane’s heart and having ruined Wickham’s life. She also accuses him of not behaving in a ‘gentleman-like manner’. This accusation humbles him because he has always prided himself with acting like a gentleman. The next time, they come together at Pemberley, he takes pains to behave like a gentleman. He wishes to be introduced to the Gardiners. He requests Elizabeth to allow him to introduce her to his sister Georgiana. After Lydia’s elopement with Wickham, he saves the family from disgrace. He makes provisions for the man he hates, pays off his debts, purchases him a new commission in the army and persuades him to marry Lydia. All this, he does out of his love for Elizabeth. He himself admits the miracles Elizabeth’s love has brought about in him:
“What do I not owe you ? You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled.”
His Integrity of Character
Darcy appears to be a man of principle. There lies beneath all his actions a conformity with high standards of conduct. There is absolutely no duplicity about him. In his proposal to Elizabeth, he does not hide the struggle he has undergone before he finally
professes his love. When he is rejected by Elizabeth, he is not ashamed of his feelings. He makes it clear: “But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.”
His Love and Kindness
Darcy’s relationship with Bingley, Georgiana and his tenants gives other side of his character. It is his pride and haughty manners that are shown when he is in Elizabeth’s company. But it is quite another Darcy that others speak of and admire. To Bingley he is an esteemed friend. He has the highest regard for his opinion and judgement. To Georgiana, Darcy is a very loving brother, every earger to fulfil every desire of hers. To his tenants “he is the best landlord and the best master that ever lived; not like the wild young men nowadays who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name.”
Some critics feel that Darcy’s transformation in the second half of the novel is incredible. They regard him as one of Jane Austen’s serious failures. They attribute this failure to either her immaturity or to her general weakness in portraying male characters. The fact is that the action is unfolded from Elizabeth’s point of view. We see Darcy through Elizabeth’s eyes, and her eyes are prejudiced. We have to put together all the qualities of his character to get a correct picture of his personality. The writer has emphasised his negative qualities in the first half of the novel. But his inherent goodness cannot be hidden for long. His pride is slowly humbled through the love of Elizabeth. There is no reason to feel Darcy’s portrayal unconvincing