The internet has been all over this, a “dramatic re-appraisal,” as the headline breathlessly puts it. But we never knew just what Darcy looked like in the first place — all Jane Austen gives us is “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand pounds a year.” But the piece by John Sutherland and Amanda Vickery is great, a thorough exploration of early 19th-century ideas about male desirability, ticking through things like the importance of cravats, knowing how to move gracefully, and having a well-turned leg. None of this was news to me, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the first readers of Pride and Prejudice probably did not imagine him as looking like a certain English actor.
Inspired by a need to understand the market, and my potential readers, I’ve recently embarked on a different kind of Jane Austen Project: reading more widely wildly a thing I’d been largely avoiding until now, out of fear it would either make it me give up in despair or unintentionally become a plagiarist: fiction inspired by Jane Austen.
So far, I am left with one overwhelming impression: astonishment at the iron hold that Mr. Darcy (specifically, as depicted by Colin Firth in the 1995 A&E film version) has left on the imagination of the producers, and, one can only suppose, the consumers of this kind of fiction. I’ve joked about the wet shirt scene
as much as anyone, but I shall do so no longer, for at a certain moment this notion stopped seeming funny to me, and become horrifying. Continue reading →
No one today seeking to write about love, a group I must, however reluctantly, class myself with, can escape the towering shadows of two 19th-century romantic heroes: Jane Austen’s Darcy and Charlotte Bronte’s Rochester.
What has brought this to mind was rereading “Jane Eyre,” a work I had avoided for years; I think I feared it. I recalled from last reading a vague sense of its force, closely connected to the powerful first-person narrator, who grabs the reader by the throat, relates uncomfortable truths, refuses to shut up. The initial account of the cruelty of her life with Mrs. Reed and the early days at Lowood is even more ghastly than I remembered. Continue reading →