I’ve been invited to do something a bit different today, which is incredibly exciting: I’m hosting Dr Gabrielle Malcolm‘s new book, There’s Something About Darcy, on my blog for the day as part of her blog book tour! As soon as I heard about Malcolm’s book, I knew it was for me – as someone who has been obsessed with Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet and Pride and Prejudice for as long as I can remember, I was so excited to read her take on the cultural phenomenon that is Mr Darcy, and maybe do a little reflection on why I love Pride and Prejudice and its hero quite so much…
Why is Mr Darcy enshrined in our imagination in such a way? That is the question Malcolm has asked here: how can we see his influence in other key works? How has costume drama and fanfiction further connected readers to Darcy as a hero? As Malcolm herself says, the phenomena of Darcy is such that
“He is now an archetype that defines a whole strand of characters in fiction, drama, media and popular culture. These are identified by a single name – Darcy.”
After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged (see what I did there?) that Darcy has been re-imagined in many hundreds and thousands of different ways. Some of my favourite ways Darcy has been re-imagined, which are all addressed in Malcolm’s book, are in of course the 1995 Andrew Davies adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary and in Curtis Sittenfeld‘s Eligible, part of the HarperCollins Austen Project. What is really interesting in the way Malcolm discusses these, amongst others, diligently moving through various representations of Darcy, is the complexity she acknowledges in the character. The book does not begin with a jump into the way Darcy is represented, but with a discussion of the root of the phenomena: Fitzwilliam Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In order to understand why he still resonates as a character today, Malcolm charts his development in the novel itself. Malcolm summarises:
“He grows and transforms before our eyes. He is reinvented throughout the course of the narrative into an ideal form of a man.”
Proud, disagreeable and abrupt, Mr Darcy develops respect for those around him and proves his innate goodness by fixing the situation between George Wickham and Lydia Bennet with no acknowledgement required. Malcolm examines the components of his character and then interestingly moves forward into Victorian literature to discuss other heroes and anti-heroes, such as John Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell‘s North and South and Heathcliff of Emily Brontë‘s Wuthering Heights. What ensues is not necessarily Malcolm arguing directly that Darcy can be found in these characters, but rather a discussion of the qualities of the hero archetype that highlights the way different values and cultural influences tempered what writers and audiences wanted from their heroes. I found this really interesting and it had me thinking about some of the characters in these novels in different ways.
I really enjoyed Malcolm’s ideas surrounding the “filtering” of Austen, and of course Darcy, by authors and screenwriters. Malcolm argues that each interpretation is a development of an Austen for their time, informed by contemporary popular culture and events. This also had me wanting to watch and re-watch all the adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I’ve always been a fan of the 1995 version above any other, because that was the one I grew up watching with my parents. So to me, Belton House will always be Rosings…
…and Lyme Park always Pemberley.
So when I visit Chatsworth, I don’t think Pemberley at all – although I do still enjoy the statue of Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy in the gift shop with the sign “Do not kiss”…
This was probably my favourite section of the book, as I found it really interesting for self-reflection and thinking about how my love of Pride and Prejudice and Mr Darcy had been enhanced by an affinity for that specific portrayal of the book.
It was also fascinating to read about looser adaptations in both book and on screen, such as the TV series Lost in Austen and Jane Odiwe‘s Project Darcy. (I wished there was more on Gurinder Chadha‘s Bride and Prejudice – that’s a great adaptation! Although I realise Malcolm probably did not have room for every adaptation there is!) This is where you see others playing with the Darcy archetype, lifting him into new situations, places and times. Also, Malcolm focussed on the responses to some of these, and whether they sat well with Austen fans. This was fascinating, as it showed the worldwide appeal of Austen and also the expectations individuals develop around what a story containing Darcy and Elizabeth should meet. I’ve read lots of adaptations of Austen (let’s be honest, if it says it is based on the novels of Jane Austen, and specifically Pride and Prejudice, I tend to read it) and some have been brilliant, some haven’t. I’ve developed my own expectations and it was interesting to read Malcolm analyzing this practice in a thought-provoking way.
So if you love Darcy, prepare to do a lot of self-reflection, and also get more recommendations on things to watch and read. Malcolm’s book is a fascinating sweep through the idea of the hero and literary romance with Mr Darcy at its pinnacle. This lovely book does prove that, as Malcolm herself says,
“Austen’s work is robust enough to travel, with rewards to be gained from repeated readings, viewings and adaptation. We recreate an Austen for our time.”
I’d like to thank Endeavour Quill for inviting me to do this and gifting me an advance copy – the book comes out on November 11th and you can find it on Amazon here.