Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Character Analysis in Pride and Prejudice

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      It has been remarked that the story of Pride and Prejudice is seen almost wholly through the eyes of its heroine, Elizabeth. This angle of vision must be kept in mind with reference to all the characters and particularly in the case of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is because Elizabeth is the focus of the plot that Mr. Darcy is misunderstood not only by his future wife but also by the reader in the earlier part of the novel and it is for that reason again, that we soften towards the hero and admire him towards the end. In fact, the few undesirable qualities in him are purged on account of his contact with her and the development of his character is practically the development of his love for Elizabeth culminating in her acceptance of his hand by her, after all her prejudices had been removed.

      The chief point about Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is that his first appearance is unfavourable. He is exactly the opposite of his friend, Bingley, in this respect, whose winning manners gain him friends immediately. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, on the other hand, is proud and does not conceal the fact that he is aware of his superiority over others in many respects. That is why he is not liked by the people of Meryton in spite of the fact that his income is whispered to be double that of Bingley's. His pride should have been very offensive indeed to make the people of Meryton forget his wealth and position. He does not dance much and all decide that he is above being pleased. That this is not a mere prejudiced view is shown by the comments of Darcy himself to Bingley. He feels that there is hardly a woman in the company ‘‘whom it would not be a punishment for him to stand up with.” In fact, he refuses to be introduced to any of the girls. In particular, Darcy makes an unfavourable comment about Elizabeth herself, and that too within her hearing. He is aware of what the consequences of his remark would be, though it is true that it is this incident that cures him of his one defect. Throughout his stay at Netherfield, he makes himself as forbidding as possible. Elizabeth, like the others, puts him down as one of the proudest and most disagreeable of men. Brought up as he is in an atmosphere of wealth and strict decorum, he considers everyone in the village vulgar and beneath his notice. He agrees with Miss Bingley that he would not allow his sister to walk three miles on a wet day as Elizabeth had done to go to Netherfield to attend on her sister. He has the conventional notions of proper appearance and behaviour.

      Still, it is clear to us that Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy's insistence on form does not blind him to more essential qualities. Though he is prejudiced against Elizabeth in the beginning, he is not slow to realize that she is different from the other persons of the village and the family. He makes a similar exception in favour of Jane too. He is particularly impressed by the affection of Elizabeth for Jane, as he tells Elizabeth at a later stage. He is a shrewd observer of men and things and his consciousness of his superiority does not make him incapable of judging others. In this respect, he is superior to Elizabeth herself. For, she commits many blunders in her judgment of persons, the most serious case being that of Darcy himself. She commits similar blunders in the case of her intimate friend, Charlotte, and Wickham. Darcy does not allow his pride to come in the way of judging Elizabeth and Jane correctly, as Elizabeth allows prejudice to cloud her judgment. This speaks volumes for his real refinement. In fact, we can note that his superiority is not one based on mere rank and wealth. Though he has a contempt for the people of Meryton, he has equal contempt for unworthy persons of his own class. He is not taken in by the pretence of Miss. Bingley and shows her her place many a time, without mincing words. He has a hearty contempt for the methods adopted by her to catch him. He defends Elizabeth ably whenever Miss Bingley tries to malign her. In a similar manner, he does not approve of the want of manners displayed by his rich aunt in her conversation with Charlotte and Elizabeth. He is ashamed of Lady Catherine when she asks Elizabeth to make use of her housekeeper’s room to play on the piano, “since she would not be in anyone’s way there.” He gives his aunt curt replies when she pesters him with her advice on how to learn music. It is clear from these examples that Darcy’s aristocracy is not based on mere material advantages, but on real merits of head and heart. He is a perfect gentleman, though his superiority has made him a little unbending towards the weaknesses of others.

      In fact, if the real defect of Darcy’s character is to be sought, it will be found in the too high standard which he sets before himself and others. He had been himself brought up according to strict principles of honour and justice and because he has attained a high standard, he expects it in others too. Further, his superiority has bred in him an intolerance of defects in others. But it must be said in justice to him that he does not allow himself to be carried away by prejudice. He admits to Elizabeth that it is difficult for him to change his opinion of others. When she asks him whether he is careful in arriving at a judgment, since he is so unbending, Darcy replies that he is. This is perfectly true though Elizabeth is not sure of it at the moment the conversation takes place.

      In spite of all his rectitude, however, Mr. Darcy continues to be misunderstood by all and particularly by Elizabeth, since she is poisoned against him by Wickham. Darcy’s reaction to the propaganda which, he knows, is being carried on by Wickham against him is characteristic of him. He does not stoop to defend himself. His action in having the entire family removed to London soon after Mr. Bingley’s departure for the city does not improve matters in any way and Elizabeth has the greatest dislike for him. She is fully convinced that he is a snob of the worst type. This impression is made worse when she meets him and his cousin, Fitzwilliam at Rosings. There, indeed, she finds a little change in him. He is politer than he was, though she discovers the same reserve. But his character appears in a worse light than ever, when Colonel Fitzwilliam alludes to a certain friend whom, Darcy had said, he had saved from a most imprudent marriage. The quick wit of Elizabeth immediately connects this with her own sister and her dislike for Darcy is turned into positive hatred for the man who had injured the tenderest of hearts. It is during this moment, as ill-luck would have it, that Darcy proposes to her. It is not a surprise, therefore, that he is rejected haughtily. Elizabeth discovers even at that time his habitual pride. He admits before her that he had been struggling against his love for her, but could not control himself anymore. He is surprised and angry when she rejects his hand. His aristocratic pride is revealed at its worst at that moment. He tells her later that he had never for a moment doubted that his offer would be gratefully accepted. The same pride is revealed by him in his letter of defence also. He does not deny his part played in the Jane-Bingley love affair. Even earlier he had told her that “he had been kinder towards his friend than towards himself in the matter.” He had said also that he had been perfectly in the right to have looked down on the relatives of Elizabeth. The same sentiments are practically repeated in the letter and Elizabeth grows furious while reading it. There is pride in his justification of his attitude to Wickham also though there is nothing in it to anger Elizabeth.

      The letter of defence, we can say, marks the end of one stage in the development of the character of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy as well as of Elizabeth. Darcy drops out of the novel for a long time and is presented before us again when Elizabeth visits Pemberley. A marvellous change has come over him by then, almost amounting to a metamorphosis. Elizabeth is struck by his politeness not only to herself but to her uncle and aunt. He pays a visit to her in the very next day and asks her permission to introduce his sister to her. This takes Elizabeth entirely by surprise. She wonders whether it could be the same Darcy who had spoken haughtily to her at Rosings. Her attitude to him has changed by that time and she has realized that he is blameless at legist in relation to Wickham. She has realised also that there was some truth in his judgment that Jane did not display her love for Bingley openly enough for the other to understand it clearly. This change in her attitude is strengthened by the housekeeper’s strong praise of her master. Elizabeth remembers also that even Wickham had spoken in praise of Darcy’s affection for his sister. Further, Elizabeth notes that Darcy keeps the portrait of Wickham exactly as it was during his father’s time, in spite of all that Wickham had done against him. She realises Darcy’s true nature. Her brutal frankness in pointing out to him his one weakness of pride has cured him of it. From that moment, he is almost as polite and gentle as his friend Bingley. He does not mind going to Longbourn and bearing with all the ill-bred remarks of Mrs. Bennet. He gives his tacit permission to Bingley to marry Jane and Elizabeth is thankful to him for such a change of heart on his part. For, Bingley would never have made her sister happy without his friend’s ‘approval.’ But this is not the only reason for which Elizabeth has to be grateful to Darcy. He saves her very honour and that of the family as a whole by getting Lydia married to Wickham. He shows the true worth of his character and his love for Elizabeth by doing everything without her knowledge and she would have been thoroughly innocent of the part played by him but for a careless remark made by Lydia. It is this action that opens the eyes of Elizabeth to his character. She is moved so much as to regret her former rejection of him. She wishes that matters could be set right between him and her again. As Jane Austen puts it, “she began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her.” All prejudice against him is completely removed and she finds herself unable to express her gratitude towards him when he proposes to her again after the officious interference of Lady Catherine. She had never expected that, in spite of all his love for her, he would tolerate being the ‘brother’ of Wickham. But Darcy shows himself to be a true lover as well as gentleman by making her the happiest woman in the world. We feel that he had passed through an ordeal of fire, on account of his true love which manages to consume the single defect in him, namely pride.

      To many modern readers and critics, the great blot on the book is the author’s portrayal of Darcy. To all appearances, there are two Darcy's that we meet in Pride and Prejudice — the Darcy in the first half of the novel — proud, cold, haughty and unfriendly and the Darcy of the second half - warm, loving, considerate, a kind master, hospitable and eager to please. This seemingly irreconcilable aspects of Darcy's character is often taken to be a failure on the part of Jane Austen's characterization. Jane Austen was in her early twenties when she wrote Pride and Prejudice and hence her failure in delineating Darcy's character is attributed to her immaturity. Secondly, some critics believe that Jane Austen was generally unsuccessful in drawing credible male characters. However, opinion is divided and many believe that Darcy is a credible and convincing character and what appears as irreconcilable aspects of his character is simply a result of our having misread Darcy's character along with Elizabeth.

      Darcy’s Pride. Definitely, Darcy is proud in the beginning. His behaviour on his first appearance, is so appallingly insolent that few readers can entirely forgive him for it, and it is doubtful if Meryton could ever have learned to make excuses for a man who slighted the whole neighbourhood, refusing to dance and declaring audibly that none of the women present were handsome enough for him. He is contemptuous of the people below him in social status and feels no need to conceal his contempt. He acknowledges his own ‘pride and conceit’ and his selfishness in caring for none beyond his own family circle and thinking meanly of all the rest of the world. At Netherfield, he tells Elizabeth, “My opinion once lost is lost for ever”. And finally, his proposal to Elizabeth at Hunsford parsonage is more eloquent on the subject of pride than of tenderness.

      Darcy’s Superior Moral Nature. Thus, Darcy is definitely proud in the beginning. But some of his coldness and reserve may be at least attributed to his inordinate shyness and his awkwardness in the company of strangers at a large ball. Also, Darcy’s pride is to be seen as something other than mere snobbishness. As Catherine Lucas points out Darcy does have much to be proud of and his pride is the result of a genuinely aristocratic consciousness of merit. As the book proceeds, we come to discover the truth about Darcy. He is complex, sensitive and intelligent and — on the whole he is superior to all the other males in the story, including Bingley. He is not morally blind either and recognizes the vulgarity and ill-manners of the Bingley sisters and is as much embarrassed by Lady Catherine’s behaviour as he had been by Mrs. Bennet’s vulgarity. He realizes that good manners are not the monopoly of any particular class and observes how cultured and brilliant Elizabeth is. It is interesting to note, also, something that is too often overlooked: Darcy very early in the book turns his attention to Elizabeth and Jane Austen gives enough pointers to show Darcy’s increasing attraction towards Elizabeth. The astute reader is not, therefore, misled, as Elizabeth is, about Darcy’s true feelings and so the change that comes with his letter seems less extreme and less incomprehensible.

      His rejection by Elizabeth humbles him completely and it, forces him ‘to cast a fresh look on his character’. It is credible that Darcy under the influence of his great love for Elizabeth, changes to a more warm and humble person. At his own home in Pemberley, he is not shy or reserved and is the perfect gentleman, inviting the Gardiners and introducing his sister Georgiana to Elizabeth. His love for Elizabeth is so great that he overcomes his disgust for Wickham and plays a prominent role in getting Wickham to marry Lydia, thus saving the Bennet family from social disgrace. This raises him in Elizabeth’s esteem as well as ours.

      Darcy exists only in scenes with Elizabeth and probably a scene or two more with his aunt would have established him more firmly. His extreme insolence at the Meryton ball may seem inconsistent with his later warm behaviour, but in thinking so, the reader is like Elizabeth Bennet being prejudiced by first impressions. His solidity of temperament is implied in his affection for Bingley, and his keen perception is evident in his dislike of the Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine and his attraction towards Elizabeth. Darcy is real and convincing — all the more so because he changes gradually under the influence of love and not overnight. Noteworthy is that the reader sees Darcy through Elizabeth’s point of view and that point of view is obviously prejudiced and blind to all his positive attributes. If we are not conscious of his good qualities or fail to see the changes in him it is because we are looking at him through Elizabeth’s eyes. Thus, what appears to be an inconsistency in his character merely stems from the point of view in the novel. We may conclude therefore, that Darcy is a convincing and credible character and his change from cold reserve to warm friendliness is justifiable.

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