Dearest Mr. Darcy,
Let’s be honest. You’re the almost infamous exemplar of romantic male figures. You started out as a renowned literary character and morphed into a sexualized movie hunk. Normally I don’t go in for such clichés, especially the typical romances marketed toward young straight white women like me. But I do go in for period pieces and classic literature, which brought me to you. I found you overrated the first time I read your story – it was eighth grade, and deadlines forced me to skim instead of savor. I couldn’t do your tale justice. Four years later I found you a bit more attractive in the 2005 American film version. But I didn’t really get it until this year, when, drawn by his performance in The King’s Speech, I watched Colin Firth take a turn as you in the 1995 BBC miniseries. Five hours of that hair! Those riding boots! The sprawling English estate! Not to mention the infamous (and, I thought, overrated) jump-in-the-pond scene.1
In light of this, it’s no wonder that I – and we as the straight women you’re marketed to – love you.
So why do we love Mr. Darcy?
First, here’s the cliché chick flick version: We love him because he’ll take care of us. He’s so not-so-secretly in love with us that he’s willing to pay to make our obnoxious, selfish little sisters happy. The not-so-secretly part is important too – straight girls love the prolonged, delicious torment of the romantic chick flick, from the awkward meet-cute to the tortured profession of love to the loss of trust over some slight to the protracted, long awaited for, but ultimately orgasmic reconciliation and suggested (but never shown) makeup sex. As Eve Ensler says in The Vagina Monologues, “Moans are connected with not getting what you want right away, but with putting it off.” Pride and Prejudice does this all at 120% and it does it in style, with plenty of period costumes and dancing thrown in. (And who doesn’t love highly socially regulated opportunities to have rapier-sharp conversation set to music?)
The initial hatred and witty repartee while dancing! The heated marriage proposal! The long silences and formal address! And finally, ultimately, the revelation that Mr. Darcy has changed! As we realized what he has realized – that he was wrong, that attempting to change and truly care for someone is better than any haughty, passionate profession of love. We think, This is what it should be like. We should have to wait. We should be imperfect – not just our men, but us, too. We should be willing to change, to learn how to make small talk, to say that we’re sorry, to defend the object of our affection against social retribution, to be generous. These are all legitimate desires. We have the right to have them. But, as we know, life doesn’t always match those expectations.
Now, here’s my version: Because he’s me. Or I’m him. I’m analytical, cynical, initially standoffish, snarky, and bad at small talk. I’m far too committed to telling the truth. And honestly, so is Elizabeth Bennett, except she pulls off all of these qualities in a much more tactful way. And that right there is the pull of Pride and Prejudice for me – the idea that two smart, stubborn people can realize that they’ve been perhaps a bit too smart, a bit too stubborn, and can go about rectifying that. They change without crowing about it. They change as a way of admitting their mistakes. They change for each other.