Pride and Prejudice turns 200 this month and in honour of that milestone, I thought I'd dedicate an entire blog post to Mr Darcy - the romantic hero many literary women have swooned and mooned over since the book was first published.
Now, I have to confess, I think you're either an Austen fan or a Bronte fan (rarely does someone love both with the same fervour), and I'm a Heathcliff girl all the way. As far as tall, dark, handsome and brooding goes, my humble opinion is that Heathcliff could sliver Mr Darcy and dine on him sashimi-style.
I read Wuthering Heights at an impressionable age (16), and over the ensuing years, my predilection for crushes on smart, intense, moody men with a chequered past and the ability to self-destruct can probably be attributed to Heathcliff's early influence.
But back to Mr Darcy. Blog reader Rohani, who contributed a post last year, is such a huge P&P fan that she actually wanted to name her future son Darcy. Unfortunately, she had two girls, so the name is still up for grabs if anyone wants it. Asked why this astute, emotionally stable woman likes Darcy - who's always come across as a bit of a cold fish to me, she says:
"How can we excuse the 'monster' Darcy? Well, the whole book is about overcoming social ideals ingrained from birth, so naturally we see the worst of Darcy. And also, as my mother taught me and I've lived by it ever since I learned it the hard way...you can't change a man. BUT Elizabeth managed to change Darcy, make him overcome everything he thought was wrong and abhorrent, for love. Of course, for some people this would just make him weak and sentimental but I think there's plenty of evidence in the book against that."
I don't think there is any great mystery to Mr Darcy adulation by bookish girls, actually. As this article points out, Jane Austen was 20 when she wrote the first draft of P&P, the same age as Elizabeth Bennet - by the time the novel was published, she was 37 and her chances of being swept off her feet by her own Mr Darcy were non-existent (she would die four years later).
Mr Darcy speaks to the romantic in all female hearts. The author of the article above summarises the girl-doration of Darcy perfectly: "...the love of Darcy for Elizabeth is immortal. Why? Because his creator wanted to believe that a man could love a woman for herself alone and, by believing it and writing it with transcendent talent, she made it true. So long as there are immovable male objects and irresistible female forces, you can bet, as long as you live, something's gotta give."
Darcy is the model for a certain type of man: handsome, rich, obviously a favourite of fortune, but who at the same time is abrasive, snobbish, judgmental and cold.
But yet, but yet, he let Elizabeth get under his skin - he saw something in her that could not be bought by all his millions, could not be found in the coterie of well-bred, well-mannered, highborn ladies whom he could easily choose from - he saw a lively, humorous, intelligent bookworm, and loved her for it at a time when to be that sort of young lady was to invite spinstership.
I mean, he saw her, really saw her, and fell in love with what he saw. He did not create some sort of vision of the perfect woman and made her fit into it before he loved her. No, Darcy loved Elizabeth, prickles and poverty and all.
It's what saves him from conforming to the Byronic stereotype perpetuated by Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Much as I am fond of Heathcliff, I still know that the only place for that kind of man is between the pages of a book. In real life, Midas-like, he would eventually destroy anything he touched.
Darcy, despite his flaws, is always true to himself and to the woman he professes to love. He never once lies to her, even when he would perhaps have been better off doing so. It takes guts to be that kind of man. And perhaps that is the secret to his eternal popularity.
What do you think of Mr Darcy?