Wednesday, September 12, 2012

unapologetic apology

(Warning: There are a few things in life I am violently passionate about. One of these is Pride & Prejudice. Another is Tangled. Another is hipster-spotting at Quincy's Café. Just so you know what you're working with.)

Recently, I read an article (on a blog I love), entitled: "Why I Hate Mr. Darcy."
The authoress' main point is along the vein of: don't date losers. A message I highly support; but as I read the article, I grew even more confused and dismayed, because it was as though she was describing a different character or story.
It reminded me of the one time a girl in class called Lizzie a gold-digger (My chagrin and dismay were unfathomable).

So let me explain what makes Pride & Prejudice a sublime masterpiece of the English language, and the greatest love story of all time.

Keep your Romeo & Juliet and Wüthering Heights; Lizzie and Darcy's story out-shines Rhett and Scarlett's or Abelard and Heloise's. This is a tale of two lovers that has no equal. There may be better novels, I'll grant you that. But the greatest love story in the English language is indisputably Pride & Prejudice. (Although, if I'm being honest, I will admit Midsummer and Persuasion give it a run for it's money. See? I'm a rational human being.)
Pride & Prejudice is the tale of two incredibly ordinary people who find themselves in an extraordinary love story.

What makes a love extraordinary?
Love is an offering up on the behalf of the beloved. You give up your own good for the good of the other. In a love story, lovers are always required to sacrifice something to be together: family, their respectability, their comfort, their lives (c.f., Romeo & Juliet). What makes Pride & Prejudice so beautiful is the sacrifice these beautiful characters must make: their flaws.
In order to be together, they have to burn away their false self.
They must lay their prejudices on the altar of love. Until both of them relinquish their stony pride, they will not find happiness.

The authoress of The Article focuses on the flaws of Darcy (although she's rather harsh on him: "tremendous vices" is quite an accusation.) And yes, Darcy has many flaws. But so has Lizzie (more flaws, I would argue, than does Darcy).
The reason Miss Lizzie Bennett is not more often faulted for her egregious shortcomings is that she is indeed, as Jane Austen describes her, "the most delightful creature ever to appear in print." Everyone is charmed by Lizzie, as they ought to be. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was endowed by her creatoress with graces aplenty.
If you don't like Lizzie Bennett, well bless me, who do you like?  But if you think Lizzie Bennet is perfect, I'm afraid you're living in some frou-frou cotton candy version of reality.
Lizzie Bennet is a prejudiced, stubborn, and proud young woman. She sorely misjudges Darcy, who, is not in fact a cold, calculating, evil person. Darcy's just the victim of a lack of social grace, ego, and poor timing.

The beauty of this story is that Darcy and Lizzie serve as catalysts in each other's growth in virtue. But it's only once they seek to grow in virtue on their own that they can deserve one another's love. To wit: Darcy, in encountering Lizzie, finds his flaws laid bare. He is attracted to her, but his pride cannot allow himself to admit that such a woman is capable of attracting him, for his prejudice has written off her entire family as ill-mannered fools. Essentially, ditto for Lizzie. Darcy basically said: "her looks are okay: bright and charming, but heavy on the mehhh." (ouch. c.f., First Impressions.)

What's incredible about these two characters is that, during the fateful encounter/proposal-gone-awry at Rosings Park, they are allowed to see, through each other, their own flaws laid bare, but also they finally see how flawed their perceptions of each other were. Afterwards, they both take it upon themselves to reform. Which is remarkable. Darcy doesn't just write off Elizabeth's criticisms, despite the fact that she has candidly been quite rude towards him, and falsely accused him of actions in a sensitive and confidential matter she knew absolutely nothing about (that's what I would have done). He takes her words to heart. Same with Lizzie. In a moment of grace and self-awareness, she realizes how utterly foolish and wrong she has been. She repents of her behavior, and embarks on a true attempt to be better.

Maybe my sweeping love of Pride & Prejudice is cliché. Every twenty-year-old woman is supposed to want to be Lizzie Bennet. It's a Thing.
But, unlike wanting to be Cinderella or Jane Eyre or Juliet, every girl can be Lizzie Bennett. If a young lady is willing to suffer the humiliation of sometimes being proven wrong, and having to amend her wayward ways, any aspiring Lizzie can find her Darcy. 
That is the moral of the story: Lizzie must confront her own flaws, amend them, and allow that maybe she--yes, even brilliant, witty, charming she--is fallible. Then, she can find her prince and have her happily ever after, complete with castle (c.f., Pemberley).

The primary argument the authoress of The Article makes is that women use the story of Darcy as an excuse to date bad boyfriends. But that is simply not a lesson that Pride & Prejudice teaches. There is nothing in this story that claims that if you love the monster enough, the prince within will emerge (that story is called Beauty & the Beast. c.f., French fairytale/Walt Disney). Pride & Prejudice is not Beauty & the Beast transplanted to Regency England. Pride & Prejudice is no more a fairytale than our everyday lives: there are no enchantments, spells, magic mirrors, or evil step-sisters. There are no monsters. And there are no princes. 
There is just one spunky, independent, out-spoken, intuitive, intelligent young woman who is a bit pig-headed, proud. and quick to judge. And there is a one rather shy, intelligent, generous, good-hearted, and virtuous man who is a bit reticent, proud, and quick to judge.

 Pride & Prejudice is the story of two people whose flaws blind them, and prevent them from seeing the other person as they ought. But two people who are honorable enough and virtuous enough to realize: wait. I have acted badly, and begin to change. And in that process, truly fall in love with each other.

If that's not a most excellent love story, I don't know what is.


  1. You know, I've been getting a lot of responses like this. Maybe there's more left up to the reader's interpretation than I realize--or maybe I was totally projecting my experiences of rude boys who half-apologize onto rude Darcy. Maybe his greatest sin was awkwardness and not stubborn arrogance, as I've always read it. I think you're right that there's a lot of good in Darcy and a lot of growth and sacrifice in Darcy and Lizzie; I tend to speak in hyperbole, which generally results in my stepping on plenty of toes.

    But still I can't hold him up as a model for all men. It's possible that I'm jaded on this point. I tell you what: next time I reread, I'll try to read him the way you do. I do want to love him, of course, I just can't. But I'll give it my best shot and let you know how it goes :)

    Thanks so much for reading my blog!

    P.S. Being called "the authoress" may have been the highlight of my afternoon.

    1. Meg: goodness me, thank you so much for commenting!

      No, I think you're 100% right that Darcy's greatest sin is his stubborn arrogance. But so is Lizzie's. And the point, I think, of the novel is that both of them have to get over themselves, as it were, in order to be able to fall in love.

      And I definitely don't think that either Lizzie's or Darcy's personalities should be held up as the model for all men or women. (Heavens no. what a dreary world that would be). But I think there's a lot to be learned from their behavior and the sterling quality of their character.
      (And yes, loving Darcy is a challenge. He makes himself mega difficult to love when one of the first things we hear him say is: "tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me."
      Yeah. that's reeaaaal charming. But there's a reason Jane was going to name the book First Impressions ;))

      Anywhoodle, thank you again for commenting and thank you for your lovely blog. :) God bless!

  2. I love this post, Renee! (Actually, I love your entire blog, but this post is "especially good"!)

  3. This is probably the best thing I have seen written on Pride and Prejudice. I love the story too. But I don't like it when people think that Darcy is "perfect". He isn't, and he wasn't made to look like he was. He is human. And so is Lizzie.
    Anyway, thank for writing this! Loved it. :)

    Love n Smiles,