Blast from the Past: Mr. Darcy: Douchebag or Dreamboat?

originally posted on July 14, 2014

Welcome to the AAR Douchebag or Dreamboat series, in which AAR staffers take famous literary heroes to trial for perceived slights, misdemeanors and otherwise unsavory behaviours. Are they a victim of their circumstances, time and/or personality, or are they just plain douchey?

Mr. Darcy:  Imperious Misanthrope or Just a Shy Guy?

One of the best things about being an AAR staffer is the fantastic conversations and debates we have off-line. Usually, they begin when one of us has an idea for a blog post and would like input or opinions from the rest of us. Often we find ourselves going off on tangents, and some very interesting discussions arise.

Recently, one such a discussion had us putting none other than Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, beloved hero of Jane Austen’s sublime Pride and Prejudice, through the wringer. The original topic was the prevalence of what we’ve coined the Alpha Douche in many of today’s romance books, especially those categorized as New Adult. These are the guys who stalk, bully, and intimidate the heroines by being overprotective and possessive and who generally display behaviours that, in real life, would more likely be described as border-line abusive than heroic.

In our discussion, we mentioned the titles of several popular books and their associated heroes. And then Mr. Darcy was brought into the fray.

Now, please know that none of us at AAR would ever put Mr. Darcy into the same category as those modern heroes who are stalkerish, obsessive, possessive, or any of those horrible things that we see far too often today. Truly, none of us consider him an Alpha Douche at all – in fact, we all balked at the mere thought!

Still, the man was kind of a jerk.

But how much of his jerkiness was because of the times he lived in and his social status versus his own personality flaws?

Here is an edited version of our conversation:

AAR Maggie:

I think it is interesting that all the books mentioned here are fantastic bestsellers. Not just making the New York Times list but being big enough to attract attention from Hollywood. Twilight and Fifty Shades are both movies. Also of note is the fact that Twilight is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice so an argument can be made that the original Alpha Jerk was Mr. Darcy. (I recently re-read the initial proposal in P&P. OMG was that horrifying :-)

Side bar: Just to clarify I don’t think Darcy is an alpha – douchebag. Maybe Heathcliff but not in anyway Darcy. I mentioned Darcy in relation to Edward Cullen and Christian Grey because the three books have a very tenuous link.

AAR Blythe:
I have to admit I had an almost visceral reaction to the idea of Mr. Darcy as douchebag. There’s a scene in Robb’s Innocent in Death where Mavis says that all men have the lowercase “jerk” gene, because they’re guys, but they aren’t all uppercase jerks. To me Mr. Darcy is definitely not an uppercase jerk.

AAR Jenna:

I’m kind of laughing at our terminology because while I don’t see him as an Alpha Douche at all, if Mr. Darcy existed today and the same series of events took place in our time, I think one of the first ways we might have described him would be to say he acted like a total douche!

AAR Caz:
As for Mr Darcy being the original alpha-jerk… I can see the argument, but I suppose one mustn’t forget that while he was a jerk he was also governed by the conventions of being “a gentleman” which at least made him take “no” for an answer (well, mostly!) and while he was an idiot, he wasn’t physically abusive or controlling.

AAR Jenna:

This is a very good point about Mr. Darcy being a product of his times. He may have acted heavy-handed or arrogant but that kind of behaviour was almost expected of him given differences in class. He was truly entitled to be a bit superior and smug, even if we in the current century think that makes him a bit of an asshole. And a huge part of the story is the fact that once he saw himself through Lizzie’s eyes, he realized that the way he’d acted was unacceptable and he changed.

AAR Maggie:
Mr. Darcy is most certainly not a product of his times. The people around him fault his manners; if his manners had been average they would not have done so.

Mr. Bennet says, “We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man.” after he proposes a second time (and is accepted by Lizzy). Also, here is how Darcy describes himself during his second proposal to Elizabeth:

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son I was spoilt by my parents, who though good themselves allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing.”

Elizabeth calls Darcy “ungentlemanly” the first time around and most agree with her. It is a pivotal part of the tale that Darcy changes so I think it is very wrong to say that his behavior was average for his time.

AAR Jenna:

I’m not an expert on Regency-era manners, and it is very true that the text itself shows that Mr. Darcy’s behaviour was definitely not pleasant. And to add support to Maggie’s argument, Lizzie even tells Lady Catherine de Bourgh that she sees herself socially equal to Mr. Darcy:

“In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”

So she would expect to treated better by the man, and this is the reason she’s so against him from the very beginning.

But I would still argue that rudeness was accepted far more easily when it came from people of rank and fortune. I mean, look at what happens when Mr. Collins determines to speak to Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball:

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme; assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side, and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance.

Or look at all of the bowing and scraping that was done in the presence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She certainly felt entitled to her outspoken-ness and dictatorial manner, and those around her just accepted it as a matter of course from someone of her rank.

So people of the higher class were afforded more opportunity to dismiss those deemed beneath them, at least to a certain degree. I still think Darcy was a first class jerk even giving him some allowance for his self-perceived status, but I’m just saying that there was a distinction made between a certain level of acceptable superiority among the upper class versus Darcy’s extreme pride and arrogance.

AAR Caz:
And also, to clarify, I didn’t necessarily mean his poor behaviour was okay because he was rich and landed gentry – although I’d agree with Jenna that people with money were undoubtedly given greater leeway in their behaviour. I meant that the idea of being a “gentleman” was important to men of rank – and while some of his behaviour is not, perhaps, gentlemanly (in the sense of “polite”), I meant that the “code” prohibited him from indulging in the regency equivalent of the sorts of excesses we’ve been talking about in relation to the alpha-douchebags.

AAR Maggie:
If I understand the issue correctly what we are discussing is whether in Mr. Darcy’s era his being a snobby jerk would be more accepted than in today’s time. And I would argue that it is in fact the opposite. We tend to be a rude society now, with much lower standards being accepted for correct behavior. Men aren’t even expected to hold the doors open for grandmas anymore – many is the teen who has nattered on to his friends and virtually slammed the door on the octogenarian behind him. I think if Darcy had been in this era his “rude” behavior would be shrugged aside but in his era it is clear that his peers grumbled about it – behind his back because he was rich but still, he was considered a less than ideal party guest based upon his manners. So I think people tolerated his behavior because of his wealth but they still thought poorly of him because of the bad behavior. Clearly hypocrisy was as alive in well in that era as in this one.

AAR Jenna:
I do very much agree with you that Darcy was perceived as rude when judged by his peers. I mean, look at the Merryton Assembly, when he refused to dance with anyone even though “gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.” I can absolutely see why everyone found him disagreeable. It’s like someone refusing to shake hands with you – they are ignoring a common social convention which makes them come off as arrogant.

But I guess I’m saying that the one area where Darcy’s time afforded him some leeway as far as being rude – the fact that he was a man of wealth and rank and was expected to be superior to those of lesser means – would never fly today. I think of all of the tabloid news crap we hear about celebrities behaving badly because they think they are above being decent people or how upset we all have become over the gross entitlement of the 1%. We’ll put up with kids dropping the “f” bomb every other word but to act superior – that’s “rude”.

AAR Pat:
Poor Mr. Darcy! I’m not so sure he’s snobby and rude. I see him more as an introvert (as opposed to Bingley’s extrovert) who even though raised to be included in large social engagements isn’t comfortable in them. Consequently, he reacts as many introverts who can’t sit along the wall and hide behind their fans and seems aloof and disagreeable. I also see him as a bit of a pragmatist—things are as they are.

His first proposal to Elizabeth is more of a vlog posting or a diary entry that should have been erased, something an incredibly shy but well-meaning person might do.

Anyway, that’s my Mr. Darcy—a shy man who was born to stand up and out but who’d much rather retire and watch.

AAR Melanie:
[A]s a friend of mine states it, the thing with Mr. Darcy is that he comes across as an asshole, but you come to discover that he’s really an awkward turtle who can’t talk to girls. It isn’t that he is not rude, it’s that he doesn’t understand how he is being rude (specifically the first proposal scene – it all makes sense to him).

AAR Pat:
Bingley is an extroverted beta male while Darcy is an introverted alpha. That’s why Bingley asks for and follows Darcy’s advice.

AAR Maggie:
I think you are absolutely right, Pat, regarding their personality types. Bingley is an extrovert beta and Darcy is an introvert alpha. But I don’t think Darcy is a swoon worthy hero until after he meets Elizabeth and starts to change as a result. If Darcy hadn’t needed to change, there wouldn’t have been much of a book would there? They would have met at the assembly at the start of the novel, he would have danced with her and been oh so polite and then she would have accepted when he proposed. But one of the things I love about P&P are the changes made by Darcy and Elizabeth as they head toward their HEA.

So…based on our discussion, it seems that we AAR staffers are of a mind that Mr. Darcy is not a True Misanthrope. His behaviour was definitely rude, especially given the rules governing polite society in the Regency-era, and we don’t blame Elizabeth Bennet for her initial dislike of the dude. However, we feel that Mr. Darcy’s behaviour was more a symptom of an introverted nature and social awkwardness than any true sense of entitlement. He fully redeemed himself by assisting with the Lydia Debacle but even more so by his willingness to change once he’d come to know how much he’d offended Elizabeth.

Verdict: Mr. Darcy is a Dreamboat

What do you think?

Darcy: Douchebag or Dreamboat?

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