The Perfect Feminist Romantic Hero: A Case for Mr. Darcy

The Perfect Feminist Romantic Hero: A Case for Mr. Darcy

I am disturbed by a 2004 editorial in “The Guardian”, which I found during my last Austen research spree. Cherry Potter expresses concern that Mr. Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” remains the heterosexual women’s “favorite fictional romantic icon.” As she notes, he is the character women across generations most want to date, according to a poll of 1,900 women by the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Potter believes this predilection for Mr. Darcy, especially among “educated literary feminist women,” reflects confusion about what women really want. But Potter-like Elizabeth Bennet herself-has utterly misread Mr. Darcy, assuming that he is the “epitome of the dominant patriarchal male” and that upon marriage he will turn out to be “rigid, dominating and controlling.”

I myself sighed quite a few yearning sighs over Mr. Darcy when I first read Pride and Prejudice. But my fantasies had nothing to do with wanting, deep down, a patriarchal, dominating or controlling man. They had to do with a desire for total admiration from someone worthy to give it.

Mr. Darcy is sexy and compelling because he is a strong and powerful figure, but also because he respects the strength and power of Elizabeth Bennet. Despite the fact that Elizabeth is rather unglamorous (not quite up to par with her sisters and with very little wealth), Mr. Darcy sees her true worth. Elizabeth is Mr. Darcy’s equal in intelligence and

character. Far from being dominating or controlling, Mr. Darcy does not presume that he can dictate anything to Elizabeth. When she rejects his first proposal, he is surprised and angry at her uncivil manner in refusing him, but he still accepts it. He also later comes to understand why she was insulted by his proposal.

When different circumstances lead him to propose a second time, he promises never to bother her again if she doesn’t want him. His behavior contrasts favorably with that of Mr. Collins, who refuses to believe her when she tells him she doesn’t want him.

Mr. Darcy also compares favorably to other romantic literary heroes. Rhett Butler of “Gone With The Wind” slaps Scarlett O’Hara around while ridiculing and patronizing her throughout their relationship. He loves her passionately but without any attendant respect or admiration. Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights” is a controlling “batterer” type, indulging in terrible cruelty when his obsessive, all-consuming love-hate relationship with Catherine is not satisfied.

While Potter believes that “no wonder men are confused” by the modern-day Darcy fixation, in fact, Mr. Darcy is the perfect feminist romantic hero. His example runs counter to the notion that feminism is about wanting a weak and malleable romantic partner. His example also opposes the notion that even self-professed feminist women really want to be dominated by men.

It’s really quite simple: the best romances are between strong people who appreciate each other’s strength and Jane Austen recognized that truth two whole centuries ago. The book makes the case that often the best personalities are initially the most caustic. For feminist women, many of whom are used to threatening people all the time with the unwillingness to show female submission, that’s a very alluring message.

Contact Elisabeth Marino at [email protected].