Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Fantasizing and Mr. Darcy.

Colin Firth as Mr Darcy (from the Sydney Morning Herald) Posted by Hello

Fine, fine. I have succumbed to my latent desires and will write about a subject I know nothing about: men.

Particularly tall, dark-eyed men.

And apparently, I'm not the only one who unabashedly adores Mr. Darcy. According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Darcy is women's favorite fictional romantic icon in the UK. He is the hero of Jane Austen's beloved romance, Pride and Prejudice, which also introduces us to lovable heroine Elizabeth Bennett.

The Orange Prize for Fiction polled 1900 women across the generations and found that 'dashing' Mr. Darcy emerged on top, writes Cherry Potter. But she remains puzzled--as do I--over the fact that Mr. Darcy was also the fictional character that women would most like invite to a dinner party...

because he is a grump. That's his character--forbidding, repressed, rude, condescending--just as Jane Austen describes it. But he remains to be fantastically good-looking, morally upright, and broodingly sexy, a combination most women seem to have found potent.

Even the irrepressible Anne in Anne of the Island writes of her ideal man as thus:
Tall and handsome and distinguished-looking -- dark, melancholy, inscrutable eyes -- melting, musical, sympathetic voice -- yes, the very hero of her dreams stood before her in the flesh. He could not have more closely resembled her ideal if he had been made to order. (Click here for whole chapter)
So what is it about Mr. Darcy that turns otherwise smart, intelligent women into slavering lovefools? Apparently, writes Potter, it is "that they will be the one and only woman to discover the key to unlocking a man's tortured soul, thus setting free his hidden passions."

That was the trend two centuries ago, when patriarchal society wielded a lot of power, making slim the chances of women knowing a man until her marriage to him. Males were severe, dominant, and repressive. It was only natural for a woman to feel that she could be the one to set him free from these.

But Potter asks the question that begs to be asked: why does Darcy continue to have a compelling hold over women, particularly educated literary feminist women, in the 21st century? According to publisher Carol Welch, Pride and Prejudice encouraged her to read, but it also encouraged her "to fall for moody, charismatic, seemingly unattainable men, with unfortunately less happy results than for Jane Austen's heroine."

That is the reality, Potter says. Modern women should know better by now. "The fact is dark, smouldering, moody, charismatic, arrogant Darcy types, whom we hate at first sight and later fall in love with, often - particularly after we have married them - turn out to be rigid, dominating and controlling."

And what of the males? Women say they want men who are emotionally intelligent, sensitive, flexible, all the attributes of the modern perfect male. But Potter writes that these same women are fantasizing "over a fictional character who is the epitome of the dominant patriarchal male. No wonder men are confused."

Women must be confused too. But for the meanwhile, the Mr. Darcys of this world will continue to be loved and adored.