Several weeks ago, we had a very lively discussion emerge on Motte’s “Whom Not to Marry” blog about 19th-century novelist Jane Austen, her books and, specifically, the hero of her novel Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy.
Some gals praised what Mr. Darcy’s character represented — chivalry, integrity, morality and all things gentlemanly. Others begged to differ — “pompous prat” was a personal favorite of mine.
A few men seemed a little frustrated with the general female fascination with Mr. Darcy. They pointed out how Jane Austen is no expert on marriage (having never been married herself). They also expressed the concern that Mr. Darcy is an idealized fictional character and, therefore, no realistic model of a flesh-and-blood husband.
So, it’s been bouncing around in my head lately. Why Mr. Darcy?
I’m a Jane Austen fan myself. I love P&P. But why? Are Austen’s works just like chocolate truffles for my brain? Are we females hardened little vixens intent on being the mistress of a castle? After more than a decade of real-life Christian marriage, should I be warning my single friends to burn their Austen libraries for their own sakes? Run, girls, run?
I don’t think so. But here’s what I do think. While not an expert on marriage (Austen herself seems to concede this by ending all her books at the altar), Austen is very adept at capturing the desires of the female heart. No, men, it’s not the money or the looks or the pompous-prat-ness. In fact, my hypothesis is that it isn’t who Mr. Darcy is that captures our imaginations so much as what Austen writes Mr. Darcy to do. Two things he does, to be specific.
First, it’s the steadfastness of the character’s love. Above almost all, guys, we want husbands who will love us without wavering, who will never leave us. God has commanded us to respect our husbands and submit to you as the head of our homes. Truthfully, that can be scary. Peter encourages us not to give way to fear and, gals, we need to look to our Lord as our ultimate source of security. But, men, when you communicate not just your love, but your unwavering love to your wives, you do more to lift her up and solidify your marriage than you will ever know.
Now, Austen makes her poor heroes go through some serious fictional trials to test their steadfastness (Mr. Darcy has to wait a while, Col. Brandon had to wait even longer and poor Captain Wentworth had to wait nearly a decade). We don’t want to test you like that. But we do want to know that when life’s trials come, you’ll still be there.
Second, and this is a little bit harder to describe, is the inspiration of good. Mr. Darcy changes through the course of the novel, and attributes his improvement to the verbal tongue-lashing by Elizabeth, the heroine. First off, I do not recommend the tongue-lashing approach. But I think Austen has nailed one of the desires of a female heart — to inspire her man to be a better man.
Guys, we know we are not better than you. This is not a girl = angel / boy = demon-who-must-be-fixed situation. We are all sinners saved by the grace of God. But I do think that the Lord has given females a desire to bring good to the world that is unique and separate from the way a man desires to bring good. One of the ways I’ve experienced that desire is by contributing to an environment, a home, a relationship where my husband can flourish. I want to, as Proverbs 31 points out, “bring him good, not harm, all the days of [my] life.”
Too often, this desire can go wrong. I’ve learned that I am not my husband’s mother. Before giving in to the temptation to lecture him on his failings, I remember the descriptions of a nagging wife in Proverbs (19:13 and 21:9) and it stops me cold. But I’ve discovered there are ways, following the Word, that have led not only to my husband’s growth, but to mine as well.
So, guys, there’s no need to take Darcy down. It’s not necessarily him that we want. But do take the clue that we treasure steadfast love and the willingness to mature. And, gals, remember. There’s some good stuff in Darcy but, ultimately, he’s on the page. Enjoy your book. But after you put it down, take a good look around. Mr. Biblically Right might be closer than you thought.
Copyright 2008 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.