Mr Darcy: Broken Hero?

Thanks to FD, I have a link to an advice column from the Guardian penned by one Mariella Frostrup which addresses the emotionally unavailable man.

As FD said in the email to me, the part in the beginning where she ladles on the pathos in an attempt to establish empathy was irritating, and her assumption about Mills & Boon heroes is way off the mark imo, but her point about the emotionally unavailable man is thought provoking.

I have to wonder if everyone went through the “tragic mate” phase in their 20’s, finding partners with the urge to fix and make them happy all the time – aka “the more tragic, the better.” Probably we all did at one time, if not the 20’s then at some other point.

But I take issue with Mariella’s point that Mr. Darcy is a malfunctioning man, a “monosyllabic” grump, and serves more as a canvas on which we readers paint our ideal tragic hero:

Darcy is a classic malfunctioning man, and the idea that he could be transformed into some Mills & Boon-style romantic hero by the barbs of a bright woman – no matter how persuasive actors like Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen have been in trying to make us believe it – is just schoolgirl fantasising. The sad truth is that the monosyllabic man in the corner of the bar isn’t usually thinking deep thoughts about the future of mankind; he’s a monosyllabic man in a bar. One thing you can’t knock women for is their imagination. We can fantasise miserable Darcy into a totemic love god, a plethora of myopic musicians into babe magnets, and an actor outspoken about his determination not to marry into the sexiest man alive.

From my perspective, and granted I haven’t reread P&P in a number of months, Darcy is socially awkward and certainly a snob who has to get over himself already, but emotionally broken hero? I don’t think so.

Do you disagree with Frostrup? Perhaps you never got the Darcy-mania any more than the Edward-mania, and find him to be as stunted and unattractive as she does? What’s the deal – do you think Darcy’s a broken male?

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  1. 1
    Miranda says:

    I never thought of Darcy as broken, but then I’m socially awkward and hate dances too. :)

    I’m not even sure that he’s that much of a snob, especially for his time. Class systems were alive and well, and the Bennett family would have given me pause!

  2. 2

    The sad truth is that the monosyllabic man in the corner of the bar isn’t usually thinking deep thoughts about the future of mankind; he’s a monosyllabic man in a bar.

    I think she’s missing the point with her analogy… Darcy WASN’T just the monosyllabic man in the bar.  He actually was thinking things over and trying to make decisions cautiously.  He wasn’t emotionally broken; that’s obvious from the fact that he cared enough about his friend to warn him away from what he thought was going to be a disastrous marriage, financially and socially.  And later, when the younger Bennet girl runs off with Wickham, Darcy steps in again in order to alleviate some of the massive embarrassment that’s going to come crashing down on the family.  The monosyllabic grump would have just said, “Screw ‘em, not my problem.”

    And Elizabeth was never interested in “fixing” Darcy.  She started out not liking him for his arrogance and coldness, and then changed her feelings about him after getting to know him.  OH THE HORROR.  Why should women ever want to take a second look at someone who might have made the wrong impression?

  3. 3
    Cat Marsters says:

    Yes, but was Jane Austen fantasising about a monosyllabic man secretly being a warm, kind-hearted but shy hero?  Had she met a monosyllabic man (probably not in a bar, but then you never know), a typical aristocratic male with the emotional capability of a paperclip, and imagined a wonderful secret life for him?  She might have met this man and thought, ‘God he’s boring….but with my limitless imagination I can pretend this isn’t so’.  Maybe she imagined it because she knew it didn’t really exist, but she wanted to enjoy the fantasy.

    I see Frostrup’s point.  But I’d rather believe in Austen’s creation.

  4. 4
    Teddypig says:

    So smart bitches should never hook up with himbos just for their gorgeous bodes and great sex or hang out in bars?

    Man, there goes my sex life!

  5. 5
    Tina S says:

    I found Darcy the exact opposite, actually. I mean, he obviously loves and cares for his friends and family. He thought Bingley would be hurt by Jane’s lack of interest, so he took him away. Of course, we, the reader, know it’s a mistake, but he doesn’t know that. And his help with Wickham and Lydia also shows he’s not a grump-he’s arrogant, yes, and prone to quick judgments, but then so is Elizabeth. And they both have their first impressions changed, and learn to love each other.

  6. 6
    Joanne says:

    Oh geeze … is she actually messing with Darcy? Stop. Stop this instant!  Pick another authors’ hero to pick apart.

    In P&P;Elizabeth changed her own perceptions and her own thinking, I don’t remember her thinking (it’s been a while since I read the book) she could change Darcy.  Whatever,  she was never portrayed as his caretaker or his ego-booster or his mommy or his savior.  He saved himself. Elizabeth saved herself. So there. (*-*)

    A word to the wise about the “monosyllabic man”…. when he retires from working in the real world…. he never shuts up. Never. Just sayin’.

  7. 7
    ev says:

    A word to the wise about the “monosyllabic man”…. when he retires from working in the real world…. he never shuts up. Never. Just sayin’.

    that needs to be qualified with- he never shuts up, especailly when you are trying to watch something on TV that is interesting to you. god forbid you talk while he is trying to do the same.

  8. 8
    DS says:

    I do remember watching P&P;on television and realizing that Austen had given Darcy very few directly spoken lines.  In fact, the Colin Firth one—I think—was the one where I realized the director had padded things out with lots of smoldering looks and pretty scenery—not boring but noticeable once I caught onto it.  Elizabeth Bennett had always been the character I found most interesting in the novel, but Darcy’s role in the rather elegant contradanse Austen creates in this novel.

    Eyecandy wouldn’t have worked in an Austen novel.  Worth is important in a moral sense more than a financial sense because they are not just looking for a sexual partner but a genuine life partner.  Looking at all of the secondary characters, one sees Elizabeth avoiding the mistakes made by others in their matrimonial choices, so one has to assume that Austen intended Darcy to be the perfect match for Elizabeth,  emotionally and morally.

  9. 9
    Julie Leto says:

    I totally disagree with her!  And most of us here are actually basing our opinions on the book and not the five minute clip we saw of Colin Firth.  Honestly!

    Darcy is standoffish, yes.  He’s a snob.  But he’s a deeply caring person, as evidenced by his mistake with Bingley and his intense dislike of Wickham for what he did to his sister.  He’s measured and cool, but not emotionless.  If he was, he would not have gone after Lydia so quietly.

    She totally missed the point.  He doesn’t give his emotions easily, but they exist so close to the surface…and I think that’s what women are attracted to in his character…knowing that Elizabeth has touched a man deeply who keeps his walls up.  Their love has to be real in order for her to get to him the way she does.

  10. 10
    thetechdiva says:

    I have to disagree with Mariella.  (though each time i hear her name I think of Steve’s rant on Coupling about how he fantasizes about her so, lol)

    My take on Darcy was that he was a caring man, and not as socially awkward as we all first think on meeting him.  He is very close and doting towards his sister, and has a great love for his best friend Binglely.  I think that what Austen did was show us how first impressions can make us appear to be more than, or less than we really are.  When Elizabeth and Darcy meet they each have an expectation and an impression of each other.  He is the one who sees past her families silliness and peruses her in what she sees as an awkward way, but in reality we are seeing that they both make mistakes, just as everyone around them does.

    Mr. Darcy isn’t perfect, but he is kind, loyal and generous and still an example of how we often overlook someone because of what we first think of them.

  11. 11
    Faellie says:

    I’m not sure we ever see Darcy solely within what he sees as his natural (aristocratic) social group – most of the time we see him as being as uneasy/monosyllabic in the society of Elizabeth’s (gentry/middle class) family as I would be today in some societies which which I can’t find much connection.  Ms Frostrup is eliding the social differences of the time of P&P;into the modern “Mars v Venus” analysis.

    But she’s spot on about women in their twenties finding men who need mothering.  I remember reading that its a misplaced biological function: with puberty in early teens, the late teens and twenties are biologically the child-rearing years, and for those without children at this age the unused emotions attach elsewhere.  An alternative explanation is that in our teens and twenties we are still imitating/trying out the role we know – our mothers, whom we of course see primarily in their mothering role.

  12. 12
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I don’t particularly see Darcy as shallow and emotionally unavailable either—at the start of the novel he’s simply unable or unwilling to get past the restrictions that that society and his own upbringing has placed on him.  I agree with the person that said Ms Frostup is projecting 21st century attitudes on a 19th century character, but I do find her reflections on why some women feel the need to “rescue” emotionally broken males interesting.

  13. 13
    closetcrafter says:

    I think his monsyllabic-ness is an indication of his intelligence and his snobbery. He detests gossip and people who are verbose i.e., Mrs. Bennet, and his reaction to that is to be quiet and let everyone else around him reveal themselves through their ridiculous rhetoric.

    In that way, Elizabeth is the same, however, due to her upbringing and innate good manners, she is at least appropriately social with her companions. Plus she has a healthy appreciation of the absurd and a good sense of humor.

    I think this is one of the fundamental similarities in their personalities. They wait for people to verbally trip over themselves.

  14. 14
    Ocy says:

    It, uh, sounds like Mariella got stuck on Elizabeth’s first impression of Darcy and never discovered the truth behind her own prejudices.  I mean, the whole point of the book is that Darcy isn’t the monosyllabic grump he appears when we first meet him.

  15. 15
    KimberlyD says:

    I just Darcy as a little antisocial. Take my husband, for instance. When he’s in a social situation with people he doesn’t know, he clams up. But put him among friends and family and he’s very social. Not everyone can be the charming Bingley, comfortable with any crowd or situation.

  16. 16
    Morgan says:

    The thing I have always loved about Darcy is that he is deeply human. He is fallible, a flawed hero—as Elizabeth is a flawed heroine. We read literature, not merely as escapist fantasy, but to see our own lives and hopes and experiences reflected back to us. We read literature because we feel deeply. The love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy is a timeless expression of the kind of love we all hope for and deserve. To be forgiven our flaws, and to overcome them. To become better people because someone loves us enough to look deeper into our hearts than what may appear on the surface.

    We don’t love Darcy because he is brooding and taciturn. We love him despite the appearance of brooding taciturnity. We love him because he is more than what he appears. And this is not apparent only because Elizabeth Bennet supplies him with qualities he does not possess, but because she allows herself to finally see the qualities that make him the man he is. And he himself allows those qualities to come to the surface. The things they dislike each other for are so often the flaws they hold in common—isn’t that so often the way? And the virtues they each lack are often supplied by the other. What is lasting love if it is not based on these tennents? We look for love that completes us, and allows us to be the people we truly are. Love makes us want to be better versions of ourselves. Darcy and Elizabeth allow themselves and each other to be just that. They don’t allow misunderstanding to separate them.

    I hope each and every one of us are so fortunate in love, to have another person divine our intentions, and see what our hearts intend, despite all our mistakes and fumblings and the restraints we place on ourselves, and the restraints our society and background encumber us with. I am ever hopeful of that. Pride and Prejudice is a reminder to me of the human condition, and the basic human need to be understood by those we love. I refuse to diminish it to a schoolgirl fantasy of imagining a monosyllabic neanderthal into a dashing alpha male sex object. That is so reductive. Rather like the assertion that romance novels are merely “girl porn” and should be thrown on the nearest burn pile. Bah.

    That is my 62 cents worth, anyway :o}

  17. 17
    Carrie Lofty says:

    I have complete Darcy love, so she needs to back off. Or read the book. That sort of malformed judgment makes me think she’s basing her opinions on the movies—which are admittedly skewed toward 21st century ideals—not the novel.

    As for mothering broken guys…yes. Some of them stay broken and immature. Some grow up to be loving and dependable husbands. Real men. The trick is surviving the first guy until the second guy comes along—or, in my case, until you grab the second guy and kiss him so he doesn’t miss your meaning.

  18. 18
    JennyME says:

    She is definitely missing the point if she calls Darcy a monosyllabic grump, and has she never dated a really smart, interesting man who happens to be shy (which is not a particularly rare combination)? Also I personally think the Darcy fantasy has less to do with “OMG, the silent dude at the ball has hidden depths” and more to do with a really rich, tall, handsome aristocrat falling in love with you for your wit and charm. Smart, funny girls with skanky families rejoice—there is hope for us all!

  19. 19
    Sarah TX says:

    I agree x100 that Darcy is, if anything, shy, which just sort of compounds with his pride and snobbery to make him seem aloof and unemotional. As an intelligent, sometimes witty woman who married a monosyllabic man, I can assure you that there’s nothing broken about him. Yeah, it takes him a year of meeting someone on a weekly basis before he’ll feel comfortable speaking with them. So what?

    If women date men whom they can mother, it’s because it’s drilled in to us that men need mothering.

  20. 20

    I always thought of Darcy as being the shy, smart boy who got overlooked in favor of the easy to like, popular boy, Bingley, or the sexy bad boy, Wickham. For me the lesson was to look for the man who had intrinsic worth, someone who didn’t need to be fixed or saved rather than someone who did ie: Bingley who is charming but indecisive and a little naive or Wickham who needs such an overhaul it’s ridiculous.* With Austen, I find, you need to look at her characters not in a vacuum but in the context of the story with the many foils that Austen used.

    *Excuse me if I make no sense. My brain has turned to mush from impending finals.

  21. 21
    Angela says:

    I think she’s confusing Mr. Darcy with Mr. Rochester . . . or even worse Heathcliff. Now there, my friends, is an emotionally broken man.

  22. 22
    RfP says:

    It sounds like she’s confused the Colin Firth portrayal with the original character.  IMO Firth played Darcy as a monosyllabic man in a bar, likely because he so famously hated the role, didn’t get the book, and didn’t notice Austen’s sense of humor.

  23. 23
    Lorelie says:

    . . .  read the book. That sort of malformed judgment makes me think she’s basing her opinions on the movies—which are admittedly skewed toward 21st century ideals—not the novel.

    What she said.

    And where’s Sarah Frantz? She needs in on this discussion. ;)

  24. 24
    Tracy Wolff says:

    I like Darcy—there’s something completely appealing about his social awkwardness and deep thinking (I too disagree with the reviewer and think Darcy has a whole helluva lot going on inside).  Emotionally broken????  Not even close.

  25. 25
    JJ says:

    I love Mr. Darcy quite a bit but I never quite caught onto the Darcy-mania the way others have (my favourite of Austen’s heroes if Mr. Knightley…or Henry Tilney…I can never decide…) but I would also have to disagree with Frostrup.  Not that I don’t think Mr. Darcy isn’t a certain TYPE of hero (aloof, distant, unattainable, handsome, etc. and also inexplicably in love with the heroine after a few choice encounters) but because Austen is a better writer than to let him descend into the monosyllabic grump.  I never found P&P;terribly romantic so much as hysterically funny (Darcy and Elizabeth have the “meet cute”/verbal sparring-disguised-as-sexual tension sort of relationship I rarely enjoy reading in books), especially as you get Lizzie’s side and through free indirect discourse, you get little hints and reveals of Darcy’s innermost thoughts.

    Where I disagree most is that Darcy is an emotional broken man, for which there is absolutely no textual evidence.  Darcy is quite without excess emotional baggage: even his unpleasantness with Wickham is dealt with in a gentlemanly manner.  Hardly any of Austen’s characters are especially emotionally tortured, which is why they make such delightful reads.

  26. 26
    Charlene says:

    “I’m not sure we ever see Darcy solely within what he sees as his natural (aristocratic) social group – most of the time we see him as being as uneasy/monosyllabic in the society of Elizabeth’s (gentry/middle class) family”

    Both Elizabeth and Darcy would have been upper-class. As Elizabeth said to Lady Catherine, “he is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter.” Bingley and his sisters were as close to middle-class as could be found in Regency England, since their father earned his fortune in trade. Class had more to do with ancestry than with money.

    I suspect Darcy was quiet and reserved partly because he had previously come to the attention of a number of gold-diggers, and I suspect the Misses Bingley were two of them.

  27. 27
    GrowlyCub says:

    I love P&P;, but I have to admit, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Elizabeth’s true feelings for Darcy, because she only seemed to have decided that she really loved him after seeing that he owned a fabulous mansion… 

    As for the writer’s assertion that Darcy is broken, I’d have to say it seems she either did not read the book or took it out of its proper historical context.

  28. 28
    Madd says:

    I never got the urge to find a man to take care of. I was too messed up myself to want to fix anyone else. I have an aunt who did this repeatedly, much to her detriment.

    The Man is one of those that can come across as monosyllabic and aloof in social situations. He doesn’t believe in talking just for the sake of it and hates the chatter of crowds, but you get on a topic of interest, like computers, and he’s got loads to say.

    I think that Darcy was just a product of his time and social standing. Men were expected to be reserved and aware of their consequence in public. Add to that a naturally quiet nature and you have Mr. Darcy. I never saw anything remotely broken about him.

  29. 29
    Rebecca says:

    Darcy wouldn’t go to a bar unless he was dragged there by Bingley, and then if he was silent, it’s because he was sulking. So I don’t think it’s a good analogy.

    I get what the columnist was talking about fetishing the strong, silent type, but Darcy was pretty healthy emotionally, and pretty normal. He’s always struck me as being a little socially awkward, which is why he doesn’t talk much in large groups, but around his family or his girl, he was far more loquacious. Emotionally-broken doesn’t really fit. It’s said explicitly that he’s good-tempered (the housekeeper says she’s never had a cross word from him in her life), he’s universally acknowledged to be generous, intelligent, and responsible (even Wickham says he’s a good brother), and he’s the guy everyone runs to for advice and help. Plus he’s had little trauma in his life, so I don’t know what he’s supposed to be emotionally-broken about.

  30. 30
    Kismet says:

    I happen to be the monosyllabic girl in the bar. Strange people (especially those of the opposite sex) approach, and all words of a multiple- syllabic nature flee from my mind. I am left thinking “Who is this person and why are they talking to me”, or “He’s not that sneaky and if he tries to touch my boob one more time I am going to kick him.” But no matter what I am thinking, the only words that seem to come out of my mouth seem to be “uh”, “hmmm”, “yes”, and “no”. Strange but I never knew I was emotionally broken.

    BTW… all the above is only true if I don’t know you… try getting me to shut up when I am with my friends ;)

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