Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Why does Darcy love Elizabeth?

Darcy and Elizabeth
C. E. Brock Illustration
Not as I imagined them . . .
(Image from Wikipedia)

Although readers will naturally -- through Austen's artifice -- identify with the lively, intelligent Elizabeth Bennet from the outset of Pride and Prejudice and liberally detest the proud, insufferable Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the discerning reader will find distraction in the question as to why Darcy falls for Elizabeth.

He mentions her lovely eyes, which succeed in drawing his attention, and he implicitly acknowledges her intelligence in deigning to speak with her, for he expects a woman to have cultivated her mind with the reading of good books.

Yet, she has so much to dissuade love from Darcy. Her lack of fortune. Her lower status. Her embarrassing family. Her indifference to him. Nevertheless, he falls.

Which raises a second question: Why does he continue to love her?

By Darcy's own account, he should not love her at all. Recall his admission to Elizabeth of what some might consider a character flaw:
"I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. -- It is I believe too little yielding -- certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. -- My good opinion once lost is lost for ever."

"That is a failing indeed!" -- cried Elizabeth. "Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. -- I really cannot laugh at it; you are safe from me." (Chapter 11, Pride and Prejudice, from Republic of Pemberley Website)
Elizabeth later calls this to mind as she dances with but distances herself from Darcy at the Netherfield ball:
"I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created."

"I am," said he, with a firm voice.

"And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?" (Chapter 18)
One cannot hope for much softening of judgement -- much less any softening of character -- from Mr. Darcy. And given his response at being so harshly jilted by Elizabeth after his proud and ill-expressed proposal! For Elizabeth says:
"In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot -- I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to any one. It has been most unconsciously done, however, and I hope will be of short duration. The feelings which, you tell me, have long prevented the acknowledgment of your regard, can have little difficulty in overcoming it after this explanation."

Mr. Darcy, who was leaning against the mantle-piece with his eyes fixed on her face, seemed to catch her words with no less resentment than surprise. His complexion became pale with anger, and the disturbance of his mind was visible in every feature. (Chapter 34)
Darcy's resentment at Elizabeth's words should occasion an implacable dislike of her, given what he has so earnestly and honestly stated. Even Elizabeth has no doubt of that after recounting to her older sister, Jane, the details, whereupon Jane replies:
"His being so sure of succeeding, was wrong," said she; "and certainly ought not to have appeared; but consider how much it must increase his disappointment."

"Indeed," replied Elizabeth, "I am heartily sorry for him; but he has other feelings which will probably soon drive away his regard for me." (Chapter 40)
Likely, she means his resentment, which she expects will drive away his love. Yet, Darcy's feelings take an opposite course, for he treats Elizabeth with great civility when they meet by chance on his estate of Pemberley. Later, after he has proposed a second time and been accepted, he explains his transformation of character, which she had not failed to notice and consequently wondered about:
"My object then," replied Darcy, "was to shew you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you." (Chapter 58)
How do we explain this? Love? Or Darcy's principles? Darcy explains in his way through a confession expressed some lines earlier:
"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 (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." (Chapter 58)
Love's reproof has taught Darcy a lesson about pride . . . and apparently about overcoming resentment. But there is much to be excavated here, perhaps in 18th-century views on resentment and love, and I may have to do some more digging in texts on ethics, e.g., Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments.

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6 Comments:

At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have my own problem:

Why do I like this blog?

Maybe I'm one of those people who enjoy having someone inflict pain upon themselves.

Cran

 
At 7:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Who can explain such mysteries, Uncle Cran? Not I . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:03 AM, Anonymous vickie said...

This is my first time reading Pride and Prejudice as a junior in high school and I love it. Darcy and Elizabeth's love is epic and it's all one can ever hope for.

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Vickie, I'm happy that you like the story of Elizabeth and Darcy. I do, too, and continue to enjoy it each time that I read it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Kraye said...

Lizzie herself explains it. She tells him that she was different from the women who only wanted to please him. She lived for herself and it "aroused and interested" him. Her lively spirit and wit were so different from the women who only did and said what they believed Mr. Darcy wanted- and what he really wanted was something real (Elizabeth).

 
At 3:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kraye, I think that's right, as far as it goes, but why doesn't his "implacable resentment" turn that love to hatred when she rejects his proposal of marriage?

I suggest an answer in an article developed from my interest in this.

Jeffery Hodges

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