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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Darkness of Mr. Darcy's Character

Yesterday, in Janeites and Austen-L, Anielka Briggs wrote the following:

" Does Narcissistic Personality Disorder fit Darcy? If so, what psychological disturbance does Elizabeth Bennet represent? Is the crisis of her rejection an unusual treatment for Darcy's disorder causing him to grow as a human being? Is this an example of Austen novels being ahead of their time; highly moral, highly psychologically accurate and charting the spiritual growth of the human psyche? NPD is notoriously difficult to treat yet somehow we see Darcy as a dark soul who, "benighted walks under the mid-day sun; himself his own dungeon"* until he is enlightened by his contact with Elizabeth Bennet. A rich and socially superior narcissist would have very little occasion to feel the "gratitude which allows him to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world". Has Austen managed the impossible by showing us that even the darkest of souls is not beyond redemption with the agency of love?"

I responded as follows:

Anielka, her novels were indeed far far far ahead of their time in terms of their being "highly psychologically accurate". P&P is second to none among her novels in that regard.....and Mr. Darcy is second to none among the characters of P&P in that regard as well, even though we are so rarely inside his head reading his actual thoughts. _That's_ the challenge JA has presented to the reader--- daring us to believe we can know who Mr. Darcy really is based on so little information, and yet, constantly teasing and tormenting us by showing us Lizzy grappling with that very question throughout most of the novel.

And note that when we suddenly _do_ get a (relative) flood of words from the formerly taciturn Mr. Darcy, in Chapters 58 and 60, we only hear those words spoken by him, we are _not_ inside his head hearing his actual thoughts.


In regard to the romantic climax of P&P, check out, for example, the following post for disturbing indications of JA's ahead-of-her-time insights into the darkness of Darcy's character:

In that post, which I wrote over 15 months ago, my introductory comments included the following...

" I came upon a particularly smoky “smoking gun” that illustrates how strong [Charlotte] Smith’s influence really was on JA. It goes to the heart of Jane Austen’s fiction-- the character of Mr. Darcy--and, as you will read below, it casts very unsettling shades on the way JA wished her readers to see her most romantic hero, suggesting that the worst “pollution” may have come from within the walls of Pemberley. Read on if you dare, gentle readers….."

,,,and my concluding comments were:

"[Charlotte] Smith makes it clear from the beginning of her account that the Abbe merely “assumes the appearance of the most amiable, benevolent and honest man in the world.” If JA means for us to understand that Darcy really has been “taught a lesson” by Lizzy, why (in the world) would JA have Darcy refer to his father as “all that was benevolent and amiable”, thereby causing the reader familiar with Smith to associate Darcy and his father with the Abbe?"

Anyone who takes the trouble to read through that post will understand that JA is warning us that _sometimes_ there is no redemption, even with "the agency of love"......

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: For Mary Bennet's (aka Jane Austen's) similar perspective on Mr. Darcy, read this sampling of posts as well from 2010-11:

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