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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Darcy as Iago: A Condensed Summary

In Janeites and Austen-L this morning, my good friend Diane Reynolds responded to my recent posts about Darcy as Iago, and also Iago as a woman, as follows:

Diane: "Arnie, I want to say your idea of Othello being a woman disguised as a man is fascinating"

And Diane, I want to say thanks for that, so I will: THANKS! ;)     

Diane: "I have not been able to read through your entire post on Darcy and Othello (an condensed summary would be helpful)....

You are always so tactful in dispensing such wise counsel, and I never regret taking it.  ;)

Essentially in the shadow story of P&P, Darcy is, and always remains, the same nasty prick he so patently is at the Meryton assembly. So, at least in the beginning, he is not Iago-like, mainly because he doesn't have to be, right? In the game of cards which has been his world, he has always held all the cards. Actually, at the end of the novel, he gives a remarkably candid description of himself from birth until he encounters Elizabeth. 

But, even before Elizabeth rejects him, he does do one Iago-esque thing--he privately smears Jane's reputation to Bingley, in order to trick Bingley into abandoning Jane without warning or explanation. So that makes Jane the Desdemona of P&P.

Which raises the very interesting (and unanswerable) question as to whether Iago initiates his Machiavellian maneuvering as a result of a similar shock, i.e., being bypassed by Cassio for the promotion he desires (which may also involve his losing out on close contact with Othello, which, if Iago is a woman secretly in love with Othello, will be a massive loss for Iago). My guess is that Iago has been a maneuverer for a long time, because he, unlike Darcy, was, as far as we can tell, not born to wealth or power.

Anyway, back to Darcy. It is only after Elizabeth shocks Darcy with her rejection of his first proposal, that Darcy is thwarted for the first time in his 28 years. And, being the toxic narcissist that he is, Darcy does NOT repent and reform, he merely PRETENDS to do so, because he is the proverbial man who cannot take no for an answer.

And so, that is very moment when he shifts into high Iago gear, and....

....writes the letter to Elizabeth smearing Wickham (who is the "Cassio" of the novel), 

....secretly obtains Mr. Gardiner's cooperation (because he knows Gardiner, probably from business connections formed, unknown to Elizabeth, via Mrs. Gardiner's Lambton origins and then networking in London, where the Gardiners live fulltime and Darcy lives part time) in "randomly" bringing Elizabeth to Pemberley so that first she will (literally) be brought to a climax being overpowered by its grandeur, and then Darcy

....instructs Mrs. Reynolds (on threat of severe penalty if she refused to play along--she is sorta the "Emilia" of P&P) to paint a totally false rosy picture of Darcy's character,

....tempts Wickham into eloping with Lydia, all carefully monitored by Darcy via Mrs. Yonge, so that Darcy can then step in and "earn" Elizabeth's eternal gratitude for rescuing the Bennet family reputation, Bingley permission to marry Jane, to earn still more gratitude, then

...STILL plays hard to get, even when he shows up again at Longbourn, by remaining silent.

In short, then, Darcy uses his Machiavellian guile, and his considerable wealth and influence over others, to produce a profound, drastic reversal in Elizabeth's attitude toward him, so that she will be reduced to rubble, basically. She is so totally taken in, that she actually believes that a marriage to Darcy will be a marriage of true minds, although it will be the furthest thing from that, since his primary motivation, aside from finding her physically attractive (she being the first woman who has ever been more attractive to him than his male friends), and from the revenge motivations you so beautifully spelled out, Diane, is that she will, upon attaining age 21, become the heir of Pemberley--and if she is his wife by that time, HE will become the clear owner of Pemberley --because, you see, Darcy is actually NOT Mr. Darcy's legitimate son in the first place after all!

That's how I see Darcy as Iago, in a nutshell.

Diane also wrote [Diane, I changed Othello to Iago where appropriate, as per your followup correction]: 

"if the shadow Darcy is an Iago figure, I might understand it as follows: (this is not "motiveless malignancy" however) Darcy, after initially insulting Elizabeth, begins to fall for her, especially after she stays at Netherfield. But she is clearly not so "into" him. Then the charming Wickham comes on the scene and it is no secret in the community how Elizabeth feels about him. Miss Bingley warns Elizabeth about Wickham at the ball, showing the gossip has spread to her circle. Darcy must be miffed that his rival is winning the woman he, Darcy, has fallen in love with. It could needle him the way Othello's success apparently needles Iago: Darcy gets respect based on his status, but Wickham can make friends and influence people--including Lizzie--based on his personal appeal. Annoying. ..."

So far, so good, that is all consistent with my summary, above.

Diane continued: "...Let's assume Darcy is irked (this is the dark, shadow Darcy, who has long harbored a diseased hatred for the Wickham who can charm everybody as Daarcy can't.) ...."

Yes, exactly! That's also Blifil vis a vis Tom Jones, which, because I have long seen Darcy and Wickham as Blifil and Tom, now suggests to me that Fielding also modeled Blifil in part on Iago. And guess what, I am not alone---I just found the following interesting 1877 comparison of Blifil with Iago, which was written by Leslie Stephen, the father of Virginia Woolf:

"The one great difficulty in Tom Jones is the assumption that the excellent Allworthy should have been deceived for years by the hvpocrite Blifil, and blind to the substantial kindliness of his ward. Here we may fancy that Fielding has been forced to be unnatural by his plot. Yet he suggests a satisfactory solution with admirable skill. Allworthy is prejudiced in favor of Blifil by the apparently unjust prejudice of Blifil’s mother in favor of the jovial Tom. A generous man may easily become blind to the faults of a supposed victim of maternal injustice; and even here Fielding fairly escapes from the blame due to ordinary novelists who invent impossible misunderstandings in order to bring about intricate perplexities. Blifil is perhaps the one which Fielding seems to lose his unvarying coolness of judgment; and the explanation is obvious. The one fault to which he is, so to speak, unjust, is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, indeed, cannot well be painted too black, but it should not be made impossible. When Fielding has to deal with such a character he for once loses his self-command, and, like inferior writers, begins to be angry with his creatures. Instead of analyzing and explaining, he simply reviles and leaves us in presence of amoral anomaly. Blifil is not more wicked than Iago, but we seem to understand the psychical chemistry by which an Iago is compounded; whereas Blifil can only be regarded as a devil (if the word be not too dignified) who does not really belong to this world at all."

Sorry for the interruption of your summary, Diane, to which I now return:

"The annoyance will hit the stratosphere when Darcy is turned down by Elizabeth in part based on what Wickham has told her! Now he really wants revenge. So ... knowing Wickham's weak spot for pretty girls, Darcy manipulates Wickham into running off with Lydia, then saves the day, looks like hero and has concocted the perfect revenge. It is the perfect revenge. His rival can't accuse him of doing wrong by him, and he has married him off to a dimwit. But the best part of it is, he has married him off to the sister of the woman Wickham loves! And Darcy marries the woman Wickham loves. Elizabeth, Darcy and Wickham will be thrown together enough (though not too much--Darcy won't want to chance an affair) for Darcy to be able to taunt Wickham with having Elizabeth. It has a diabolical genius, worthy of an Othello."

Absolutely brilliant, Diane, BRAVO! And that also complements the other material motivations that I see as driving the shadow Darcy. But I really love your analysis, that is indeed poetic injustice! 

The shadow Darcy is a very very interesting character, isn't he?  ;)

Which gets to my core point--the deepest didactic reason JA wrote her double stories---if the Darcy of the overt story is the quintessence of the female fantasy of reforming a bad man into a good one by the power of a woman's love, and the Darcy of the shadow story is the quintessence of the cautionary tale of the dangers of that same female fantasy --- which is that it is wished for ten times more often than it is actually achieved---then Jane Austen will have taught a very valuable experiential lesson to her female readers---when you meet a guy who looks like a "project" worth working on, take EXTRA time--and check all your ideas out with your most cynical friends---before you take a leap. Like making a nuclear arms deal with the Russians or the iranians--trust or distrust as you choose, but in all events verify!

[Diane then responded to my above post, and I wrote the following in response to her]

Diane: "Except that Jane doesn't get killed, at least not within the confines of the novel--the difference between comedy and tragedy! "

Exactly! In effect, in the shadow story of  P&P, "Iago" (i.e., Darcy) prioritizes his goals, and quickly realizes, after Elizabeth confronts him with his having separated Bingley from Jane, that he needs to reverse his destruction of Jane's relationship with Bingley, in order to achieve his more pressing goal, which is to get Elizabeth to reverse herself, and agree to marry him! The shadow Darcy, like Iago (and like Elton, as Knightley describes him) will act rationally in pursuit of his courtship goals, and so he forfeits the lesser "triumph" he boasted of to Colonel Fitzwilliam, for the sake of a greater triumph--over Elizabeth's resistance to him.  But note that Darcy does not do so immediately--in his letter to Elizabeth, he attempts to hold onto it:

"Perhaps this concealment, this disguise was beneath me; it is done, however, and it was done for the best. On this subject I have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer. If I have wounded your sister's feelings, it was unknowingly done and though the motives which governed me may to you very naturally appear insufficient, I have not yet learnt to condemn them. "

He only learns to condemn them once he has a chance to plot his strategy for the campaign to destroy Elizabeth's resistance to him, and he realizes that it will be most expedient, and will maximize his chances to win that campaign, if he surrenders that earlier "triumph" at just the right moment. So, he does not ever really learn to condemn them, he just (as with everything else in the second half of the novel) pretends to do so.

Further responding to your very interesting comment, Diane----you also make me realize that if Shakespeare had wished to not end Othello tragically, he might have had Desdemona reach Cassio just in the nick of time to foil Iago's handkerchief scheme. Delaying their speaking to each other was why, I claim, Iago twice dons the disguise of the Clown in Act 3,  so as to delay first Cassio, and then Desdemona, as they try to contact each other.  But Shakespeare could have easily thrown in some other plausible twist of the plot such that Iago's on-the-fly improvisations nonetheless fall just short of success.

And (carrying this hypothetical forward a bit more) ...if Shakespeare had allowed Desdemona to get her handkerchief back from Cassio before he could give it to Bianca, then Iago, being endlessly flexible in his tactics, would have accepted what he could not change, and instead would have been forced to come up with some fresh scheme to achieve his goal of remaining close to Othello. He might, e.g., have chosen some other way of getting Roderigo out of the way (because Roderigo was a constant threat of exposing all of Iago's scheming), and then might have come up with a Plan B in which Othello and Desdemona would not have to die. That would sorta be like the endings of the problem plays, like All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, which both lurch toward tragedy before abruptly turning "comic" at the very end, but in a very UNromantic way --just think about Helena marrying the jerk Bertram, and Angelo marrying the woman he jilted-------sorta like...Mansfield Park!

Cheers, ARNIE
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