On Pride and Prejudice

My Darling Mr. Darcy

Why Is the Unattainable So Irresistible? 

By Teresa Medeiros

Everyone knows what American women want–thinner thighs, darker chocolate and a dashing Englishman who looks more like Hugh Grant or Colin Firth than Prince Charles or Dame Edna. George Clooney might charm us with his bedroom eyes and easygoing manner, but deep in our hearts we yearn for a quintessential English gent who will declare both his scorn and his love for us in clipped, up-per-crust tones. He will mock, infuriate and adore us–preferably from afar so we won’t be able to tell when his teeth start going bad as English teeth invariably do. (In a recent interview, Hugh Grant confessed that his were already starting to go.) To achieve the true pinnacle of desirability, this paragon of manhood must be always in our hearts, yet forever out of our reach.

It’s precisely these qualities that make Jane Austen’s Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice the great-great-grandpappy of all the dark and brooding anti-heroes who would come after him. Whether embodied by Sir Laurence Olivier in 1940 or Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC production or Colin Firth again as attorney Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Mr. Darcy is one of the most compelling romantic characters ever to grace the page, stage or the screen.

Darcy is first introduced to us as the Simon Cowell of the Meryton assembly. There’s not even a sympathetic Paula Abdul to soften the blow or a 1-800-number to call in protest when he passes ruthless judgment on Elizabeth Bennet, dismissing her as “tolerable, but  …

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