For a novel originally titled First Impressions, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice spends little time describing what one of its principal characters, Mr. Darcy, actually looks like.
This hasn’t stopped readers from surmising ― or from projecting their own favored attributes onto a character who at the beginning of the story seems priggish and by the end is cast as kind-hearted and reserved. Someone so dreamy is sure to have the boyish, devil-may-care looks of James Dean, right?
Austen does, briefly, tell us what Lizzy Bennett might look like, from the perspective of Darcy, just after he realizes he has feelings for her. Darcy confesses that she is “rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes,” and he is “forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing.”
But what about Darcy? Contemporary readers might imagine the strong-jawed, kind-eyed, moppy-headed Colin Firth as the character; the actor captured Darcy’s temperament in an onscreen adaptation. But a thorough study by John Sutherland at University College London suggests otherwise, The New York Times reports.
The professor combined his knowledge of values of the period with Austen’s descriptions of Darcy’s social status in order ensure a complete dismissal of preteen readers’ romantic hopes and dreams.
According to Sutherland, Darcy “would be elegant rather than brawny.” Not a soldier but a gentleman, he’d likely have “sloped shoulders,” and no facial hair, but mid-length, powdered hair on his head. “It was all about the legs,” Sutherland wrote in his “dramatic re-appraisal” of the character. “The six-pack was unknown.”
But don’t be too hasty in writing him off; prejudice has the power of interfering with what could otherwise be a lasting kinship.
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