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Jane Austen Weekly: Mitt Romney Is No Mr. Darcy

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Let me say that again: Mitt Romney is no Mr. Darcy.

To be fair, neither is Barack Obama, but Romney reminds me a lot more of Darcy than Obama does. And since I'm in love with Mr. Darcy (as are many of my female Fordham students), and since "love" is not exactly the word I'd use to describe my feelings for Mitt Romney, their similarities have been tormenting me.

How are they similar? Let me count the ways. Both Darcy and Romney were born into immense wealth and property. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy has "ten thousand [pounds] a year" and such a phallically "large, handsome, stone" house at Pemberley ("standing well on rising ground") that even Elizabeth has to admit "to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!" Romney is worth two hundred fifty million dollars, owns three homes (one of which cost twelve million) and has an apparently enormous pension.

On the down side, both Darcy and Romney tend to damn themselves when overheard. Elizabeth overhears Darcy say that she "is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me." And of course Romney was overheard calling forty seven percent of Americans self-appointed victims who pay no income tax.

On the up side, both Darcy and Romney are gifted rescuers. Darcy rescues his younger sister from a secret marriage to Mr. Wickham, and later pays Wickham to marry Lydia Bennet when she stupidly runs away with him. Romey's career "has repeatedly followed the narrative of the rescuer," Nicholas Lemann writes in the New Yorker. He has "utter confidence in his ability to fix anything." According to Romney's own calculation, he rescued Bain & Company in 1990, the Winter Olympics in 2002, and Massachusetts in 2003-7. Now he proposes to play super hero for America.

Then again, I distrust rescue narratives. Darcy rescues Lydia because he cannot marry Elizabeth if her sister is living in sin. At the novel's end he says he was taught to "care for none beyond my own family circle," and now that circle has simply expanded to include the Bennets.

I thought of Mr. Darcy during the Republican National Convention when two, middle-class Mormon couples spoke about Romney's extraordinary kindness during tragic times in their lives -- another chapter in his rescue narrative. David Brooks said he was "mystified" by the Romney campaign's failure to advertise these incidents and "many other examples where [Romney's] done similar ministering, heartbreaking cases where he really went out of his way to be a community builder." Mystified, I was not. Romney takes care of his own, whether they are members of the one percent or needy people in his Mormon community. Why should the campaign advertise that? His commitment to his extended "family circle" does not mean he will take care of other people in need.

That is one of the many reasons I will be voting for Obama on November 6. But it doesn't explain how I can love Mr. Darcy and not love Mitt Romney.

Actually, after listing all his similarities to Romney I love Mr. Darcy a lot less.

Plus, I never said I wanted Mr. Darcy to be president.

But above all, I stand by my original assertion. Mitt Romney is still no Mr. Darcy.

Here is why. Mr. Darcy openly reflects on himself and his history. When he first proposes to Elizabeth he is patronizingly self-important. She accuses him of not having behaved in a "gentleman-like manner." The remark stuns Darcy. He considers himself a gentleman by birth. But Elizabeth tells him that the title must be earned. By the novel's end, Darcy has disposed of his sense of inherited entitlement. He accuses himself of having been "selfish and overbearing." He has undergone "painful recollections," has been "properly humbled" and has changed.

(So, by the way, has Barack Obama. "I recognize that times have changed... and so have I," he said at the Democratic National Convention. "I'm... mindful of my own failings.")

Mitt Romney's changes are notorious. He used to support reproductive rights, gun control, the policies championed by the Affordable Care Act and the reduction of green house gasses (the list goes on). Not anymore. It must be hard for Romney "to remember where he stands at any given moment," the New York Times editorial page snidely remarked. I dislike Romney's new conservative positions. But I also dislike his failure to consider them publically, to give some sign that he practices self-reflection, that he makes a point of examining and accounting for his beliefs and behavior over time. The most humility he could muster after the 47 percent comment was "now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right." In other words, forget about it.

Ironically, Romney would find support for such amnesia in Elizabeth Bennet. When Darcy meditates on past mistakes she encourages him to "learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."

That's fine in a novel. But it is a terrifying prospect for human history. I, for one, want a president who remembers the long and often unpleasant arc that produced the kind of socioeconomic inequities Romney's privileges represent. I do not begrudge Romney his good fortune. But I do resent his failure to reflect on his place in that larger history.

From what I can tell, Mr. Darcy far outdoes Mitt Romney when it comes to self-consciousness. And Mr. Darcy does not exist.

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