“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
~Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Ernest, Act One
Pride and Prejudice is more than a romance–a great deal more–but the romance is what continues to make it the favourite book of many people (including my mother-in-law) and to make its adaptations successful commercially. There is a heroine we take into our hearts, a hero, a misunderstanding, and a resolution based on the action the hero takes to
win his bride. It ends on the marriage of the two protagonists. The romance of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy is the backbone of the novel.
This is a fairy-tale romance. The hero is attractively rich and he stoops to a true affection for a socially inferior woman.
She is redeemed for him by her witty intelligence and acute perception. His personality has few redeeming features for us until he changes his ways and loves the heroine for herself. I won’t discuss how Elizabeth Bennet comes to love the hero Fitzwilliam Darcy, as that has been covered very often. Perhaps because there are few men interested in romances, the
development of Darcy’s love for Elizabeth receives less attention.
Austen, the author of the anti-romantic Sense and Sensibility, shows us few episodes of infatuation, subdued passion or what I would have called “mushy stuff” when in primary school. She might not have come across much in her life, as the social mores laid an emphasis on “breeding” and polite behaviour that precluded the expression of the tender desire within her hearing–she was on the outer when it came to love. Pride and Prejudice is a three-volume novel. In the first volume, Darcy is “bewitched” by Elizabeth Bennet, but in the second he loses her. The third volume starts with his coming to a mature love for her and he wins his bride.
Austen does not show us romantic tenderness in Pride and Prejudice. She almost satirised it in Sense and Sensibility where we gather that Marianne Dashwood and John Willoughby feel it for each other and it leads them into misery. Austen herself might never have felt it. The social mores of her time and class–social order, if you like– stressed “address” and “good breeding” even in courtship. Did I say “even in courtship”? I suspect the conduct books of Austen’s time would have had a field-day with my implicit approval of romantic wooing!
John Wiltshire spoke to the June 2000 meeting of JASM on “Rereading Pride and Prejudice”. It was intended for the non-academic audience and mentioned the idea of the psychiatrist Jessica Benjamin that mature love happens when someone finds themselves re-cognising the one they are developing that love for. His talk developed this idea only with reference to Elizabeth Bennet, but I think it applies to Fitzwilliam Darcy as well.
If I understood John Wiltshire’s exposition of the idea rightly, this re-cognition (pronounced “ree-cognishun”, not “re-cognishun”) is both a re-evaluation and acceptance of the other person for themselves, as they truly are, not in the false image of that person held prior to the re-cognition. The false image is part of the problem of romantic love, in which the person loved cannot be truly appreciated for themselves.
Darcy is entranced by more than Elizabeth’s “dark eyes.” He has a perception of her in a romantic way, a love developing that is immature because up until the Pemberley scenes he can’t see Elizabeth clearly. Things get in the way for him– the lower status of Elizabeth, her family’s inferiority of manners and maybe even her father’s irony and disrespect for Mary in the piano-playing episode. He has a sexual appetite for Elizabeth, in this man’s opinion. His love for her cannot develop into mature love until he realises what Elizabeth is like to her self.
This happens only when he sees her at Pemberley. Darcy soon becomes aware of her as an “other” and as a person he can come to value for herself. This is because he sees her at last with the Gardiners and appreciates that she is a sensible,
rational being rather than someone he has created an image of. After a moment of surprise, he reflects and gathers a “re-cognition” of her as an actual person. Some time later he tells Elizabeth that his sister Georgiana would like to meet her, which is his way of informing Elizabeth that he has admitted her to the inner circle of people he sees as valued in their own right.
Illustrations: C.E. Brock, 1895
Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.