There’s Something About Darcy
You heard it here first! We’re delighted to announce that this November will see the publication of a new non-fiction book all about Austen’s most famous hero, Mr Darcy, and just why he is so adored.
The new book by Gabrielle Malcolm will be called There’s Something About Darcy – and indeed there is, something very special. He is enigmatic, difficult, and gallant. He is passionate, ardent, and gentlemanly.
For a character invented by the unmarried daughter of a Hampshire clergyman in the early 19th century, his longevity, popularity, and his global appeal, are staggering. From an unpromising start at the Meryton Assembly he now lives on in the hearts and imaginations of millions.
The foundation of the book ‘There’s Something About Darcy’ was the popularity of the ‘I <3 Darcy’ merchandising at the Jane Austen Centre. When I witnessed the enthusiasm with which tourists and fans snapped up the bags and badges, visible around the city, I knew that here was a topic and a history worth investigating. Follow the story with me, for some surprising twists and turns, and some unexpected companions along the way.
I want us to share in what makes Darcy so exciting and enchanting, and discover how the story of the character can bring us closer to the imagination and creativity of our beloved Jane Austen.
You can join the conversation and share what you love (or hate!) about Darcy on social media with the hashtag #Darcymania ahead of the book’s release. A release which, incidentally, will see the Jane Austen Online Gift Shop able to offer signed copies of Malcolm’s great new read.
If you can’t wait until November to find out more about the book, then we hope that you’ll enjoy reading the extract below from There’s Something About Darcy.
In the autumn of 1995, a quiet cultural revolution took place, first in the UK and then around the world. It was quiet because it mostly concerned the emotions generated from private reading habits. It was quiet because it arose from Sunday evening television viewing. And it was quiet because it was almost exclusively driven by the reading and viewing habits of women.
Writer and journalist Helen Fielding was one of the first to pick up on this at the time. Through the lens of her column in The Independent newspaper, ‘The Diary of Bridget Jones’, she scrutinised the week-by-week run of a six-part BBC TV period drama series awaiting the moment the two leading characters would ‘get off’ with each other. Bridget Jones started life as a caricature of a thirty-something single woman steeped in self-absorption, self-criticism and self-scrutiny – from the number of calories consumed to the size of knickers required in any given social situation. She evolved over the weeks, months and subsequent years into a character that came to lead the vanguard in modern reinterpretations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813).
The trigger for this revolution in popular culture, and the object of Fielding’s scrutiny, was of course the broadcast of the new BBC TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which unexpectedly sent reverberations around the world that still echo today. It was the product of the dovetailing of a specific group of talents: the genius of Jane Austen, the inventiveness of scriptwriter Andrew Davies and the vision of television director Simon Langton, together with a sterling cast headed by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.
One particular scene became etched on the popular consciousness: when Mr Darcy (played by Firth), strides across a field, a wet shirt clinging to his body. Awkward, yet utterly masculine, he strode right into the hearts and dreams of millions.
The result was a television event that has had no serious rivals since, and the birth of an epoch of unprecedented Austen fandom, for the author and her hero. Austen is now unique amongst period novelists in that she occupies a place in contemporary twenty-first century fan culture that very few modern writers can rival. Austen’s creations, particularly Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, are as much a focus of today’s online fan culture as, for example, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter characters and the Star Wars or Dr Who universes.
The idea for this book came to me when I was waiting at a bus stop in Bath. Next to me stood a young woman carrying an ‘I <3 Darcy’ tote bag. I tracked this item down to the Jane Austen Centre shop, just off Queen’s Square. That was my introduction to the notion that there was a demand for Austen and Darcy related things that went beyond the novels and their adaptations. When I heard that Chatsworth House in Derbyshire had to put away the bust of Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy (from the 2005 film version) because visitors kept kissing it, I decided that this urge ought to be investigated.
The fascination with Darcy has grown into a mania, and this book will examine why that is. Darcy now appears in innumerable guises: in fist-fights on screen, slamming his Ferrari into gear in the pages of a romance novel, running a digital media company in San Francisco, as a vampire, a heart surgeon, a neurosurgeon, and even slaying zombies in films and graphic novels. He is especially favoured in the now classic trope of a man emerging – dripping wet – from a lake or pond, wet shirt clinging to his body. Even actors who have never played Darcy use this as a kind of shorthand for masculine gorgeousness. Benedict Cumberbatch, star of Sherlock for the BBC and Dr Strange in the Marvel Universe, appeared in a charity photoshoot in 2014 as a ‘sexy wet ’n’ wild’ tribute to Firth as Darcy.
Time travel fantasies undertaken to meet Darcy, updated sequels to Pride and Prejudice, modern adaptations and even dragon-taming versions of Darcy (as in Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon, Longbourn: Dragon Entail, Netherfield: Rogue Dragon, a three-book series by Maria Grace, White Soup Press, 2016–2018) populate the thriving genre of Jane Austen fan fiction. This is probably one of the most telling and revealing aspects of Austen’s modern-day popularity – the huge, ever-increasing, concentrated output of fan fiction. These are stories – mostly circulated online, but many published in print through independent channels – that are based on Austen’s original narratives and characters. They explore alternative plotlines, are told from an individual character’s perspective or explore ‘what if?’ scenarios that test the much-loved characters in new and dramatic ways. The figure of Darcy dominates these alternative re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice, demonstrating how vivid, personal and meaningful are the relationships between readers and writers of Jane Austen fan fiction, the author and her creation.
The Darcy we know today has a 200-year history behind him. And beyond that history are the influences that might have operated on Austen to create him. He has moved from being the secondary character to Elizabeth, her love interest, to influence later heroic creations. He is now an archetype that defines a whole strand of characters in fiction, drama, media and popular culture. These are identified by a single name – Darcy.
So, what is it that Austen delivers for readers and viewers that turn them into such fans, and superfans, of her novels, her characters and of Darcy in particular? This book will search for some answers to this, and in doing so explore the origins of the character, the depiction of him in the novel and the legacy of his influence.