Will The Real Mr Darcy Please Stand Up?

When I say Mr Darcy, what, or who, do you think of? You’ve probably got a pretty specific image in your head right now as you read this. Is it:

Colin Firth, and a certain lake?

mr darcy1

maybe, Matthew MacFayden?

mr darcy2

Or even this guy?

this guy

Maybe you picture none of these men, you are probably still imagining someone tall, dark, handsome (and rich) though, am I right? That’s the way I think most of us probably imagine him, I know I do anyway. What struck me when I was re-reading the book recently, however, was just how little Austen actually says about what Darcy looks like.

When he is first introduced, for example, Austen offers only a basic, stock description.The room is drawn to his “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mein”. There is no mention of specifics, no chiselled jawline, powerful thighs, masterful stare or even fashionably high collar points.

In fact, almost as soon as she offers us this lacklustre description Austen undermines it by stating “his manners gave a disgust” and proceeds to destroy any good impression his ‘noble mein’ might have afforded him. He is discovered to be “proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased”, not even his mammoth wealth, Austen seems to suggest, can save him from being, well, a bit of a prat.

If we are to take Mr Darcy’s introductory description, he’s not even as good as Mr Bingley, and he certainly isn’t a man who could inspire fan clubs all over the world. So far, so not the Mr Darcy we know and love. The truth is that the Mr Darcy of Austen’s novel is shrouded in mystery. If anything Austen builds a picture of a conceited, arrogant man who is full of flaws, hardly a dashing hero. In fact, he’s altogether far too human if you ask me.

So how have we built such a clear picture of Mr Darcy in our minds when Austen herself is so vague? I think this might just be the key, maybe it’s because because Austen is vague. Every time she doesn’t describe his features, or his clothes, or what he’s thinking, it makes us imagine him. Then, because we aren’t clouded by the unavoidable knowledge that he has a hunchback, or a peg leg, or even just blonde hair, we can build up a picture of our own perfect man, which makes him far more dear to us than any written description could.

Perhaps it’s Austen’s masterstroke, or maybe she just didn’t like describing people, either way it allows us to constantly reimagine Mr Darcy. He can be Colin Firth, or Matthew MacFayden, or any of the 17 other actors IMDB.com lists as having played him. Even better than that, it allows Mr Darcy to be all for you, and that’s why we love him so much!

How do you imagine Mr. Darcy? Have film adaptations changed the way you see him?