Hello and welcome, Dr Malcolm! Thanks a lot for accepting my invitation. First of all, can you tell us how you came to write There’s Something About Darcy?
Hello – and thank you for inviting me, it’s a great pleasure to be here.
My inspiration to write the book, firstly, comes from my fascination for Austen’s characters and – of course – huge admiration of her work and legacy. But I also had an encounter soon after I moved to Bath when I was standing at a bus-stop. I saw a young woman carrying a tote bag with the slogan ‘I “Heart” Darcy’ on it. This got me thinking – what other 19th Century character from a classic novel could possibly provoke such a sentiment? So much so, that merchandise would be created, and people would buy it! From there, it took me to investigating – why Darcy? Why does he provoke such interest and adoration around the world?
What is your personal interpretation of Darcy’s appeal, especially to contemporary readers?
I simply love what Austen did with her hero. This is at the heart of his longstanding and continuing appeal. I think it’s because she created a character with a fascinating story arc. She expertly crafted his learning process, in company with and apart from Elizabeth, with input from other family members and new acquaintances. Without drawing attention to it, Austen cunningly demonstrates Darcy’s education in the world. She even has him write a long essay explaining himself halfway through! Stroke of genius. He accounts for his actions and apologises. I think that goes down well with contemporary readers. He is also devoted and full of hope. He carries out his tasks for Elizabeth’s family without knowing if he will ever have the chance to see her again. He remains hopeful and in love throughout the second half of the book.
Many of our favourite romantic heroes are probably or evidently inspired by Austen’s Darcy. What are the ones you find the closest to his model?
Inevitably, yes, she influenced many writers – those who came directly after her in the 19th century and on to the present day. There are certain echoes of the brooding, difficult hero in Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff and Charlotte’s Edward Rochester. These characters emphasise the darkness and problems, however. They work in some ways as anti-heroes coming soon after Darcy. Closest, I think, might be Elizabeth Gaskell’s John Thornton in North and South. He, like Darcy, stays true to Margaret Hale even when he believes that they can never be united. He has kindness and warmth that come through, similar to the effect Austen creates with Darcy towards the end of Pride and Prejudice. Thornton also has a mother who could be more than a match for Lady Catherine de Bourgh!
Later, Baroness Orczy and her ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ series of books came close to a Darcy-type of figure with Sir Percy Blakeney. He has a self-sacrificing approach, as well as being a man of great faithfulness and influence. As good as these depictions are, however, they don’t possess the combination of romantic appeal and satiric observation that Austen delivered. That’s one of her extra-special qualities as a novelist.
Have you ever wondered what happens to Darcy after Pride and Prejudice ending? Imagining yourself as the author of a sequel, would you see him as a loving husband? Would your Darcy keep any of the traits of his proud countenance, those he showed in the first chapters of Pride and Prejudice?
That’s a great question and puts me in distinguished company with JAFF authors and historic sequel writers! I am going to go out on a limb with this and say – no – he would not be proud and that he and Elizabeth would have a great time being married at Pemberley! I think that his warmth and happiness at the end of the novel would lead to a more amused and amusing Darcy!
As for the Darcys we saw in Jane Austen TV or movie adaptations, do you have any preference?
I have got to say that I grew up with the David Rintoul and Laurence Olivier Darcys from TV and film. They, and the other versions, are good in their own ways. Austen created very ‘performable’ characters, thanks to her dialogue and the intimate dramas in her novels. So, when Darcy is acted there are layers and interpretations that an actor can discover – as with roles in Shakespeare for example. I’m not the first to notice that, George Henry Lewes the Victorian writer and critic (who lived with George Eliot – Mary Ann Evans – of course) called Austen the ‘prose Shakespeare’.
So, having said that I admire the adaptations of the character, my favourite is David Rintoul. I find him the most handsome and the best Regency type! I had the chance to meet him – at a Shakespeare conference where I was speaking. I took part in a Royal Shakespeare Company script-reading workshop under his direction. I got so tongue-tied – I couldn’t believe I was actually standing opposite Mr. Darcy – that I fluffed the one line I had!!
The marriages of convenience were often targets of Jane Austen’s satire. Though I’m convinced this is not the case, how would you answer those who suspect that Elizabeth married Darcy because, after visiting Pemberley, she became suddenly interested in his patrimony?
Another great question. Early on, after they first meet, Charlotte – who knows Lizzy best – notices that she has a bit of a preoccupation with Darcy. She wants the chance to spar with him and then they play off each other in a very entertaining way at Netherfield when Jane is sick, and then they dance at the ball. Even though Lizzy says she first loved him when she saw the grounds at Pemberley, the whole of the novel up to the point she accepts him is the examination of her growing, genuine love for him. It’s Austen being witty and ironic through Elizabeth. We know that not all characters in Austen mean what they say!
Even so, if it were a marriage of convenience for her from that moment – I’d have to say – good for her! She’s secured her family’s future come what may – which for the time in which she lived was an achievement. The Bennet family are on a knife-edge for much of the novel. Anything that befalls Mr Bennet will equal poverty and distress for them all. Austen carefully orchestrated this risk for the family. Hence, Mrs Bennet’s anxiety, and whatever we might think about her – she is right!
I am also reminded of the fabulous Lorelei Lee in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’: “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”
Jane Austen has never been as popular as she is now. What’s the appeal of her world for the 21st century reader?
As widespread literacy and the population of readers around the world has grown over the past two hundred years, people want many things from a novel. They love escapism, romance, and humour – sometimes with an edge. Austen provides all of that. We seek her out because her stories are relatable and she was just so very clever and truly funny. It’s her intelligence that appeals. Plus, we like her and the way she directs us as readers.
What is it, instead, that attracted you to that world at first?
My introduction to Austen was thanks to my late mother. She was a teacher and writer who was just steeped in the classics. My book is dedicated to her. She would have been very proud of me! I miss her influence very much and try my best to write in a way she would have enjoyed. What she showed me was just how funny Austen is. We would laugh out loud at Lady Catherine, Mrs. Elton, and the Palmers.
I’ve recently re-watched Lost in Austen, which I find a brilliant parody of Pride and Prejudice. The protagonist, Amanda, ends up living in her favourite Austen novel. If you were given the same chance, which novel would you choose? Which characters would you be bothered to meet? Which would you be glad to meet?
I agree, ‘Lost in Austen’ is a really witty parody and it works well, the way in which the movie Clueless’ reworks Emma. I think I’d like to visit the world of Emma – take tea with Emma and Mr and Mrs Elton – for the tension in the room! And Mrs Elton’s false modesty and one-upmanship.
I would also like to be in the drawing room at Mansfield Park – for the sheer bratty and bonkers company of the Bertram family! I’d love to make artificial flowers and waste gold paper with Julia and Maria. And attend a harp recital from Mary Crawford, so I can see if her arms are as attractive as she thinks they are.
What about the future? Are you working on a new Austen-related project?
My immediate plans are to work on some fiction and to look at later Victorian culture in my non-fiction. However, the Austen-related world is my favourite place to be, so I’ll certainly look for new projects soon. Especially as it gives me the chance to attend the festivals in Bath and Hampshire where I’ve had the privilege of talking about my work to such lovely audiences. And to come on here as a guest. I’ve made so many friends from around the world thanks to Austen. It’s all about community!
I totally agree with you. I've met so many special friends and Janeites since I started this online book club. It has really changed my life and made it better.
That's all for now, Dr Malcolm, thank you so much for accepting my invitation to talk Jane Austen with me. Best wishes and good luck!
Thank you so much for having me. Best wishes to all the writers and readers!
About the book
For some, Colin Firth emerging from a lake in that clinging wet shirt is one of the most iconic moments in television. But what is it about the two-hundred-year-old hero that we so ardently admire and love?
Dr Gabrielle Malcolm examines Jane Austen’s influences in creating Darcy’s potent mix of brooding Gothic hero, aristocratic elitist and romantic Regency man of action. She investigates how he paved the way for later characters like Heathcliff, Rochester and even Dracula, and what his impact has been on popular culture over the past two centuries. For twenty-first century readers the world over have their idea of the ‘perfect’ Darcy in mind when they read the novel and will defend their choice passionately.
In this insightful and entertaining stud y, every variety of Darcy jostles for attention: vampire Darcy, digital Darcy, Mormon Darcy and gay Darcy. Who does it best and how did a clergyman’s daughter from Hampshire create such an enduring character?
About the author
Dr. Gabrielle Malcolm lectures and writes about Jane Austen in popular culture and the global fan phenomena surrounding Austen’s work. She is the author of Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen and is a regular speaker at the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, and the Jane Austen Regency Week in Chawton. She lives in Bath.KS
Who's your favourite Mr Darcy? Share with us in the comments.