Mr. Darcy: Douchebag or Dreamboat? (a new series at AAR)

Welcome to the AAR Douchebag or Dreamboat series, in which AAR staffers take famous literary heroes to trial for perceived slights, misdemeanors and otherwise unsavorybehaviours. Are they a victim of their circumstances, time and/or personality, or are they just plain douchey?

Mr. Darcy:  Imperious Misanthrope or Just a Shy Guy





One of the best things about being an AAR staffer is the fantastic conversations and debates we have off-line. Usually, they begin when one of us has an idea for a blog post and would like input or opinions from the rest of us. Often we find ourselves going off on tangents, and some very interesting discussions arise.

Recently, one such a discussion had us putting none other than Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, beloved hero of Jane Austen’s sublime Pride and Prejudice, through the wringer. The original topic was the prevalence of what we’ve coined the Alpha Douche in many of today’s romance books, especially those categorized as New Adult. These are the guys who stalk, bully, and intimidate the heroines by being overprotective and possessive and who generally display behaviours that, in real life, would more likely be described as border-line abusive than heroic.

In our discussion, we mentioned the titles of several popular books and their associated heroes. And then Mr. Darcy was brought into the fray.

Now, please know that none of us at AAR would ever put Mr. Darcy into the same category as those modern heroes who are stalkerish, obsessive, possessive, or any of those horrible things that we see far too often today. Truly, none of us consider him an Alpha Douche at all – in fact, we all balked at the mere thought!

Still, the man was kind of a jerk.

But how much of his jerkiness was because of the times he lived in and his social status versus his own personality flaws?

Here is an edited flow of our conversation.

AAR Maggie:

I think it is interesting that all the books mentioned here are fantastic bestsellers. Not just making the New York Times list but being big enough to attract attention from Hollywood. Twilight and Fifty Shades are both movies. Also of note is the fact that Twilight is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice so an argument can be made that the original Alpha Jerk was Mr. Darcy. (I recently re-read the initial proposal in P&P. OMG was that horrifying :-)

Side bar: Just to clarify I don’t think Darcy is an alpha – douchebag. Maybe Heathcliff but not in anyway Darcy. I mentioned Darcy in relation to Edward Cullen and Christian Grey because the three books have a very tenuous link.

AAR Blythe:
I have to admit I had an almost visceral reaction to the idea of Mr. Darcy as douchebag. There’s a scene in Robb’s Innocent in Death where Mavis says that all men have the lowercase “jerk” gene, because they’re guys, but they aren’t all uppercase jerks. To me Mr. Darcy is definitely not an uppercase jerk.

AAR Jenna:

I’m kind of laughing at our terminology because while I don’t see him as an Alpha Douche at all, if Mr. Darcy existed today and the same series of events took place in our time, I think one of the first ways we might have described him would be to say he acted like a total douche!

AAR Caz:
As for Mr Darcy being the original alpha-jerk… I can see the argument, but I suppose one mustn’t forget that while he was a jerk he was also governed by the conventions of being “a gentleman” which at least made him take “no” for an answer (well, mostly!) and while he was an idiot, he wasn’t physically abusive or controlling.

AAR Jenna:

This is a very good point about Mr. Darcy being a product of his times. He may have acted heavy-handed or arrogant but that kind of behaviour was almost expected of him given differences in class. He was truly entitled to be a bit superior and smug, even if we in the current century think that makes him a bit of an asshole. And a huge part of the story is the fact that once he saw himself through Lizzie’s eyes, he realized that the way he’d acted was unacceptable and he changed.

AAR Maggie:
Mr. Darcy is most certainly not a product of his times. The people around him fault his manners; if his manners had been average they would not have done so.

Mr. Bennet says, “We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man.” after he proposes a second time (and is accepted by Lizzy). Also, here is how Darcy describes himself during his second proposal to Elizabeth:

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son I was spoilt by my parents, who though good themselves allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing.”

Elizabeth calls Darcy “ungentlemanly” the first time around and most agree with her. It is a pivotal part of the tale that Darcy changes so I think it is very wrong to say that his behavior was average for his time.

AAR Jenna:

I’m not an expert on Regency-era manners, and it is very true that the text itself shows that Mr. Darcy’s behaviour was definitely not pleasant. And to add support to Maggie’s argument, Lizzie even tells Lady Catherine de Bourgh that she sees herself socially equal to Mr. Darcy:

“In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”

So she would expect to treated better by the man, and this is the reason she’s so against him from the very beginning.

But I would still argue that rudeness was accepted far more easily when it came from people of rank and fortune. I mean, look at what happens when Mr. Collins determines to speak to Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball:

Elizabeth tried hard to dissuade him from such a scheme; assuring him that Mr. Darcy would consider his addressing him without introduction as an impertinent freedom, rather than a compliment to his aunt; that it was not in the least necessary there should be any notice on either side, and that if it were, it must belong to Mr. Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance.

Or look at all of the bowing and scraping that was done in the presence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She certainly felt entitled to her outspoken-ness and dictatorial manner, and those around her just accepted it as a matter of course from someone of her rank.

So people of the higher class were afforded more opportunity to dismiss those deemed beneath them, at least to a certain degree. I still think Darcy was a first class jerk even giving him some allowance for his self-perceived status, but I’m just saying that there was a distinction made between a certain level of acceptable superiority among the upper class versus Darcy’s extreme pride and arrogance.

AAR Caz:
And also, to clarify, I didn’t necessarily mean his poor behaviour was okay because he was rich and landed gentry – although I’d agree with Jenna that people with money were undoubtedly given greater leeway in their behaviour. I meant that the idea of being a “gentleman” was important to men of rank – and while some of his behaviour is not, perhaps, gentlemanly (in the sense of “polite”), I meant that the “code” prohibited him from indulging in the regency equivalent of the sorts of excesses we’ve been talking about in relation to the alpha-douchebags.

AAR Maggie:
If I understand the issue correctly what we are discussing is whether in Mr. Darcy’s era his being a snobby jerk would be more accepted than in today’s time. And I would argue that it is in fact the opposite. We tend to be a rude society now, with much lower standards being accepted for correct behavior. Men aren’t even expected to hold the doors open for grandmas anymore – many is the teen who has nattered on to his friends and virtually slammed the door on the octogenarian behind him. I think if Darcy had been in this era his “rude” behavior would be shrugged aside but in his era it is clear that his peers grumbled about it – behind his back because he was rich but still, he was considered a less than ideal party guest based upon his manners. So I think people tolerated his behavior because of his wealth but they still thought poorly of him because of the bad behavior. Clearly hypocrisy was as alive in well in that era as in this one.

AAR Jenna:
I do very much agree with you that Darcy was perceived as rude when judged by his peers. I mean, look at the Merryton Assembly, when he refused to dance with anyone even though “gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.” I can absolutely see why everyone found him disagreeable. It’s like someone refusing to shake hands with you – they are ignoring a common social convention which makes them come off as arrogant.

But I guess I’m saying that the one area where Darcy’s time afforded him some leeway as far as being rude – the fact that he was a man of wealth and rank and was expected to be superior to those of lesser means – would never fly today. I think of all of the tabloid news crap we hear about celebrities behaving badly because they think they are above being decent people or how upset we all have become over the gross entitlement of the 1%. We’ll put up with kids dropping the “f” bomb every other word but to act superior – that’s “rude”.

AAR Pat:
Poor Mr. Darcy! I’m not so sure he’s snobby and rude. I see him more as an introvert (as opposed to Bingley’s extrovert) who even though raised to be included in large social engagements isn’t comfortable in them. Consequently, he reacts as many introverts who can’t sit along the wall and hide behind their fans and seems aloof and disagreeable. I also see him as a bit of a pragmatist—things are as they are.

His first proposal to Elizabeth is more of a vlog posting or a diary entry that should have been erased, something an incredibly shy but well-meaning person might do.

Anyway, that’s my Mr. Darcy—a shy man who was born to stand up and out but who’d much rather retire and watch.

AAR Melanie:
[A]s a friend of mine states it, the thing with Mr. Darcy is that he comes across as an asshole, but you come to discover that he’s really an awkward turtle who can’t talk to girls. It isn’t that he is not rude, it’s that he doesn’t understand how he is being rude (specifically the first proposal scene – it all makes sense to him).

AAR Pat:
Bingley is an extroverted beta male while Darcy is an introverted alpha. That’s why Bingley asks for and follows Darcy’s advice.

AAR Maggie:
I think you are absolutely right, Pat, regarding their personality types. Bingley is an extrovert beta and Darcy is an introvert alpha. But I don’t think Darcy is a swoon worthy hero until after he meets Elizabeth and starts to change as a result. If Darcy hadn’t needed to change, there wouldn’t have been much of a book would there? They would have met at the assembly at the start of the novel, he would have danced with her and been oh so polite and then she would have accepted when he proposed. But one of the things I love about P&P are the changes made by Darcy and Elizabeth as they head toward their HEA.

So…based on our discussion, it seems that we AAR staffers are of a mind that Mr. Darcy is not a True Misanthrope. His behaviour was definitely rude, especially given the rules governing polite society in the Regency-era, and we don’t blame Elizabeth Bennet for her initial dislike of the dude. However, we feel that Mr. Darcy’s behaviour was more a symptom of an introverted nature and social awkwardness than any true sense of entitlement. He fully redeemed himself by assisting with the Lydia Debacle but even more so by his willingness to change once he’d come to know how much he’d offended Elizabeth.

Verdict: Mr. Darcy is a Dreamboat

What do you think? Darcy: Douchebag or Dreamboat?

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20 Responses to Mr. Darcy: Douchebag or Dreamboat? (a new series at AAR)

  1. library addict says:

    This is an easy one. Darcy = Dreamboat. I agree that he needed to change, and the first proposal is a mess. But as Blythe says, the jerk/Jerk argument is very true. Darcy only qualifies as lowercase j.

  2. Pamela (aka pwm in mi) says:

    I think PatAAR nailed it, but I would go further. Darcy is not just an intervert, he is shy. While his haughtiness/pride was learned, it is also a sheild, so he does not have to deal with women. As, Lizzy calls out for Darcy for his terrible manners when they first met at the assembly and refused to dance with her:

    “I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”

    “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”

    “Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”

    “Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”

    “I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”

    “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

    So he admits it himself, he is shy. Now true on that day, he was being a haughty ass, but I think at least in part some of his lack of social finesse it because of social anxiety.

    In the end, I will always see Darcy as a dreamboat, but the best kind. One that grows into it:)

    • maggie b. says:

      In the end, I will always see Darcy as a dreamboat, but the best kind.One that grows into it:)

      This is a perfect way of saying it. He grew into being a dreamboat. :-) By the time they meet at Pemberley he is very nearly perfectly perfect.

  3. bungluna says:

    I always thought of Darcy as shy, but I also thought his shield was in part to ward off predatory people bent on encroaching on him due to his wealth and status. Lizzy’s mother comes to mind.

    • Sandlynn says:

      I agree this is part of the reason for his social awkwardness.

      Even some of Darcy’s friends and extended family are somewhat predatory. It’s clear that Bingley’s a good friend, but Caroline Bingley certainly has her eye on Darcy and uses her proximity to him to bad mouth others and help color his view of society. I don’t believe she has his best interest at heart as much as she has her eye on his fortune and position. Then we have his aunt, Lady Catherine, who wants Darcy for her daughter. If she really cared for him, I can’t believe she would’ve ostracized him from her life after he chooses Elizabeth, especially as we never see him showing any interest at all in Anne. So, it’s not like he threw her daughter over. And then we have the obvious case — George Wickham — here’s a guy who was raised with Darcy like a brother, who turns around and tries to compromise Darcy’s young sister, and when that doesn’t work, he tells lies and bad mouths him let alone try and get money out of him a second time.

  4. Lynda X says:

    What a FASCINATING discussion! What other heroes are you going to discuss in the future in this series?

  5. Blackjack1 says:

    Class conflict is at the center of _Pride & Prejudice_ and so it’s necessary to consider the issues of upward mobility and the rapid changes in British society due to the Industrial Revolution. I cannot read Mr. Darcy in any modern incarnation of “jerk” or any other modern slang term we might ascribe to men because he is representative of his class of the early 19th century. Note that the characters in the novel that refer to him as “proud” or “unpleasant” are gentry and not of his own class. Elizabeth denounces Mr. Darcy’s ungentlemanly behavior because she is rebelling against the strictures of her society and is representative of a more modern democratic voice that firmly believes in upward mobility of the masses. The most shocking occurrence in the novel happens when Darcy is shocked that Elizabeth believes him to be anything less than a gentleman. I don’t find the exercise is ascribing modern terminology therefore that helpful here if one isn’t able to consider the history from which Austen’s writing emerges.

    • AARJenna says:

      I made that argument – although not as strongly – when I suggested that Darcy was a product of his time. My understanding of the class structure of the Regency period was such that those who had any kind of wealth, status, claim to nobility or any other socially recognized “superiority” were believed to also have the right to treat those beneath them in ways that we find condescending and rude, yet still be considered “gentlemen”. I raised the example of Lady Catherine de Bourgh – she was overbearing and outspoken and rude to pretty much everyone she came into contact with and this behaviour was tolerated because she was a “lady”. So some of Darcy’s prideful ways and arrogance, I think, were simply Darcy acting in the way that was expected of someone of his station.

      That said, Maggie did bring up the good points that so many people found Darcy to be rude and unappealing that his behaviour must have been beyond the norm. And if you compare the way others viewed Bingley as opposed to Darcy – and Bingley is Darcy’s social equal – then it is clear that after a point, such arrogance wasn’t acceptable even if one was socially superior.

      But I love the idea of Lizzie’s reaction being a reflection of the changing attitudes of the time. I never thought of it that way before.

      • Blackjack1 says:

        Lady Catherine is considered a bit of an anachronism by the turn of the 19th century and so in P&P she is held up somewhat as a figure of ridicule. Even the aristocracy and landed gentry recognize that her superiority, real and imagined is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Darcy, however, is a young member of the aristocracy and represents the possibilities of the future, as does Elizabeth Bennett. He really is not viewed as arrogant or proud inside of his own circles. Go to the part of the book where Elizabeth visits Pemberly for the first time and read the glowing way in which people of lower classes refer to him. It is only when he steps out into mixed class society that the lower and middle classes that do not feel comfortable consorting with the aristocracy have difficulties understanding him. I also do not think that Bingley is quite Darcy’s equal, but even Bingley would not refer to Darcy in a disparaging way. Overall, I have some sincere difficulties with the AAR “douchebag” approach to literature and find it problematic.

  6. Bona says:

    I’ve always thought that he’s kind of shy.
    He acts with that aloofness and disregard to everybody who is not intimate with him because he does not want to be rejected.
    He’s got this social awkwardness, he is uncomfortable with all those strangers around him.
    He does not know how to behave -or, better said, he does not want to make the effort to bend to please anybody else’s taste.
    It’s not my type of person, but I understand him perfectly, b/c I sometimes feel that way.
    More a dreamboat than a douche bag for me.

  7. LeeF says:

    I have always preferred keeping the characters created by Jane Austen in their own time and place. Makes their actions so much easier to understand.

  8. GayLauren says:

    Darcy is a dreamboat because he is an alpha male who proves to be capable of changing for the better to win the woman he loves. What’s not to love about such a man? Think about the book’s title “Pride and Prejudice”. I believe the title sums up what keeps the H/h apart: Darcy’s ” pride ” and Elizabeth’s “prejudice”. They both learn to overcome these as the book progresses towards their HEA. I think Darcy is a man of his times and we cannot expect him to behave like a 21st century SNAG. He was born into a rich family and as he admits himself
    “I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son I was spoilt by my parents, who though good themselves allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing.”
    Since Lady Catherine is his aunt it would appear rudeness and excessive pride is standard modus operandi for their family. Couple that with Darcy’s inherent shyness:
    “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
    and it is no wonder he comes across as considering himself above his company at the assembly. He does consider himself above the company and lacks Bingley’s ability to mingle easily with strangers. However, as a result of his interactions with Elizabeth ( including the ill-fated first proposal), he examines his attitudes and strives to overcome his prideful behaviour. This is a testament to his determination to make himself worthy of the woman he loves. As I said : What’s not to love about such a man? Definitely a dreamboat.

  9. carol irvin says:

    Dreamboat. I think the closest thing to a douchebag in P&P is Mr. Collins except he is such a hilarious character that it is difficult to call him that. I suppose one could make the argument that Lady Catherine, as the female version of an unmitigated Darcy, is the prototype for douchebag but I am unsure this term is ever used for a female. If she were a man, she would be the epitome of the term. Wickham is too feckless to be douchebag or rather he is a scum bucket.

  10. Amy Miller says:

    The fact you even brought up Chrisitian Grey in comparison to Mr.Darcy is disgusting. If Chrisitian Grey wasn’t a handsome billionaire we’d call him what he really is – a controlling, abusive pyscio. Pride and Prejuidice is a classic piece of literature while 50 shades of grey is a trashy book that many Lydia’s of the world read…

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