Darcy, Extreme Introvert

I am currently reading commentaries about Jane Austen's novels. In general, they are pretty good, but nearly every commentator feels obligated to explain away Darcy's letter to Elizabeth. The agreed-on commentatari seems to be that Darcy would never, never write such a letter in real life.

I find this reaction odd. I have never had any trouble understanding the purpose behind the letter or believing that Darcy would write such a revealing letter.

To begin with, I should state that out of all the film interpretations of Darcy, well, yes, I consider Colin Firth's to be the most accurate.

I know, I know, but my reasons do in fact go beyond the portrayal of Colin Firth as numero uno sex magnet. Rather, I am incessantly amused by Colin Firth's depiction of Darcy as the ultimate male introvert. And I am continually impressed by how pitch perfect he is in every scene (I'm convinced he either is an introvert or knows one).

I come from a family filled with male introverts of varying intensity. When Colin Firth's Darcy grumps his way around a ballroom, yet becomes downright friendly on his home turf ("Look at my computer program, my remodeling job, my lawn!"); when he wanders to the window during contentious conversations; when he drops by for a visit and then spends the whole time skimming through a magazine; when he answers questions monosyllabically . . . I laugh my head off: Yeah, I've seen this before.

This brings us to the letter. First, I find it completely plausible that Darcy would write a letter rather than explain himself verbally to Elizabeth. Darcy is a sharp dude. He is observant and can often recognize things in Elizabeth she doesn't recognize in herself. But he isn't a battle-of-wits type of guy. Faced with a verbally gifted and angry woman, he needs to draw back, regroup, and organize his thoughts.

In his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns points out that Darcy does this at Rosings in the scene between Darcy, Elizabeth, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Elizabeth zings Darcy. She then starts talking to Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy interrupts (which is not typical). But it took him a few seconds to marshal his thoughts and come up with an answer.

In the A&E production, Colin Firth nails this reaction--this is what I mean by pitch-perfect. In the first proposal scene between Darcy and Elizabeth, he walks back and forth in the drawing room, scuffing his boots. When Elizabeth accuses him of dissing Wickham, he stops at the fireplace and gives her this "Uhhhhhh" look. He knows she's wrong. He knows she doesn't get how correct his actions have been regarding Wickham (and her sister). But he doesn't know how to say it. Here's this bright, angry woman that he adores trouncing him verbally from all directions. He's got to get home and send her an email telling her how wrong she is. Oh, wait, no such thing as email. But she's got to understand that she's got him totally wrong.

This brings us back to the letter. The other reason I believe in the letter is because of how Darcy writes it. He does not say, "Oh, Elizabeth, I love you, I love you" (again). He does not say, "You stupid woman. Why don't you agree with me?" He doesn't even whine about her behavior. What does he do? He explains to her his process of thought.

This is so typical of a left-brained, male introvert, I can only assume commentators don't know any left-brained male introverts. You must get me. You must get why my utterly logical reasons resulted in my utterly logical behavior. It isn't about getting the woman to like or even love him. It's gone beyond that. His pride is on the line. A person he values (which, for this type of man, is a person whose judgment he respects even if he doesn't respect her family) has accused him of bad reasoning. Oh, man, that's just so wrong.

This doesn't mean that Darcy's reasoning is correct. Elizabeth has an invested interest in both her sister and Wickham, but she correctly deduces that while Darcy's line of reasoning re: Wickham is correct, his line of reasoning re: her sister is somewhat flawed. The reasoning "Wickham tried to seduce my sister to get back at me; therefore, he is a jerk" is pretty smart. The reasoning "The Bennett parents and younger sisters make me wince; therefore, my friend shouldn't marry the very sweet-natured Jane" is pretty bogus.

This doesn't alter Darcy's motivations though--he feels compelled to point out to Elizabeth that he actually thought his actions through. He didn't just act on a whim. He didn't behave ungentlemanly. He isn't the person she thinks he is.

Now, I do agree with those commentators who think Darcy is not a man to lightly expose himself. However, Elizabeth does not fall into the category of people to whom Darcy won't expose himself--even as early in their relationship as Rosings. Granted, he is attracted initially to Elizabeth's "fine eyes" (and lively conversation), but he would not have gone on being attracted if he had believed Elizabeth vulgar or incapable of discretion. He simply wouldn't have fallen in love with someone like that, and he is proud enough to believe that if he has fallen in love, she must be refined and discreet.

Now I will grant that at the age of almost 80, my father--an excellent example of the genus Introverti (male)--would probably no longer write such a letter. But then he has my mother edit all his letters. Now that Darcy and Elizabeth are married, whenever Darcy feels compelled to write to Lydia and Wickham, explaining exactly what he thinks of them, Elizabeth will be there at his shoulder, editing his prose.

No comments: