Darcy & Wickham: Chapter 10

Darcy confronts Wickham in Chapter 10 of A Man of Few Words, a scene that is told--rather than shown --in the original text. Ah, the fun of the tribute where the author can SHOW stuff!
Laurence Olivier as Darcy

One thing I wanted to make absolutely clear in my version was Darcy's sense of responsibility over Wickham's "elopement" with Lydia. Jane Austen takes Darcy's responsibility for granted. More recent films and authors, on the other hand, often focus on the sacrificial aspect of Darcy's behavior. In the 1940 film with Laurence Olivier, Darcy does not act to stop the scandal until after it has already started to affect the Bennet girls. The implication is that he would be wiser not to get involved; only great love--and a desire to be the white knight--can excuse such reckless regard for his own good name.

While this is all very romantic, I don't believe it properly captures the truth of Darcy's character. As I've stated elsewhere, when Darcy goes after Lydia and Wickham, he is simply cleaning up his own mess. Although the police were slowly being established throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they wouldn't become a full-fledged reality in London until 1829. Large landowners like Darcy conseqently bore substantial responsibility for the behavior of their neighbors. In addition to "policing" his tenants, Darcy would act as arbitrator regarding disputes. As Mr. B states in another context, "I was the god of my estates." Although an eighteenth century squire like Mr. B exercised more power than a landowner like Darcy, the cultural expectation--"He's the man"--still held sway in Darcy's era.

So Darcy isn't just being nice to Elizabeth. He is making up for an egregious failure on his part. He is responsible for Wickham's behavior. Wickham was the son of his father's steward; Wickham received an inheritance from Darcy's father; Darcy (properly) refused to give him more money: for all intents and purposes, Darcy's relationship with Wickham is closer to that of an attorney with a badly behaving client than a guy with a lousy childhood friend. And from the point of view of the early nineteenth century, that first relationship would have more meaning and impact than the latter.

Noblesse oblige was not a duty of the state; it was the duty of the individual home-owner.

As for romance, Darcy states the following in the original text:
"If you will thank me," he replied, "let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you." 
This isn't romantic because Darcy is claiming that he only acted for Elizabeth's sake--that would place the poor woman under a staggering sense of obligation. It is romantic because Darcy casts a social obligation in romantic terms. It's the difference between saying, "Look what I did for you! Aren't you lucky that I love you?" and saying, "I did the right thing while thinking of you." The latter is way, way, way more romantic.

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