The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street

The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street

I hardly thought Darcy had much to “confess,” but, in a delightful, insightful manner, Street delivers his perspective here on the events we see from Elizabeth’s angle in Pride and Prejudice. Darcy begins by thinking of Elizabeth much as his aunt later will, as a woman employing some sort of evil art to capture his attention. He misunderstands a light sarcastic remark she makes to her family, and that mistaken first impression sets the scene for the errors in judgment he makes with respect to snubbing her at the assembly rooms.

There are a few details with which I might quibble before sharing everything I enjoyed here. First, Street has a comment about Darcy not enjoying dancing, but I always understood him as enjoying dancing only with the right partner; he certainly doesn’t dislike it with Elizabeth, even here. Street also has Darcy deliberately insult Elizabeth as “tolerable” within her hearing range, which seems too cruel for his character to me, even given his assumptions about Elizabeth’s character and motives. When Wickham and Darcy see each other in Meryton for the first time in the book, Street says the color drained from Darcy’s face. Wouldn’t that make his, then, the face that turned white, and Wickham’s the one that turned red? I had always read the colors as being fear/shock of Wickham (white) and anger of Darcy (red). Wickham would be unlikely to blush, and Street even says later how angry Darcy is, so . . . What is the usual reading of this passage? The text offers other thought-provoking additions, and a few strange ones, including Darcy’s belief that Elizabeth stayed home from Rosings (on the occasion of the first proposal) hoping he could find her alone to propose.

Street fills in some very interesting gaps that I had never really contemplated as “missing” before. The Bingley sisters, for instance, actually think Mr. Bennet showed less desperation than the other fathers who rushed to welcome Bingley to the neighborhood on behalf of their unmarried daughters—because Mr. Bennet, after all, had five single daughters of whom to dispose, and he bides his time. The opening scene of P &P, then, reveals Mr. Bennet’s wisdom in the delay that so torments his wife. Street also nicely explains why Darcy went to the assembly rooms in the first place if he was so uncomfortable with strangers assessing him based on net worth; he goes to avoid staying home alone with Caroline Bingley, who, he assumes, would stay at Netherfield with him were he to refuse to go with Bingley. He is all too aware of how his wealth and status invite female calculation, and many of his seeming rude behaviors stem from that awkwardness and desire to avoid women who want his money. Darcy here actually has a reason to refuse to dance with Elizabeth, but he realizes the error of his first impression within a few visits.

Street also provides some explanation for why Darcy admits he admires Elizabeth’s fine eyes to Caroline Bingley, of all people; he does so to discourage Caroline, whom he notices fawning over him. Street explains why the Bingley sisters invite Jane to dine with them; it isn’t just, as Caroline writes, so that she and Louisa will not kill each other from sheer boredom, but rather to inquire of Jane who her more distant relations are, as they assess her suitability for their brother. Once Elizabeth is staying at Netherfield, Darcy picks on Bingley about Bingley’s supposed boast of his speed in all things; it never occurred to me to question Darcy’s being a bit harsh to his friend, or Bingley teasing Darcy. Street makes it all clear: Darcy is jealous of Elizabeth’s warm praise for Bingley, and Bingley is trying to impress Elizabeth. Later, Georgiana is particularly shy when she first meets Elizabeth because Colonel Fitzwilliam has told her that Darcy told Elizabeth of Georgiana’s indiscretion with Wickham.

The scenes between only men are always new to an Austen sequel, and here some of them are quite interesting, particularly the one in which Darcy reads a letter from Lady Catherine, mistakenly understands that Elizabeth accepted Mr. Collins’ proposal, and snaps rudely at Bingley for no reason that Bingley can discern. When Darcy sits with his sister, Elizabeth, and Bingley’s sisters while Georgiana plays piano, it had never occurred to me to question where Bingley and Mr. Hurst were, but Street has them fishing, and has Darcy take leave of them only briefly. We also see Darcy with Georgiana, as she begins to deduce that her brother has, at the very least, a very strong crush. Even the Bingley sisters get some extra time—for good—when they return from Longbourne after having invited the Bennets to the Netherfield Ball with the news about how Mr. Collins is connected to Darcy. They decide not to tell him, to save the good joke for the ball, which explains how Darcy doesn’t know who Mr. Collins is when the latter introduces himself so comically at the ball. Of course Bingley and his sisters must have already met Mr. Collins, but the thought had not occurred to me (maybe because the BBC handles it differently :-).

In essence, Street provides logical explanations for parts of the story to which we have incomplete information in our favorite classic, everything from why Darcy goes to Lambton (at the moment when Elizabeth learns about Lydia’s elopement) to how much exactly Colonel Fitzwilliam knows about Georgiana, Wickham, Elizabeth, and Darcy. Street also provides parallels, such as Darcy needing to reject one offer of marriage (Lady Catherine’s, of Anne) to please one parent (his father) while upsetting the other (his mother, at least according to Lady Catherine), much as Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, to her father’s relief and her mother’s chagrin. Street also provides some good fun, such as the comment Darcy makes about standing Caroline Bingley and Elizabeth next to each other before a mirror and seeing how Miss Bingley fares, or the glorious second kiss.

You’ll have to read it to see for yourself.

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Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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