*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
From a very early age, most girls are indoctrinated with the idea of Prince Charming. At a certain point in her life, a woman will meet her Prince Charming who will sweep her off her feet and they will happily ever after for their rest of their days.
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen took this one note, predictable character and made him not only human, but an assh*le.
The reader meets Fitzwilliam Darcy when his best friend, Charles Bingley moves into the neighborhood and immediately becomes the new guy that everyone wants to hang out with. Open, friendly and amiable (and also financially secure), Mr. Bingley becomes the target of many a single women and her match making mama. When the locals find out that Mr. Darcy, in addition to his physical charms, is twice as wealthy as his friend, all attention soon draws away from Mr. Bingley. But the lure of a handsome face and a large fortune do not last. Darcy’s charms quickly fade when he is discovered to be rude and arrogant.
(“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.” Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3 Volume 1).
While the reader is slowly clued into the fact that over the course of the first half of the book that Darcy is beginning to fall for Elizabeth, Elizabeth is completely in the dark. The first half of the book ends with the worst marriage proposal in the history of marriage proposals.
After Darcy is properly rebuffed (and takes a beating to his ego in the process), he is revealed to be a man who is uncomfortable in large social situations and prefers the company of those closest to him. His charms are not his wealth and his handsome face, but his loyalty, his honor and the commitment to those who rely on him. Those are the traits both Elizabeth and the audience with and have stayed in love with for over 200 years.
To sum it up: Fitzwilliam Darcy has been a favorite of many a reader for the last two centuries because he goes beyond the standard Prince Charming stereotype. He is handsome and wealthy, but also generous, honorable, loyal and gives his heart completely to those who he cares about. In creating a leading romantic male role that feels real and human, Jane Austen setup a prototype of how to create romantic male leads that will keep the audience coming back for more.