Mr Darcy is 200 years old today.  That’s a lot of candles on the cake.  If Bridget Jones is capable of drinking something real tonight, I’m sure she’d pick something celebratory… maybe a Moet or a Veuve Clicquot.  Or a stiff vodka, knowing Bridge.

One of my fondest memories (so far) of being in a classroom is of my “8 o’clockers” at Birkbeck College — one of my first seminar groups.  They graciously allowed me to legitimately bring Colin-Firth-as-Mr-Darcy into every class discussion for the entire year… and then, at the end of our months together, they gave me a copy of The Making of Pride and Prejudice to tell me how much fun they’d had.  That was fantastic.

To be honest, I find it hard to believe that Pride and Prejudice has now been in existence for two entire centuries.  That means that it’s been eighteen years since Colin Firth Mr Darcy first entered my life.  Where did all the time go?

Mr Darcy at the ripe old age of 182

My father was the one who made me aware of Miss Austen’s masterpiece.  He had secretly recorded all of the episodes of the mini-series on VHS and then presented it to me on a long weekend when I really needed a pick-me-up.  We watched it together, while my mother kept waving her 1920s-era copy of the hardback at me.  If anything needed to convince me that my father was (and is) a Victorian-Edwardian at heart, this was it.

My father introduced me to Mr Darcy and Lizzie.  It was a beautiful gift.

I then, over the past few years, have given this gift to my students.  Not sure if I can manage to include it in a course on the Irish Diaspora, but if anyone has any ideas how it can fit into the curriculum, do let me know!

Fisticuffs aside, how many of the lines from this novel of 1813 have resounded through the decades?  We all know the beginning (It is a truth, universally acknowledged etc.), and I know at least two dear friends who can – at will – quote Lizzie’s rejection of Darcy verbatim.  It’s quite impressive, really.


I was in high school when Pride and Prejudice (The Firth Edition) debuted.  It became one of the most singular bonding experiences for the girls of KCVI in my year (or at least those I hung out with).  In fact, our mutual love of Austen became the thing that bridged the possible yawning chasm between myself and one of my dearest friends: she, a confirmed Texas republican conservative; myself, not quite any of those (though definitely small ‘t’ Tory at times when thinking about the preservation of Big Houses in Britain and Ireland and the niceties that accompany high tea, dressing for dinner, proper dances, and men half-standing when a lady rises from the table).  Pride and Prejudice gave me one of the most treasured friendships of my life.  I’ve thought about that a lot today.

The world’s most famous wet shirt

That said, I have to be in the minority when it comes to Pride and Prejudice‘s most famous post-modern moment.  That shirt is hardly see-through.

*As a total aside, how awesome/horrifying is it that the official BBC Youtube account refers to this as “Colin Firth Strips Off.”  Holy hell.

I understand that part of the attraction of this scene (which I sincerely doubt Miss Austen ever envisaged to such a degree [let alone its cultural fallout]) is all about understated restraint and the man of every woman’s desire being en déshabillé, but for sheer pubescent sexuality, I’ve got to give the edge of the late Patrick Swayze.

Johnny Castle
has much to learn from Fitzwilliam Darcy, obviously, but his black jeans – in my opinion – have raced more teenage hormones than the master of Pemberley’s undershirt.  Also, Solomon Burke singing in the background really helps.

Am I going to get any feedback on that ever-so controversial opinion???  Hmm…

Darcy wins in terms of frustrated agony, but, in the same vein, P&P might need a bit of maturity from its readers (and eventual viewers) in order to really make its mark.  Trust me: watch Dirty Dancing first, and then move on to the Austen canon (both on the page and then — and only then — the cinematic possibilities).

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a young woman in possession of an active imagination must be in want of a well-rounded education in fan-girl worship.

Also, this made me howl with laughter the first time I saw it.  Sheer brilliance.

(Plus, I [whilst a groundling] saw this Darcy live on stage playing Macbeth at the Globe in 2010, and he smiled at me… twice.  And then again in the bar after the show.  I have a completely trust-worthy witness who can back me up on this.  Ergo, I am biased in his favour as a silver medalist behind Firth.)

Mr Darcy, and his relationship with Lizzie Bennet, has perplexed, flummoxed, fascinated and obsessed millions of people for 200 years.  I think it’s wonderful that this particular literary anniversary has garnered as much attention as it has; that more people will discover the author that has influenced so much of modern society; that more informed fans will join me — and many others — in believing that Colin Firth is the only true cinematic Darcy, all kudos to Matthew MacFadyen and Laurence Olivier; and that no one any more can be snide about Jane Austen’s indisputable place within “The Western Canon” — whatever power it and its many incarnations might still have in an English classroom, a university syllabus, or the vortex of literary criticism.

And if Pride and Prejudice continues to be so popular, then even more people will discover my own favourite Austen novel.  If Mr Darcy continues to lead the masses to Captain Wentworth, then long may Pemberley’s reign continue!

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Midatlantic Musings by Jane G. V. McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About midatlanticmusings

Historian of the Irish Diaspora and masculinities, wife, mother, lover of good books, red wine, fine whiskies, pop culture aficionado, and Star Wars wonk.
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