Two hundred years ago today, a little novel called Pride and Prejudice rolled off the presses for the very first time.
Here we are, still talking about it. We’re still thinking about it. We’re still getting new things from it.
In Pride and Prejudice, we have humor and romance. We have family life, and a much-beloved set of nerves. We have walks in the countryside, and a marriage based on genuine love and mutual respect. We have muddy hems and fine eyes. We have two nice people falling in love. We have accomplished ladies who improve their minds by extensive reading. We have Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, Missed Connection extraordinaire. We have Charlotte Lucas, who does what she has to do. We have Lydia. We have Kitty, who turns out okay, we think. We have Bridget Jones. We have Colin Firth as two good men named Darcy. We have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and all the rest. We have you—we have this community of funny, thoughtful people.
When I look back on my younger years—O ye olde era of the Apple IIE!—I think how nice it is that we have the internet now. Responsible grown-up things like online bill pay aside, where would we be without netspeaking cats and inane music videos? What kind of cool-stuff threshold did we even have before Tumblr and BoingBoing and whole weird osmosis of the collective digital consciousness? Seriously, people. I think we had to play outside. And do work! It’s amazing we all turned out as well as we did.
Friends, the future is now, as seen in these cool Janely things we’ve picked up around the Web. Enjoy!
The Fug Girls, exemplars of all that is great and good on the internet, take on the Darcys (Mr. and Mark), as well as one impressively plaid dress.
Mansfield Park makes it into the Guardian‘s listing of 10 of the Best Balls in Literature. So to speak.
Now that our Southern California bureau is up and functional, we’ll expect our invitation to this aaaany day now. No, really. We’ll wait.
You tell ‘em, Vic: on the same old, same old of lady-fiction bashing. If ONLY romances were as diverse and innovative as the stories men tell themselves! Sigh.
And finally, for the conscientious early-bird holiday shoppers among us (surely nobody around here, but we hear this is a thing), Jane Austen stuff for dudes. For the skateboarding Jane aficionado who has everything!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike, and Miss Ball and Miss Osborne are fond of asking for her scholarly opinion on all sorts of things. Now you can too, using the contact form on the About page. Send us your questions! Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in What Would Jane Do? We’d love to hear from you!
Miss Osborne: Miss Ball’s recent Jane Austen Fight Club post got me thinking about duels in the Jane Austen world. Duels were going on during that time period (the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel was in the early 1800s), so why didn’t Mr. Darcy call out Wickham for a duel? Clearly, Darcy had the right. Were most duels just between equals? Or are there other reasons why dueling would not be an appropriate response to Wickham’s treachery? (It’s not like Darcy had to worry about looking like a dork—á la Mark Darcy versus Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary—when all he has to do is walk a few paces and pull a trigger.)
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Ah, dueling. I was once hailed by a passing stranger as “the swordsman’s girlfriend,” so I’m well-fitted to answer this. And the swordsman himself dumped five books on the history of dueling in my lap the instant I mentioned this query. The romance of the sword lives to this day, even when the sword is a gun (if you follow).
By the time Jane Austen was writing, dueling in Europe was an upper-class game of machismo on its way out—it was a game only among equals, though, yes, and taken seriously as a show of honor among them, though ridiculed in the press. In America, actually, dueling was much more serious (we had the Old West to prepare for, remember), and people died a lot more, like poor Hamilton. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it in 1831, “In Europe one hardly ever fights a duel except in order to be able to say that one has done so. . . In America one only fights to kill. . .”
In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon fights just such a European duel with Willoughby over his seducing Miss Williams (Col. Brandon’s not-daughter). “‘I could meet him in no other way. . . We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.’ Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.” Some people have seen this duel as the crux of the plot, and it is part of the 18th century side of the novel, along with the seduction itself, Marianne’s dramatic illness, and Willoughby’s drunken declaration of love.
In Pride and Prejudice, remember, there is a question of somebody fighting Wickham, but it isn’t Mr. Darcy—it’s the ironical Mr. Bennet, framed nicely by his adoring wife: “And now here’s Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?” Nine pages later, “Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?”
Mrs. Bennet’s always so silly that I don’t think we’re supposed to take either proposition seriously. Pride and Prejudice has much less of 18th century flavor than Sense and Sensibility. Yet I really can’t tell whether Mr. Bennet himself would have wanted to duel Wickham or not, though I’m inclined to think not. He was too sensible, and the whole idea was to hush the thing up, anyway.
And this, I think is our answer to why Mr. Darcy doesn’t challenge Wickham over the honor of Georgiana. He did have the right, and he was of the class (and, I imagine, the temperament) to be dueling, but, he tells Elizabeth, on discovering the proposed elopement “You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure. . .” Unless this is a coded indication that they did fight (as the fanfic authors no doubt go off on), his love for his sister overcame his ideas of his station in that way, just as (guess what!) his love for Elizabeth later overcomes his ideas of his station in another way.
Plus, imagine the scandal if it all did come out—too shocking! Mr. Darcy never revealed anything to anyone if he could help it.
For more on dueling, see The Code of Honor, by John Lyde Wilson, 19th century governor of South Carolina and avid duelist.
Today’s contestants: Mr. “Fitzwilliam” Darcy, of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and and Mark “Just as She Is” Darcy, pugilist extraordinaire from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s not to be missed!
In their corners:
Mr. Darcy does really, really nice things and doesn’t tell anybody. He spoils his little sister. He rides and shoots and reads and writes. He has ten thousand a year and a sweet pad (with trout pond!) to show for it. He’s loyal to his goofy best friend. He’s faithful even when there’s nobody to be faithful to.
Mark Darcy likes Bridget Jones just as she is. He’s handsome; he’s wealthy; he’s helpful in the kitchen. He’s a lawyer AND a do-gooder. He’s awkward, but nice, and he has the good sense to be ashamed at his own social ineptitude. He’s a nice boy, but he kisses like that.
Mr. Darcy says rude things too loudly at parties. He barges in on his lady love, proposes marriage while also implying that marrying her would be a huge cramp on his swingin’ social style, and then gets pissy when she says no. He also hangs out with his friend’s appalling relatives.
Mark Darcy wears reindeer jumpers and should seriously rethink the length of his sideburns. He allows himself to be bullied by his business partner, Natasha. He always says exactly the wrong thing in every situation, and I believe we find out later that he doesn’t vote Labour. Horrors!
Mr. Darcy. Mark Darcy’s foibles take place on a smaller scale–he often says the wrong thing, for example, but generally comes through when the stakes are high, like when the soup is blue–and so he seems the kinder, gentler Darcy. And that’s exactly why he loses this battle: Mr. Darcy the Elder goes big or goes home. He declares passionate love…in the most insulting way possible. He stomps off, angry, and then gallops around in the middle of the night, out-nice-ing himself entirely. He is “violently in love,” and shows it, given the chance. Plus, we all know Mark Darcy can’t fight.
Ding ding ding ding ding! Knockout for Mr. (Fitzwilliam) Darcy!