Many discussions over the years about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (you knew that), are about the persona of Fitzwilliam Darcy. As described in the novel Mr Darcy commands “the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien”. Be still, my heart!
Like many reading this, I was in my pre-teens when I fell in love with Jane Austen’s novels and I have never fallen out of love with them. One of the beauties of Ms Austen’s writing is that as you grow, so does your appreciation of her talent. The more I read, the more I appreciate her writing and storytelling. For books written 200 years ago, they are not only classics, they still speak to a modern audience.
There have been many representations of Mr Darcy over the years on stage and film, some excellent, some leaving you wondering “did they read the book”?
The 1940 film, starring Greer Garson and Sir Laurence Olivier, chose to change the period, apparently because the studio preferred the elaborate crinolines of the later period! These were not the only changes made and many characters didn’t even appear in the film. Nevertheless the movie was praised with the New York Times film critic calling it, “the most deliciously pert comedy of old manners, the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen.” Who am I to disagree?
On the other hand, the BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Erhle and its appeal to Janeites (or fans of Mr Firth) “is a truth universally acknowledged”. As you expect from a BBC production, the costuming, the mannerisms of the actors, the carriages, furnishings etc. are so true to period. Of all the Pride and Prejudice adaptations, this is my favourite, not only for Colin Firth, but for the overall balance of the casting.
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So it is with some interest I read that British historian Susan C Law believes she has found the “real” Mr Darcy in the persona of John Parker, 1st Earl of Morley. Morley’s second wife Frances was a good friend of Jane Austen’s and Jane’s brother Henry knew the earl in college. Apparently Morley is described as handsome and “very intense”. At one time it was thought that as Pride and Prejudice was originally published with the author identified only as “by a lady”, Frances was the assumed author as the description of Darcy so closely matched her husband.
Despite reading the correspondence between Jane and Frances, Professor Law can’t find the definitive piece of evidence to prove her theory, but all the research she has done leads her to believe she has identified the right person. If her conclusion is correct, Pride and Prejudice may not be the only one of Jane Austen’s books which owe plot to Morley. His truly messy divorce from his first wife is similar to the adultery plot in Mansfield Park.
It should be noted this is not the first time someone has theorised about the real Mr Darcy, but I wonder if this is just the way of humans – we choose to believe Jane knew her characters, rather than accept she was clever enough to invent them.
I found two portraits of the Earl on the National Trust website. So what do you think?
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To be honest, fine looking man that he is, he is not my image of Darcy, so over to you.
Are either of these portraits of John Parker, First Earl of Morley, your Fitzwilliam Darcy?