Written by Megan Snopik
While the countless spin offs of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) range from zombie movies to raunchy fanfictions, the original conception of its hero, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, made a young girl’s romantic dreams take shape (or at least they did for this writer). The struggle, however, of reading Austen’s work in today’s world is the contextualization of Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship to our own lives. Is Darcy too much to ask for in a world where we can “swipe left” based on a single picture and text a late night “U up?” to make a connection? Was Austen writing a man too impossibly perfect to survive in our 21st century world? Was he even possible in her own time? And most importantly, is Darcy+Elizabeth actually #relationshipgoals?
In Pride and Prejudice, the relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth has some real highs and lows. That’s part of its charm. However, while Colin Firth absolutely killed his portrayal of Darcy, our obsession with Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship might actually be misplaced for a number of reasons. While we swoon over the idea of a gentleman changing his snobbish ways to earn our favour and propose not once but twice, the Darcy+Elizabeth fantasy is not as ideal as the 21st century reader may want it to be. Let’s look at some of those flaws that we would totally not stan today.
Elizabeth only realizes that she was mistaken about Darcy’s character once he pays off Wickham to save her family’s honor (and her mother’s nerves), making him the sole savior of the Bennet family. After he donates a small sum (proportionally) to the “Bennet Honor Fund,” Elizabeth rather suddenly forgets her earlier qualms with his character. It was awfully convenient that she had also just toured his bangin’ estate as well. The timing of her realization that “It would have been something to be mistress of Pemberley” is just a little sus to this reader. Either she truly was too foolish to see his moody predisposition as the honey-trap it was, or she was taken aback that he was like Rich rich. In any case, as much as our mothers tell us to marry doctors, the reality is that most people want more in their relationships nowadays than just a large stack of cash and a nice house, and had she had more economic freedom of her own, Elizabeth would have probably looked for more than a Sugar Daddy in Darcy.
Talking about conveniently placed bachelors, let’s address here also how painfully straight everyone is in every contemporization of Austen. While media today still struggles to portray accurate and positive relationships of all types, we also should task ourselves with questioning the portrayal of heterosexuality as the natural and only possible avenue for love at the time. There is no question that Grindr would have massively flopped in 19th century England, but should our modern portrayals of the story be tweaked to appeal to a larger demographic? What would it be like if we shipped Darcy and Mr. Bingley? P+P may be thought of as an epic love story, but the question is a love story for who, and if love that looks different is still able to be valued under the constraints of a yearning Elizabeth+Darcy world.
The hate turned into love trope Austen uses would totally have been overshadowed by the absolute wealth at stake in today’s world. In modern terms: they have primogeniture, estates, and the Napoleonic War, we have a widening gap between the working class and the top 1% and a world plagued by an actual plague. In 19th century England, primogeniture meant that once Daddy Dearest croaked, all his earthly belongings became the eldest son’s. Bingley’s leasing of Netherfield, is thus not only a huge indicator of his money bags, but since the Miss Bennets know that they will have nothing once their father dies, it’s hardly surprising that money signs sprang up in their (and Mrs. Bennet’s) eyes. Bingley and crew would have been the catch of the season.
Today, Elizabeth would be seen as a total gold digger (I mean come on, she did realize she loved him only after seeing his estate) and not in a good way. Women’s situations have changed. They are no longer dependent on snagging an estate holder to ensure they don’t grow destitute in old age and with that comes certain judgements about women who appear too much to be in it for the money. Any contemporary Elizabeth should also be really curious as to exactly where that good good Darcy money came from.
At the end of the novel Elizabeth and Darcy finally admit that they love each other, but prior to that perfect ending, their duel of wits and sass is absolutely down and dirty. Darcy’s whole Thing is being exceedingly arrogant and rude to those around him as a sad result of his shyness and aloof nature. Elizabeth’s epic roast of his initial proposal puts him in his place, but it also effectively shuts down any open conversation of feelings between the two. The rejection itself is also caused by misinformation given to Elizabeth, showing that they never exhibit crucial communicative capacities.
Nowadays, people will be in the “talking” stage for any amount of time — but Darcy and Elizabeth take that to another level. Their text strands would take three (maybe four) scrolls based on the length of his letter to her. They take so long to make their points and express their emotions, their texts would have to be MLA-Times-New-Roman-12-point-font-double-spaced with an attached bibliography just to decide where to get dinner. I’m not sure if thumb workouts are a thing, but they would probably win endurance typing championships.
Can you imagine Charlotte and Jane listening to Elizabeth rant on FaceTime about how awful Darcy is all night long? The sheer emotional labor to support Elizabeth should come with a 401K and a better-than-average healthcare coverage. While she definitely dishes out as much as she takes from Darcy, are gossip, mistrust, and some nasty insults the best foundation for a relationship? Calling anyone “tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” isn’t a great pick-up line, no matter the century . . .
Probably the largest difference between then and now is the insistence on marriage, and while handbags (actually called indispensables in England in the 18th-19th centuries) were all the rage for women, bagging a man was a young woman’s number one goal. The only time that women were truly secure is after marriage, a concept that would not work in today’s much more liberal society. They totally skipped that first awkward Tinder date, the gawky first kiss, and the weird labels-or-not stage.
Darcy and Elizabeth are not the only characters in an absolute sprint to the altar. Mrs. Bennet, her whole life revolving around tying her daughters to the closest breathing male (Mr. Collins, I am looking at you), would create more drama today than the national collective of The Real Housewives could ever dream of. I understand that the standards of the time were different, but trying to get your daughter to marry her cousin is a little too backwards today (at least in most places). Let’s also note that Charlotte getting Elizabeth’s sloppy seconds is definitely not Girl Code.
Collins and Charlotte aside, Lydia and Wickham probably would come in first for the 200-meter marriage dash. Eloping with the town “bad boy” certainly has its charms — until you find out he is actually a bad guy. Let’s be honest: Wickham would totally be arrested for kidnapping a 15 year old girl and ransoming her virtue for money. He would absolutely be #canceled in today’s times.
Though Darcy and Elizabeth’s is certainly a love story of the ages, I’m still not convinced it’s the love story of the ages. Darcy and Elizabeth, while a happy relationship on the pages or the screen, is limited to just those spaces, and they certainly would fall apart under the scrutiny of today’s society. This might just be me, but maybe we should aim for relationships formed for reasons beyond gratitude for buying off the seductive rakes that run off with our sisters. While we learn some important lessons about the dangers of, well, pride and prejudice, in Austen’s novel, our own understanding of those concepts in the modern world has changed a lot. We also have the benefits of a more liberal society — thank goodness — so we don’t have to accept the first matched profile at the peril of facing eternal loneliness.