By Nadine Dreyer for the Sunday Times
Since he first made his appearance on January 28 1813 as the tall, proud, romantic hero in Pride and Prejudice, the female of the species has regularly required smelling salts and other severe remedies to ease the effect of Fitzwilliam Darcy on the heart rate.
The Darcy effect transcends literature. In 2010 a pheromone in male mouse urine that is sexually attractive to female mice was named Darcin in his honour.
The Darcy effect transcends culture. Facebook has over 400 groups containing the name “Mr Darcy”, including “I Refuse to Settle For Anything Less Than Mr Darcy” and “I’m Not Looking for Mr Right, I’m Looking for Mr Darcy”. There are Japanese characters based on Mr Darcy.
The Darcy effect transcends logic. He starts off as an unpleasant sod, snubbing the vivacious Elizabeth Bennet at a country dance as “not handsome enough to tempt me”, and goes on to become the character every female lusts after – that is every female with a sentient capability more developed than that exhibited by pond life.
So to what can we attribute his success as the most popular romantic hero in English literature for the past 200 years?
DARCY IS RICH. Money isn’t everything but, hell, it helps. Jane Austen used references to income to signal the social status of various characters and, according to author John Mullen, she adjusted figures for inflation in later editions.
Darcy owns Pemberley, a country estate that makes most other aristocratic homes look like RDP houses. Economist Branko Milanovic calculates that Elizabeth increases her wealth 100 times by finally agreeing to marry Darcy. Eish, one lucky somebody.
Attempts to calculate how much Darcy’s £10000 a year would be worth today vary hugely – from between $500000 to $6-million per annum depending on who is doing the maths.
Rest easy though, no father-in-law need worry that Mr Darcy would have a problem paying lobola.
DARCY IS THE ALPHA. Given his wealth and high social standing, most of his acquaintances buckle and scrape before him with obsequious predictability – except Elizabeth Bennet, of course.
Full disclosure: yes it’s 2013, but women still love a man who is in command. Silvio Berlusconi is about to shuffle down the aisle with an example of peachy pulchritude: without his power and money his only chance of mating would be with a terminally randy Nile crocodile.
Why does the modern feminist love a man who is in charge? Because the modern feminist wants to be in charge of the man who is in charge!
DARCY IS TALL. Height is a necessary requirement for a hero. He needs to look a long way down to his boots. Would Caesar have swept through Gaul if he and Danny DeVito had worn the same length toga? More chance of Charlie Sheen becoming a Cistercian monk. The historian Suetonius confirms that Caesar had the necessary height to complement his military ambitions.
(Rule: A lack of centimetres will only be tolerated in men who have the audacity to crown themselves emperor.)
DARCY IS DARK. Well, Austen, always economical with adjectives, never describes Darcy’s hair colour, but heroes almost never come with blond thatching. So I repeat: Darcy is dark.
DARCY IS HANDSOME. Girls want to do grown-up things with Mr Darcy. And he is the only man who should be licensed to wear meggings.
DARCY IS SMART. No woman wants to marry an idiot. Not even a rich idiot.
DARCY IS PROUD. Self-deprecation should remain the exclusive territory of spinster aunts and circus monkeys. Besides, in the end, Darcy is not too proud to confront his own faults.
DARCY IS RESERVED. “I feel I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers,” he tells Elizabeth. Not a chatterbox then. Sjoe, that’s a relief. Here’s hoping this modern compulsion to continually pull our pants down in public is a passing phase in our evolution to a higher species. Mr Darcy would have left the tweeting to Mrs Bennet, his unspeakable mother-in-law.
DARCY DOES NOT SEEK APPLAUSE. Darcy saves Elizabeth’s family from ruin but she only discovers this by chance, and certainly not from the gentleman himself. We like heroic anonymity in our male characters.
DARCY HAS WIT. Elizabeth ensnares him with her quick repartee, but he hits right back with sublime eloquence. Regency foreplay? Bring it on.
Austen had limited success in her lifetime. The prince regent asked her to dedicate Emma to him, but the royal presentation copy was sent down to the servants’ quarters. She died aged 41 in 1817, four years after Pride and Prejudice was published, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Her gravestone, visited by countless admirers each year, does not even mention that she was an author.
Be not alarmed though, 200 years on, our acquaintance with both Austen and Mr Darcy is well-established, and I think we can safely say that he will be around for as long as the English language.
Books brought to you in association with Exclusives.co.za