"Looking for my Darcy in a world full of Wickhams." That phrase caught my eye from the front of my friend's t-shirt. I chuckled. And I winced. As a fan of Pride and Prejudice, I got the meaning right away. So few good men, so many jerks. Ah, if only it were that simple. Indeed, the honorable men are often outshone by the dashing cads. But the clever creator of the t-shirt captured only a slice of Miss Austen's razor wit.
I wonder if Austen were still alive if she would insist on an equally pithy version for men. Something like "Looking for a Lizzy who won't end up nagging like her mother."
It's tempting to respond to the unsavory traits of Wickham, Lydia, Mrs. Bennett, and Mr. Collins with relief: Thank goodness I'm not like them! But often I find myself sounding too much like the complaining Mrs. Bennett, the frivolous, self-indulgent Lydia, or the detached Mr. Bennett. There are no flawless people--in Jane Austen's books, or in real life. Her brilliance was her ability to create characters who were more like us than we like to admit.
Our present entertainment culture stereotypes men as jerks and women as tough, smart, and enviable. Austen's categories were different, her perspective more biblical, notwithstanding the feminized versions of her works so common today. In 8 Women of Faith, Dr. Michael Haykin provides historical background on Austen's Christian beliefs that are rarely reflected in adaptations of her work or stories about her life.
A devout woman, Austen knew the fight we must all fight against our dark impulses. There were no all bad or all good characters. For Lizzy, it was her battle with prejudice. For Mr. Darcy, it was pride. Neither was good from the start.
Two hundred years after her death, I'm glad her books are still in print and as popular as ever.
*Though today is the last day of the month that marks the 200th anniversary of her death, we didn't want to miss the opportunity to spotlight Harrison's illustration of Jane Austen. (If you're interested in a full-size print, please visit FamilyMade.com.)
The quotes concealed in Austen's hat, hair, and cheek are:
"I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine." Pride and Prejudice
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good wife." Pride and Prejudice
"I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control." Emma