Growing up, I began to have a particular distaste for chick-lit, or literature aimed primarily at women. My mother, discerning woman she is, enjoyed watching the A&E/BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. Child I was, I had no hope of grasping the complexities of character or story that Jane Austen’s work presented. It was only after I had to take a college test on English literature that I broke down and watched the Pride and Prejudice miniseries for the first time. Since then, I have watched it many times and have also frequently read the book, gaining insight into being a better man.
Pride and Prejudice fits well with the gentlemanly manners and etiquette we discuss on this site. With some wit, Jane Austen wrote, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The novel revolves around customary marriage and money during the Regency Era of Britain. Despite the snobbery that revolves around social classes, love and character win out in the end.
Mr. Darcy is the most interesting character in the story. He is, to be frank, the man that most women will compare their boyfriends and husbands to for eternity. He’s the essence of the romantic hero, but is a far deeper character. From his actions in the story we can draw several lessons for men to learn.
Here are 4 Gentlemanly Lessons from Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice:
He is Self-Aware
This may seem like an odd quality to attribute to Mr. Darcy. In the novel, pride is his blind spot. When reading the book, or watching his brilliant portrayal by Colin Firth in the film Pride & Prejudice, you will find a moment when Mr. Darcy acknowledges his awareness of his pride.
Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride – where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”
In the arrogance of the statement it is possible to miss the subtlety of the sentence. I have considered this quote frequently. When he refers to a superiority of mind, Mr. Darcy means an understanding of his place in the world. He is aware of himself, and who he is, as master of Pemberly, and 10,000 pounds per annum. This situation places him in a high station, with responsibilities and privileges greater than most men.
Self awareness does not entitle anyone to arrogance, but having a settled belief of who you are may at times rub others the wrong way. Confidence in your character, introversion, even quietness, can often mistake you as cold and uncaring by others. Learn to be aware not only of your qualities and faults, but also how they effect those around you.
He looks out for his friend
Elizabeth’s sister, Jane, and Mr. Darcy’s friend, Mr. Bingley, begin to fall in love through the first portion of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy, having the benefit of a detached view of the situation, sees the dangers to his friend in a alliance with a family as foolish and silly as the Bennet girls. He does his best to distance his friend from the Bennet family in London, and continues to prevent Mr. Bingley from accidentally meeting Jane when she visits the city.
When he proposes to Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy acknowledges his hypocrisy saying when she confronts him with his actions. “I have no wish of denying that I did every thing in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Towards him I have been kinder than towards myself.”
While this does nothing to endear Elizabeth to accept the proposal, it does reveal the depth of Mr. Darcy’s care for his friend.
Good friends are hard to come by, whenever you find one he should be as a brother. While few of us would intentionally do wrong by a friend, how frequently do we put their interests before our own?
He learns from criticism
When his proposal to Elizabeth is rejected, and she criticizes his arrogance and faults, he doesn’t ignore them. Instead, he honestly examines his behavior to see the truth in her words. Most importantly, he acts upon the reflection rather than ignoring it.
My object then, was to show you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to.”
Frequently, as a young man it is possible to believe you’ve reached the heights and see your faults and virtues honestly, but that’s not always the case. Others, friends and enemies, will point out faults we might not have seen from time to time. It can be easy to ignore them, discrediting their words because of their own faults or abilities. But those criticisms can be invaluable measures of how you are perceived and judged by the world.
He doesn’t take credit
Even after saving Elizabeth’s sister from disgrace, paying Mr. Wickham off to marry Lydia, Darcy doesn’t say anything of his involvement. He actively tries to hide his role in the situation from Elizabeth and her family, considering it a matter of honor.
For a person of skill or talent, it can genuinely be difficult to not take credit for your actions. Credit is tempting, allowing you to shine in the light of a hero, even if temporarily. The problem is, that in doing so you reduce the value of your actions, allowing the motives of your deeds to become questionable. More than once I have wished that I had let my good deeds remain a secret.
Mr. Darcy is most appealing on paper, or in a film. Fiction is more forgiving than reality. I’ve found that some of his lesser qualities are less charming to the opposite sex when demonstrated in real life. But the lessons above are real, in both fact and fiction. Becoming a better man isn’t easy, and it isn’t always romantic, but it is something to be proud of.