Not to brag, but I know why Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley wed himself unto Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. The true and absolute reason. ‘But Joye’, you ask, ‘short of setting the DeLorean for 1810, what more is there to know?’
In Pride and Prejudice, no bones are made about why Elizabeth marries Darcy. There was no ‘getting a job’ for a woman in her position. Somewhere in history, some clever jerk decided to link a woman’s ability to support herself with her moral character, no thanks to the sexual harassment and assault forced onto working women by said jerks. To salt the wound, supporting oneself also meant you were lacking as a woman—your inability to beguile a man into paying your bills was a failure on your part. Ergo, Elizabeth needed a man of means if she didn’t want to starve to death.
Elizabeth’s willingness to stay single rather than marry a morally bankrupt man is what makes her the heroine. She truly risked life and limb for her principles, and to this day it remains a mark of integrity in both fiction and real life. As P&P unfolds, we happily suspend disbelief when we learn that both Darcy’s moral and monetary ledgers are in the black—not to mention he’s tall and cute. While it’s obvious why Elizabeth chose him, a certain question began to haunt me—why does DARCY choose ELIZABETH?
In my opinion, Colin Firth scored as Darcy because he humanized him. In his letter to Elizabeth, Darcy mentions that his father died five years before. We know Darcy is somewhere in his late 20’s, intelligent and capable, well-positioned in society—by all appearances living a charmed life. But for the first–and in my opinion only–time, Colin Firth showed the man behind the scowl. There he was, fresh out of university, ready to see what life had to offer when his father dies. Forget the tour of Europe that was every young gentleman’s due—Darcy had to go home and raise his sister. He’s now the big boss, the final say. Pemberley and all of its operations rest on his shoulders and he’s what, 23? He has estate managers, his housekeeper, and at least two solicitors. But the success of Pemberley and its tenant farms and tide cottages now depend on this awfully young man. By the time we meet Darcy, he’s had 5 years to get used to the change, but he’s still pretty young.
Throughout his performance, Colin Firth subtly and endearingly gives Darcy an air of ‘I’m doing the best I can y’all’. A great scene in the film that’s not in the book is when Darcy gets out his frustrations in a fencing exercise. He mutters ‘I shall conquer this. I shall!’ The cut to Elizabeth taking her first steps into Derbyshire perfectly demonstrate her limber little entrance into Darcy’s affections. But given that she has a genuinely unsuitable family, what could realistically put Elizabeth within marital range?
By all outward appearances, Darcy wants for nothing. He’s at the top of Regency England’s food chain, which means he can demand the best of the best. But what about Darcy the man? His parents are dead and his aunt is a shark, which leaves a younger sister for family. Georgiana is a lovely girl, but she is just that – a girl. Darcy is more than her brother, he’s her legal guardian. He’s pretty much her father, so add that to his list of responsibilities. His dearest friend is Mr. Bingley, who’s a great guy but too easily influenced by others. Bingley’s life would be a hot mess if Darcy didn’t happen to be a good person. On any given day, Darcy is running a massive estate, raising his sister, and keeping his best mate from disaster. Talk about a mental load.
Meanwhile back at Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet is desperate to marry off her daughters, but remains oblivious to how much she’s in her own way. Mr. Bennet doesn’t care enough about his daughters’ situation, doing what we call the bare minimum. His own position is safe, which lends to his de-prioritizing a future in which he will have no part. He takes life as he finds it, leaving the heavy work to his woefully underqualified wife. Jane wants to make everyone happy, operating as best she can within her position. Mary has retreated into academia, while Kitty and Lydia are determined to be someone else’s problem. And that someone is Elizabeth.
Barely an adult herself, Elizabeth has the burden of checking her sisters’ behavior without the authority to control it. Kitty and Lydia’s actions affect her own marital prospects, which are truly life-or-death for a Regency gentlewoman. It is just as important for Elizabeth to secure a husband for herself and her sisters as it is for Darcy to keep Pemberley in the black. The fact that she turns down his first proposal shows him that she is not enslaved to riches, that she places a higher value on her mental and emotional health. Nor will she sacrifice the well-being of herself or others for the sake of her own comfort. Which makes her, in Darcy’s eyes, the perfect CEO.
Elizabeth is practical, forthright, caring and fair. George Wickham may have deceived her, but the fact that his social rank does not prejudice her couldn’t have escaped Darcy’s notice. When you run an estate like Pemberley, you don’t serve its interests by marrying someone like Caroline Bingley. People of good and bad character show up in every stratum of society. How long would he hold on to his loyal staff if his wife were a heartless snob? And if he chose sickly Anne de Bourgh, she would be one more load to carry. And since Darcy would be tasked with providing an heir, poor Anne was an unlikely prospect. With Elizabeth and Darcy nearly overwhelmed with their respective duties, they come to discover they have come to each other’s rescue. Is–is that–another adult in the room? Glory be, it is!
And in this light, it’s no wonder Darcy is willing to tolerate Elizabeth’s family. If he can keep the visits down to twice a year, he will have bagged himself an exceptionally capable partner. And while Mrs. Bennet isn’t the ideal mother-in-law, literally anyone else is better than Lady Catherine.