Question posed a while back was: who’s your preference, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, or Mr. John Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South?
Thank you to the 44 voters, the results are perhaps not that surprising, considering I’d say the majority of the readers of this blog (love you all!) are fans of Richard Armitage. On the other hand, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, he was the first introduction I had to the wonderful world of period drama, and my first cravat crush. (The 2005 version of P&P just doesn’t work for me at all. Colin Firth is and always will be the perfect Darcy.)
Why the comparison? If you’ve not read the book, nor seen the 2004 BBC adaptation, you won’t know just how similar the two stories are in many ways. Both are about two proud men and women, and both are prejudiced against one another. Darcy because Lizzie is of a lower status in society than him, and the other way around; Thornton because Margaret is a Southerner who hasn’t got a clue about the runnings of a mill, and Thornton in turn is of course a Northerner who obviously isn’t as cultured and refined as they are in the South.
Both stories have the men proposing to the women prematurely. He has already realised how besotted with the female protagonist he is, but she has not yet fallen for her male protagonist’s charms yet, and completely snubs him in a scene that you can’t but call cringeworthy. It’s close to physical pain to see them propose when you just know she’s going to turn on him and tell him to – in polite, 19th Century terms – eff off.
Then both stories have a point where the male protagonist ends up helping their bride-to-eventually-be with something only they can help with, upon which she realises maybe he’s not so bad after all and finally realises she’s madly in love with him. When he tries to propose to her again, for our male protagonist is not one to give up, she consents heartily, and then they presumably live happily ever after. Awww. <3
There are also notable differences. Darcy is a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth (not quite sure that’s the correct expression in English, but it’ll do) – he’s wealthy, upper class and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Thornton comes from a completely different background – he wasn’t privileged, his father killed himself after some speculations failed, and he’s had to struggle hard to get where he is now, so that today, he’s fairly well off, but he’s not on par with Darcy. There’s no extravagant family mansion and he does have to work for a living. He’s also a much more interesting character.
P&P was, like I’ve already stated, my first formal introduction to period drama. While I had read and seen things in period costume before, it was the first time I realised that wow, I really like this, and “I want a Mr. Darcy too!” You know the drill. Since then, especially now in more recent times, when I’ve been role-playing, taking courses in creative writing and started to notice things a bit more, and definitely also since reading the Brontës; I’ve realised that while I love Jane Austen’s works, they do leave a bit to be desired.
Charlotte Brontë thought Jane Austen was too restrained, a bit dull, because all her characters ever do is have polite conversation with one another. There’s no real feeling there. Of course, they were from different levels in society, and the one Jane Austen belonged to was that of a more upper middle class one, where there were lots of society balls and emphasis on making a good match and all that. That was her world, it’s what she knew. The Brontës, being a parson’s daughters in a small town in Yorkshire, they saw a different side of society, one that was more passionate, because they didn’t have the same restraints on them to conform with society, or at least not in the same way. They were poorer, there were not the same pretentions. Anyway, that’s why we can say that the Brontës wrote more passionate love stories, because they were free to do so. Such were their lives.
And it’s true. I do find the Brontë sisters characters more three-dimensional. They aren’t just posh blokes with a grudge on a former friend who tried to seduce their little sisters – they have a past, they have conflicted characters. Elizabeth Gaskell was a good friend and biographer of Charlotte Brontë, and she’s taken a leaf from that woman’s book, so to speak. Thornton has a life separately to Margaret, which you can’t really say for Darcy. If he wasn’t in love with Lizzie, who’d be be? A toff with a grudge on a former friend who tried to seduce his little sister. That’s all, basically. And where’s the fun in that?
That’s why I voted for John Thornton, the handsomest mill-owner in Milton, and my guess is, so did you. Unless you voted for him just because Richard Armitage is a dish, but if that’s the case, hey – I don’t blame you.