Democracy Dies in Darkness

ComPost | Opinion

Leave Mr. Darcy alone

By Alexandra Petri

February 9, 2017 at 7:44 PM

Actor Colin Firth and his wife Livia Giuggioli arrive at the Academy Awards in 2012. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

This does not matter, obviously.

On Thursday, a new study emerged from the woodwork, like a rat, purporting to have the world's first "historically accurate" picture of Mr. Darcy. This study announced that he had a stoop, a narrow chest (nice muscular thighs, though), a small mouth, and probably white hair. In short, he looked nothing like Colin Firth. Also, he was short.

Great.

People Who Make Studies, look at the world around you and ask yourself: Is this the news we need? Maybe it is the news we deserve, but is it the news we need? "Here," these studies say, "let us kick you, world, while you are down. Do not go to your chamber to cloister yourself away with thoughts of a fictional 18th-century man with a broad chest and strong chin who will tell you that things are all right. He had, at BEST, a pale oval face, and his chin was nothing to write home about."

I guess, in a larger sense, it is a good thing to take every opportunity of pointing out that the past was a terrible place and everyone there was shorter and uglier than we would like, but — come on.

First, it turns out Atticus Finch is a terrible racist, and now Mr. Darcy appears to be the Before picture in an ad for liver supplements. Soon there will be no fictional heart-throbs left. Even the dimensions of Moby Dick will prove to be greatly exaggerated.

Next, some "study" will say that Jean Valjean was not a muscle-bound hunk who could lift carts and parkour down walls, or that Romeo had terrible breath and was full of black bile, or that the Great Gatsby was mediocre, at BEST, and his real name was James Gatz, or that Mr. Rochester had another WIFE locked in his attic? Look, many fictional heart-throbs do not hold up on a second reading.

Still, I thought the whole point of fiction was that you could picture the people however you wanted. That is why Jane Austen did not specify how Mr. Darcy looked, other than that he was attractive and appeared to have money. Jane Austen was right to do so.

It is one thing for people to go through history announcing that all the people in it were much less sexy and much more morally ambiguous than anyone wanted them to be. That is just history.

But fiction offers us people who are better and less changeable than reality. Sometimes, anyway. So I wish these authors of studies would stop it and leave us our fictional heroes. They are the only kind that we can count on.


Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences."

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