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When did Darcy fall in love?

DARCY SAYS he can't tell when he fell in love: "'I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun'" (380). If he cannot tell, then how can we? Well, we have an advantage over him; we have the whole text of his courtship everlastingly before us, which he just then does not. By examining his encounters with Elizabeth from the start, we can perhaps fix on the hour and the spot and the words.

"'She is tolerable,'" he says at their first meeting, "'but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.'" He rejects her, but the rejection seems to have been something of an effort. He has looked at her "till catching her eye, he withdrew his own" (12). Now which eye was looking at which eye?--apparently each at the other. Patricia Meyer Spacks says of this passage, "He catches her eye before he enunciates his rejection, as if he wants her to pay attention. Is this a kind of flirtation?" (41). Elizabeth we know has a lively and amused eye, enough perhaps to force Darcy to dampen any possible influence from her. So here is a rejection full of promise.

At their next meeting, our narrator favors us with a more extended reaction:
   Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had
   looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next
   met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made
   it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good
   feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered
   uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark
   eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying.
   Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of
   perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her
   figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that
   her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught
   by their easy playfulness. (23)

Darcy has gone some distance since their first meeting, but that "mortifying" suggests a continuing effort to keep his attraction under control. Nevertheless he eavesdrops on her conversation with Colonel Forster, till Elizabeth challenges him: "'Did not you think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teazing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?'" (24). Darcy responds gallantly; and then Miss Lucas coaxes Elizabeth to play the pianoforte.

During the same evening, Sir William Lucas's praise of dancing brings out a characteristically frosty response from Darcy: "'Every savage can dance'" (25). Sir William's attempt to bring Darcy and Elizabeth together on the dance floor fails: "'Indeed, Sir,'" says Elizabeth, "'I have not the least intention of dancing.--I entreat you not to suppose that I moved this way in order to beg for a partner'" (26). Darcy sees his duty and asks her "with grave propriety" to dance, but she can't be induced: "Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman, and he was thinking of her with some complacency ..." (26-27). For "arch" the OED offers us "slyly saucy, pleasantly mischievous"; for "complacency," "tranquil satisfaction" and "contented acquiescence." Elizabeth's sly rejection has pleased him. Is this man in love? Not yet. Soon, however, he is forced to admit to Miss Bingley that he has been admiring "'a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman'" and owns that they were the eyes of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. As she tauntingly congratulates him on what must be his coming marriage and his "'charming mother-in-law'" to be, he listens "with perfect indifference" (27). He can take her raillery with composure. Safe, or is he?

Jane's recovery from a cold at Netherfield, leading to Elizabeth's visit to nurse her, affords many opportunities for exchanges between all the young people. Miss Bingley ridicules Elizabeth's muddy appearance and asks Darcy if the adventure has affected his admiration of her fine eyes. "'Not at all,'" he says; "'they were brightened by the exercise'" (36). A later direct encounter between Darcy and Elizabeth has to do with the necessary accomplishments of ladies. When Darcy agrees with Miss Bingley over a dizzying list and adds to it "'extensive reading,'" Elizabeth responds, "'I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. ! rather wonder at your knowing any'" (39). This exchange Elizabeth seems to have won. Another exchange between them has to do with poetry as the food of love. For Elizabeth, if the inclination between a couple is a slight, thin one, she says she is convinced "'that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.'" To this remark "Darcy only smiled" (45). He seems to be allowing her the last word.

The next day brings a discussion on the contrasting epistolary styles of Darcy and Bingley, who says his ideas flow so rapidly his letters "'sometimes convey no ideas at all.'" Elizabeth says, "'Your humility, Mr. Bingley, ... must disarm reproof.'" Darcy does not seem to like her praise of his friend--is this a sign of jealousy? "'Nothing is more deceitful,'" he says in a remark close to anger, "'than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'" (48).

Later Darcy, in an attempt to goad Elizabeth, says, as they listen to Miss Bingley playing a lively Scottish air, "'Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?'" When Elizabeth does not reply and he repeats his question, Elizabeth has a brilliant rejoinder: "'Oh!'" she says, "'I heard you before; but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say "Yes," that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you, that I do not want to dance a reel at all--and now despise me if you dare.'" Darcy is squelched: "'Indeed I do not dare'" (52). At this point our narrator favors us with an assessment of just how far Darcy has gone toward falling in love:
   Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his
   gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her
   manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and
   Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He
   really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her
   connections, he should be in some danger. (52)

The next day Elizabeth encounters Darcy with two ladies of their party in a path that admits only three. When Darcy offers to go into another avenue to accommodate her, Elizabeth laughingly answers, "'No, no; stay where you are.--You are charmingly group'd, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good bye'" (53). She runs gaily off, a spirit so clearly free of any attempt at flirtation as very likely to arouse in Darcy a desire of closer intimacy.

A later conversation has to do with whether Darcy can be laughed at. If not, Elizabeth would be disappointed for she says she dearly loves a laugh. As Darcy discusses his character, he provides Elizabeth with several attempts to put him down. She seems to have learned from her father what her mother has called his "'set downs'" (13). Darcy says he has tried to avoid such follies as expose one to ridicule, but admits to pride, when regulated by a superior mind. Bingley now asks the result of Elizabeth's examination of Darcy. "'I am perfectly convinced by it,'" she says, "'that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise'" (57). Not satisfied with this "set down," Darcy goes on in self-justification, getting himself in further trouble. He admits his temper is resentful: "'My good opinion once lost is lost forever'"--giving Elizabeth an opportunity for a terminal "set down": "'That is a failing indeed! ... Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well.--I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me."" Darcy says that there is in every disposition a tendency to "'some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.'" And this little exchange closes with a colloquy indicating at least that these interlocutors are equal to each other:

'And your defect is a propensity to hate every body."

'And yours," he replied with a smile, "is wilfully to misunderstand them." (58)

That smile shows us that Darcy has not resented being challenged or even insuited, has enjoyed the sparring. But when Elizabeth and Jane are next day leaving Netherfield, Darcy is relieved: "Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked" (59). That man is still resisting.

Elizabeth's attention is now for some time directed at other gentlemen-willingly at Mr. Wickham and unwillingly at Mr. Collins. At the Netherfield ball, however, she cannot avoid Darcy, who asks her to dance. As they face each other, she twits him about the need for a little conversation on the dance floor, but she admits that for some it is desirable to have conversation so arranged as to permit as little talk as possible. Darcy asks if she is consulting her own feelings or trying to gratify his. "'Both,'" says Elizabeth, "'for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds.--We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb'" (91). Darcy realizes that this characterization must apply to him, though certainly not to her. She again offers something of an insult, which he seems agreeably to accept. In her remark, however, she has implied an equivalence in their characters, which would be welcome to him, however inapplicable to her. From another lady, this statement of equivalence might well be regarded as a flirtation, and might even be taken so by Darcy's receptiveness.

Later in the dance Elizabeth questions him on his resentment, which, as she recalls he said, once created is unappeasable. "'You are,'" she says, "'very cautious ... as to its being created.'" "'And,'" she continues, "'never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?'" Darcy does not realize she is pressing him on his attitude toward Wickham, which she erroneously considers unfair; but he is nevertheless suspicious: "'May I ask to what these questions tend?'" She of course cannot just now reveal all she suspects of his ill treatment of Wickham, and puts him off with an ambiguous answer: "'I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly'" (93). As Darcy very properly urges her not to sketch his character "'at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either,'" she responds, "'But if I do not take your likeness now, I may never have another opportunity'" (94). He responds coldly; her remark could imply, politely, that she may not have the pleasure of seeing him very often--which would be for Darcy no doubt a favorable interpretation. But it also could suggest she has no desire to see him again, apparently Darcy's not so favorable interpretation.

After Elizabeth's rejection of Mr. Collins, after Charlotte's acceptance of him, after Elizabeth's visit to the happy nest of Mr. and Mrs. Collins, Darcy once more appears on the scene, to the surprise of Charlotte: "'I may thank you, Eliza, for this piece of civility. Mr. Darcy would never have come so soon to wait upon me'" (170). Perhaps she recalls observing Darcy's attentions to Elizabeth and how she cautioned her not to "allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man of ten times his consequence" (90). But on this first encounter Darcy is reserved, only admitting, at Elizabeth's goading, that he has not seen her sister during her three-month stay in London.

The next encounter, in Lady Catherine's drawing room, is more promising. Elizabeth plays the pianoforte for Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy's cousin, while Darcy stations himself "so as to command a full view of the fair performer's countenance" (174). Is he already half in love? Elizabeth is at her brightest and wittiest. At a pause in the music she tells Darcy she will not be frightened by him, though that is, she says, what he intends. He says she can't seriously think that, and he knows she sometimes professes opinions that are not in fact her own. Elizabeth pretends to be disturbed that Darcy will present a very unpretty character of her and threatens to retaliate with a comparable one of him. Darcy smilingly says he is not afraid of her, and she promises to tell "'something very dreadful'"--that he once danced only four dances "'though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner'" (175). She has him on the defensive: "'I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party,'" he says with his usual frostiness. Elizabeth will not let that pass, points out that people can be introduced in a ball room, and turns her attention to Colonel Fitzwilliam, asking for his orders on her fingers. Darcy interrupts; he intrudes on the exchange between Elizabeth and his cousin: "'I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.'" Elizabeth will not let that pass either. Why cannot he, "'a man of sense and education'"--however she is putting him down, a compliment--"'recommend himself to strangers?'" Colonel Fitzwilliam says it's because he will not give himself the trouble. Darcy, full of self-justification, says, "'I certainly have not the talent which some people possess ... of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch the tone of their conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done'" (175).

Elizabeth has a brilliant and irresistible rejoinder. "'My fingers,'" she says, "'do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault--because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution'" (175).

Here is, I believe, the hour and the spot and the word--especially the word: Darcy has successfully resisted Elizabeth's beauty, not now her words. But it is important to consider the implications and the significance of these words, and Darcy's response to them. For David Shapard tells us, "This is one of the most cryptic and subtle passages in the book." Elizabeth blames herself: "she admitted there to be something lacking in her piano playing and attributed it to her failure to practice enough, with an implied analogy to his failure to practice the art of sociable conversation" (323). Elizabeth seems to say, if I practiced the piano more, I would be more accomplished; if you practiced the art of conversation more, you would not need to apologize for your inability at conversation. Darcy, if he chose to disagree with her, might say: I reject your analogy. Your ability at the piano and mine at conversation are not comparable. If he chose to agree, he might say: You are right; if I practiced the art of conversation more I might be as skillful at conversation as you might be in your playing if you practiced the piano more.

But Darcy has an odd and apparently skewed response. "'You are perfectly right,'" he says, so far to the good. But he continues, "'You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you, can think any thing wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers'" (176). He seems to have missed that she said her performance was wanting. And he is responding as if she had said, which she certainly had not: I am so skillful at playing the piano and I urge you to attempt a similar skill in conversation-for select company. We both can perform well for listeners like ourselves. As Mr. Shapard says, "Darcy is misinterpreting Elizabeth's previous words" (323). Elizabeth has separated herself from Darcy. She has said, I know it's my fault I don't play better; what's your excuse for not conversing better? Darcy interprets her response as if she meant to equate them: "We neither of us." His misinterpretation (unless we accuse our beloved author of a mistake) is a sign he has already joined himself with Elizabeth.

"Here they were interrupted by Lady Catherine" (176). But the deed has been done. Elizabeth at the keyboard is irresistible, and Darcy is irretrievably in love. In his misinterpretation he confesses he wants to be closer to Elizabeth. Another proof? In a couple of days he proposes.


Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUR 196,5.

Shapard, David M., ed. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. New York: Random, 2007.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer, ed. Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2010.


Leo Rockas is an emeritus professor of the Unversity of Hartford. He is the author of Mice Make War, Dick Finds God, the narrative adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan, and Bunbury, a sequel to The Importance of Being Earnest.
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Title Annotation:Miscellany; Fitzwilliam Darcy of 'Pride and Prejudice'
Author:Rockas, Leo
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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