When people on the internet discuss Pride and Prejudice, they almost always talk about how horrible Darcy is to Lizzy, and how it teaches girls to think that men who treat them badly really secretly like them after all. Is this true, though? Let's look it over.
The first time we meet Mr. Darcy, we find him to be a rude person, and very little in the book changes our minds. He is horrible to Lizzy, and ever afterwards he is too, isn't he?
And he wasn't really all that rude to her in the first place, either.
Okay, sure, in her hearing, he called her "tolerable" and said she wasn't handsome enough to tempt, plus, she had clearly been passed over by other men, so, you know. Darcy just doesn't dance with women like that. Clearly she must be deficient.
This was a horrible thing to do to anyone. It was mean spirited, and a comment better made around the family fireplace, not in public.
What was Darcy's motivation in speaking about Elizabeth that way? I mean, it's really odd, isn't it, that he was calculatedly trying to offend someone? Couldn't he have just been indifferent? What happened?
I'll tell you what happened. When he walked into the party (like he was walking onto a yacht), people immediately began talking about his yearly income, his estate, who he was, etc. And remember the opening line of the book? How it's a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife? And regardless of the sentiments of either, he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of the daughter(s) in the neighborhood?
Well, this is what happens when Darcy shows up to the party (he had one eye in the mirror and he watched himself walk by). All of the families start talking over his fortune and property without any regards to the man who holds those things (and then all the girls dreamed that they'd be his partner, they'd be his partner). Darcy ends up getting mad, and then he gets spiteful. I'm not saying he reacted well, but I am saying that I understand where he's coming from. Rather than have people scrape and fawn over him for his fortune, he'd rather have them hate him for who he (thinks he) is. (He's so vain, he probably thought the party was about him...)
In fact, if there is one woman he is rude to throughout the whole of the book, it's Miss Bingley. When Lizzy stays at Netherfield while Jane is convalescing, Miss Bingley sits next to Darcy while he writes to his sister, and every remark she makes, he contradicts. She says he writes quickly. Darcy says that she's mistaken. She says she'd hate to write letters of business, and he agrees that she'd do it badly. When she asks him to compare his sister to her in height, he compares her to Lizzy. When they begin talking about what accomplishments are, and Caroline rattles off some absurd list that even she herself can't live up to, Darcy includes Lizzy amongst the accomplished by complimenting her reading of books.
Before this, though, we learn that Darcy has been admiring Lizzy. Most especially, her eyes. He even admits this to Caroline Bingley, and when she asks if he's going to propose, he puts her down again for supposing that admiration leads to love and love to marriage. Still, Caroline hopes Darcy will come to her side of things, which makes her comment after Lizzy tries to disabuse their notions of what true accomplishment is, that Lizzy is the type to put other women down to make herself look better. Then Darcy responds rather ironically about how he doesn't like any of the games women play, and Caroline can only be dissatisfied with his response because he sees right through her.
At the party where Darcy begins admiring Lizzy's eyes, Charlotte Lucas, Lizzy's BFF, comments on how he looks at her quite often, and Lizzy decides that it has to be that he sees a flaw, not her "fine eyes." Then she calls him on his eavesdropping and staring with her question about whether she acquitted herself to Col. Forster well. It was a teasing and cute thing to do, and I think Darcy may have taken it as flirting. I really think that if Wickham had not come to town, Lizzy would start seeing things through Charlotte's eyes, but she was already more than half prejudiced against him at that point, and Wickham's story about Darcy throwing him over sends Lizzy back firmly in the "Darcy is Scum" category she was in before.
Lizzy's reaction to Wickham's news is her undoing. She takes the word of a total stranger over a man she had spent a lot of time in company with, who may be proud, but is certainly honorable. She has spent so long saying unkind things about Darcy that she willingly hops on the bandwagon and continues to say unkind things, only now they're also untrue things.
After the Netherfield Ball, which was admittedly a disaster for the Bennet family, Darcy taps the last nail into his own coffin by removing the Bingleys from Netherfield for the winter, and Lizzy is happy to see him go, though she hurts for Jane.
In Kent, when Lizzy visits the new Mrs. Collins (Charlotte Lucas, as was), Charlotte continues to be convinced that Darcy is after Lizzy, and says that his visiting the area so quickly must be because Lizzy is also in town. Lizzy again shakes this off and is rude to Darcy again by putting him down to Col. Fitzwilliam. Lizzy attacks him with her comment, "I do not play this instrument as well as I would like, but I have thought that was my fault for not taking the time to practise." Darcy's response, "You have employed your time much better...no one admitted to the pleasure of hearing you could ever think anything wanting." is almost desperate. Surely if she just talked to him, she'd see that he can acquit himself in public well, if she can only get past his shyness. I shudder to think how much crueler Lizzy could have been had Lady Catherine not interrupted them.
Then there's Col. Fitzwilliam. He is surprised that Lizzy and Darcy are not close friends. He has heard a lot about Lizzy. He's clearly there to look Lizzy over and tell Darcy what he thinks. If only he could have shut up about Jane and Bingley, things might have turned out differently.
When Darcy proposes the first time, he insults Lizzy without meaning to. Indeed, he is convinced that Lizzy has been expecting his proposal, and if she ever took Charlotte's cautions seriously, she may have expected it. But that first meeting was something she could never get over, he hurt her vanity, and therefore he could never change to a kind, caring person in her eyes.
Incidentally, I loved this scene in the Kiera Knightly version, because she obviously got turned on by their battle of wits. It is so easy to see Lizzy as an intellectual lacking an outlet for her intelligence. Her heated argument with Darcy may very well be the first she's been able to have out loud in her life. I don't really think much of Knightly, other than to think that she needs to eat a damn sandwich already, and stop sucking her cheeks in my GOD woman, but I did love that scene.
Anyway, it's not until Lizzy goes full-frontal attack that Darcy finally stops holding back and full on lets her know that her mother and younger sisters and yes, even her father, are just horrible, horrible people. And they are. The fact that Darcy could even get past Lydia and Mrs. Bennet to see Lizzy at all is wonderful.
In the end, Darcy feels so badly about what he said (despite the fact that it was the truth) that he writes Lizzy a letter--an item that she could produce at any time to make people think they are engaged (writing letters was proof of engagement back then. See: Sensibility, Sense and)-- in order to apologize (slightly) and to make her understand how things really stood between him and Wickham. To Lizzy's credit, she HATES herself after reading the letter, but she still can't forgive him. Not for Jane and Bingley.
And so things may have ended, had not Lizzy gone to Darbyshire with her aunt and uncle. Suddenly, Lizzy is on the defensive, and she fully expects Darcy to be on the offensive. After all, that's what she'd do. When her aunt points out how fine Darcy acts, Lizzy admits to being bewildered by it herself, and is surprised at how kindly Darcy treats her family and finally starts to see that Darcy is maybe a very kind person that she misjudged. Yes, after the letter, she still viewed him antagonistically.
Seriously, if anything, this books shows boys that if a girl doesn't like him, all he has to do is roll over and play the good boy until she finally decides that maybe he isn't so bad after all.
Oh, and he has to bail her sister out of jail and find his future brother-in-law (a guy who slept with his sister and then split) a really good job.
So, taken on the whole, Lizzy is really the antagonist to Darcy. Unfortunately, Darcy is so lost in his own little selfish world that he misses a lot that happens between him and her. It's sort of a classic case of "Same Planet, Different Worlds".
What draws us to Darcy, then? Why do we like him so much?