Is Mr. Darcy a Feminist?

by Jane Mandley

In all my younger years of loving Jane Austen, I have never doubted my equal—if not greater—love of Mr. Darcy. Then a critical feminist lens was adopted through my undergraduate years and I found myself swimming in a sea of literary theory and social critiques in academia. While having previously read five of the six completed novels cover to cover, most of my more recent Austen-indulgences came in the form of the films, and I began to question whether embracing period-romances was backtracking in my current feminist world—that is, one seeking for social, employment, political, etc. equality with men. Elizabeth Bennet, there can be no doubt, is the most celebrated of all of Austen’s heroines for her forward ways of thinking, speaking, and behaving that reinforce ideals of our modern woman who should be free to do as she pleases. But in the end of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth “succumbs” to traditional marriage. With a historical perspective of the reality that women’s financial security rested solely on men in Austen’s day, a modern, feminist audience cannot blame Elizabeth for making due with what her world has to offer. However, her choice of husband can still be critiqued. Is Mr. Darcy truly worthy of such a woman as Elizabeth?—or in other words, is Mr. Darcy all he’s cracked up to be? Through a close reading of feminist attitudes toward women in the novel, Darcy proves to not only become a progressive husband by the end, but solidifies this non-traditional treatment of wives and marriage by his actions and statements throughout the entire novel.

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