Over the past couple of weeks I have been so caught up in the PBS production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Sure, I read Austen in high school and college English classes--or maybe I just did the Cliff Notes. None were memorable enough to make me even want to see any of the Austen films or delve deeper into her writings. PBS's Pride and Prejudice has changed all that. The film has touched my heart because it reminds me that long ago I had my own Mr. Darcy.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, played by Colin Firth, is a man in conflict. From their first meeting he admires and eventually grows to love the beautiful and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle. This regard for her increases despite his distaste for her coarse, grasping mother, silly sisters, and weak father. Elizabeth is proud, but cleared-eyed when it comes to her family's shortcomings. She sees what they are doing to diminish the family's oh so important social status in an age when rank and reputation was everything. She warns her father that he must check the behavior of her younger sisters before lasting damage is done to the family. In this concern she is wise beyond her years. Sadly, her father's failures to rein in his daughters and challenge his wife almost doom the relationship between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet.
That relationship had a rocky beginning. Mr. Darcy was distant and proud in his interactions with Elizabeth, although he was impressed with her beauty, intelligence, and social conduct. Their exchanges were between equals. When Mr. Darcy could no longer keep quiet about his feelings and burst into the Bennet's home to propose to Elizabeth it was bad. He essentially told her that neither she nor her family was worth his attention, but he must marry her anyway. Miss Bennet, to her credit, told him to get lost and quit interfering with her family. . .
My Mr. Darcy was complicating my life over 40 years ago. I was 20 years old and a college sophomore when I met him. Like Austen's Darcy, Ed was a dark-haired, handsome man. He was no Colin Firth, but he did share some of Mr. Darcy's more maddening characteristics--distant, proud, judgmental. I, on the other hand, had a definite streak of Miss Bennet in me.
Ed and I were both English majors. He was a year ahead of me in college. We were in classes together, studied together and generally hung out for quite some time. We had great discussions and shared the same sarcastic wit. Neither of us was very easy with the whole dating ritual.
Our living arrangements complicated the relationship even more. Ed lived on campus during the week and went home every weekend--a weekend warrior--to a doting family of his mother and several sisters. I lived off campus with a young family, earning money for college expenses by being a mother's helper. I had a wonderful life, but it was hard to be a part of the college scene without staying on campus.
So, Ed and I attended classes together, helped each other write papers and eventually starting some half-hearted dating. The relationship was hard from the beginning. Both of us were shy and proud, unwilling to go out on a limb by revealing any true feelings that we had for each other. There would be weeks when we would be very distant--no calls, no after class chats. I knew that the interest was still there though. Remember how Mr. Darcy would stand by the window or sit across the room observing Elizabeth? Well, Ed did the same thing. I also worked at the circulating desk of the university library. Ed always chose to do his studying when I was working. He always sat where he could see my desk, always studying alone, taking a break when I did.
Our friends watched us in despair--we were so inept at the relationship even though it was obvious that there was a real attraction between us. This photo is from a 1965 surprise 20th birthday party arranged by my young family. My more socially adept friends, like David and Sharon, were responsible for getting Mr. Anti-social to the party. Unlike Mr Darcy, Ed even danced that night.
Unlike Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet, our relationship remained complicated, although long lasting. Ed graduated a year before me, leaving campus without promising to stay in touch. I was broken hearted but recovered. Life was good at the time. I was busy learning to be a good teacher and living on my own in Kentucky and Florida.
As happens so often, I did meet up with Ed again. We found ourselves together again in graduate English literature classes. I'd be lying if I said that this was anything but hard for me. However, by that time Ed was married--a mistake from the wedding day he said. . .but he had a daughter whom he adored. I remember that we had a cup of coffee and one of our long chats after class for old times sake, but that was it. Too little, too late.
Pride and Prejudice is a great love story with lessons for us all. Willingness to communicate, to set aside pride and act with compassion and grace brought Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet together in the end. Maybe if my Mr. Darcy and I had tried harder our story would have ended differently. . .
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