Hi readers!! I’m so excited to welcome back Sophie Turner to Austenesque Reviews today! Sophie, is the lovely author behind the Constant Love series, a series of wonderful Pride and Prejudice sequels. But today Sophie is here to talk about her newest release, which is actually a variation! Sophie has prepared a very special and thoughtful post about her characterization of Mr. Darcy. We hope you enjoy!
Thank you so much for hosting me again here, Meredith! I always love visiting Austenesque Reviews, and I’m excited to tell readers more about the thoughts behind some of the characterizations in my latest book, Mistress: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, with Parts Not Suitable for Those Who Have Not Reached Their Majority.
I often look up words during my editing process to ensure that they’re actually period appropriate. Sometimes words that I would have thought were more modern surprise me and go back to the 14th or 15th century. Sometimes, I’m surprised to learn that words I would have thought in use during the Regency did not come in until much later.
One of the biggest surprises was “empathy.” which Merriam-Webster lists as having a first known use of 1909. This was a bit of a blow to me: ever since I’d learned the difference between sympathy and empathy, I’d always considered it important to distinguish between them, but now I had to use sympathy to encompass both.
But since we’re in the modern world and the word has been invented, it’s the concept of empathy I want to talk about, and how it applies to the two men who have the greatest influence over Elizabeth’s life in Mistress. I suppose I should say three men have a strong influence over her life, for it’s Mr. Bennet’s untimely death that first drives the plot.
The first of the two men I primarily want to talk about, though, is Mr. Collins, who times his proposal to Elizabeth after her father’s death in such a way that she cannot help but accept, for to do anything otherwise might force her family into genteel destitution. The timing is so bad that it shows a shocking lack of empathy, and yet it felt entirely in-character, for Collins.
I had a realization about Mr. Collins a while back, that came from statements like this:
“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world of your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding, but permit me to say that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom—provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.”
“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.”
The realization I had is that: he is mansplaining, to Elizabeth. Setting aside the somewhat mind-boggling notion that Jane Austen managed to capture this phenomenon long before it became a word (first known use, circa 2008), it was this Collins, the mansplaining Collins, the Collins with no empathy, that was Elizabeth’s first husband in Mistress.
I think we more commonly tend to think of Collins as ridiculous – after all, Elizabeth nearly laughs at him, during his proposal. I think this opinion has also been reinforced by David Bamber’s portrayal of him in the miniseries. But Collins is also a man who’s very full of himself, who has a high notion of his self-importance, and this is even before he inherits Longbourn.
It was very possible, I thought, that this Collins, when faced with his own incompetence at running his estate, and – unfortunately and critically – when married to a woman who challenges him and is far more intelligent than him, would react in a defensive manner. A more humble man might listen to his wife’s advice, but Collins felt threatened by her, and instead restricted her role.
But what about Charlotte, you ask? She seemed to manage matters well enough with him. Ah, yes, but Charlotte is a rather shrewd operator. She knows what she’s getting herself into, and I think she came prepared to “manage up,” as we would say in the workforce (for in that time period, Collins was the “CEO” of his household) from day one of her marriage. In Mistress, Charlotte gets an unacknowledged shout-out, in this exchange between Elizabeth and Darcy:
“I understand yours was not a happy marriage,” he said, quietly.
“In that, I bore some fault, too. Someone less headstrong than myself might have attempted persuasion, or even manipulation, to bring about her wishes, but I hated that Mr. Collins would not listen to me, and the more I argued with him, the more he diminished my role.”
Mr. Bennet knows this, about his daughter. We can see why he did not want her to marry Collins when he expresses similar concern in Pride and Prejudice, over her intent to marry Mr. Darcy:
“…I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…”
But in Mistress, Mr. Bennet is gone, and Elizabeth has no other choice. This is all developed in the prologue, and when the first chapter begins, Elizabeth and Darcy are about to meet again, for I had no more interest in writing a detailed rendition of an Elizabeth/Collins marriage than readers would in reading it!
Elizabeth, almost completely out of mourning, is deeply relieved to be widowed, and still affected by all that happened in her marriage. On top of the emotional abuse of never having her mind respected, there is the physical aspect of the marriage bed. I think the sexual aspect of Collins’s treatment of Elizabeth has been the thing that has stood out most strongly to readers – and indeed it creates one of the larger obstacles in the story – and I think it’s all the more awful for Elizabeth because it’s the more physical manifestation of Collins’s dominance over her will. I’ve read accounts of actual marriages during this era, and their marriage was by no means abnormal, as horrifying as it is to think about it. Legally, married women were powerless, and some men treated them exactly as such.
It’s time, thankfully, to move on to the second man I want to talk about: Mr. Darcy, of course. Hold up, everyone probably still has that picture of Mr. Collins in their head, don’t they?
All right, everybody good? Let’s move on. I’ve theorized before that Darcy is a highly sensitive introvert, and people who are such often tend to be very strong empaths, as well. I think you can see some evidence of this in Pride and Prejudice. I think particularly of Darcy encountering Elizabeth just after she’s read the news of Lydia’s flight with Wickham:
She burst into tears as she alluded to it, and for a few minutes could not speak another word. Darcy, in wretched suspense, could only say something indistinctly of his concern, and observe her in compassionate silence.
It’s one of my favorite scenes in the miniseries, and I think Colin Firth absolutely nailed this empathetic Darcy. It is, however, what Mr. Darcy does next that I think truly shows this empathetic nature: he goes through a great deal of trouble and expense to fix the situation with Lydia. He does this all for the woman who spurned his proposal, and with no guarantees that she will change her mind. Indeed, he even takes steps to prevent her learning about it, so his actions are not motivated by an attempt to influence her feelings. They are, I think, rooted in empathy: he cannot stand to think of Elizabeth suffering.
This is a theory that I went with strongly for Mistress. Because Elizabeth, in Mistress, really needs an empath, someone who understands how troubled she is by everything she’s been through, and wants to be there for her.
Darcy has spent the years of Elizabeth’s marriage and early widowhood devastated over having lost the chance at her hand, and growing increasingly deeper in love with the woman he’s lost. He’s exceedingly glad to have this second chance, but he also intends to go about things cautiously, and his caution increases when he comes to better understand what Elizabeth has been through, and how it has affected her.
I also had a realization about Mr. Darcy, and it came in the course of writing this story. If asked to say why he’s such a great romantic hero, I think most people would respond that it’s because he heard some pretty substantial criticism, recognized the truth in it, and sought to improve himself. I do not discount the importance of this, but I think Darcy is attractive to modern readers because he sees a strong-minded, intelligent woman and finds her extremely attractive. Darcy is appealing to us because he sees the worth in Elizabeth, even if at first he cannot see past her connexions.
You can see both this and his empathy at work in the brief excerpt below:
It had long since been clear that this painstakingly slow courtship could not be completed by the time the party at Netherfield broke up, and he had been tremendously glad to have Elizabeth agree to join in a house party at Pemberley. That he would now need to hold a house party at Pemberley, to determine the acquaintances he should invite beyond the woman he wanted to be mistress of the house – and then play host to them for some weeks – was a further draining thought, and so he returned his mind to Elizabeth.
What she had said about her half-mourning being complete – had that been meant for him?
Or had it simply been a statement meant to put such a terrible time behind her, one it had clearly pained her to speak about? She had confirmed, when they spoke in the garden, those things he had already suspected about her marriage, and he had ached for her. He did not understand how a man could be married to such a woman without fully appreciating her, how Collins could attempt to suppress such a lively mind rather than delighting in it, and these thoughts had turned his sentiments from ache to anger, although he had taken care to hide this emotion from Elizabeth.
Darcy had hated that propriety dictated he call her Mrs. Collins even in that time, that her very name must have been a reminder of all that pained her. He prayed she would change it to Darcy, hopefully before the year was out, and he was glad she had been willing to speak to him of her marriage, even just a little, for it indicated a new openness between them, one he hoped to build on when she came to Pemberley.
Oh – Elizabeth! He caught sight of her in the entrance-hall, leading her mother and sisters, something Mrs. Bennet seemed greatly displeased by. Elizabeth looked glorious, though, finally wearing white, delicately embroidered white muslin that became her better than anything else possibly could have done. Darcy emitted a ragged, shaky breath, and thought of the day when he hoped to hold the figure in that dress and kiss her as thoroughly as he had always wished to kiss her.
Elizabeth may not yet know it (she has, indeed, vowed never to marry again), but she needs someone who aches for her. Not just with romantic longing, although that is certainly there in Darcy, too, but in the manner described in the excerpt. In the empathetic manner, the manner of a man who knows he loves Elizabeth so deeply that he will do anything he can to further her safety, security, and happiness, regardless of whether she will marry him. And that is why both of these men are key to the story: as horrible as this version of Mr. Collins was, I found the damage he did brought out the very best in Mr. Darcy.
Connect with Sophie
Today Sophie brings 2 copies of her new release, Mistress: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, with Parts Not Suitable for Those Who Have Not Reached Their Majority for me to give away in conjunction with her visit and my review of Mistress (which will be posted on Friday). (Paperback or ebook for North America or Europe. Ebook for all other countries.)
To enter this giveaway, leave a question, a comment, or some love for Sophie below!
- This giveaway is open worldwide (with some shipping restrictions). Thank you, Sophie!
- This giveaway ends April 26th!
~~ Want to double your chances? Come back on Friday and check out my review and leave another comment! ~~