Mr Darcy, the archetype of the brooding, aloof romantic hero who is famous the world over more than two hundred years since his inception. Clearly, Jane Austen wove magic into this character, so lasting and powerful has been his legacy.
But does the character of Mr Darcy stand as testament to Austen’s vivid and clever imagination, or is he in fact the embodiment of her social scrutinising? How far is Fitzwilliam Darcy a fictional character, and how much the representation of someone Jane Austen knew?
In her new book Through the Keyhole: Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House, Dr Susan Law puts forward the case that Austen’s inspiration for Darcy was the first Earl of Morley, John Parker. Based on letters, diaries and newspaper articles, Dr Law has found the Earl to be a logical contender. He was the husband of Frances, with whom Austen was close, and she spent time at their home in Plymouth while writing Pride and Prejudice. Apparently, the physical similarities between the two men were strong.
The Earl of Morley is the latest in a line of contenders for the title of ‘the true Mr Darcy’, which includes alleged lover Thomas Lefroy, and Dr Samuel Blackall, whom Jane met on holiday. Certainly, unless new evidence alights, none of the theories can be proven.
What do you think? Was one of the most beloved heroes in romantic literature a living, breathing man – or was he a product of the imagination of a very gifted writer? I would love to hear your thoughts.