It seems that in London a 12 foot statue of Colin Firth now emerges from a lake in Hyde Park to commemorate a scene from the BBC mini-series adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
I cannot stop laughing.
The somewhat menacing statue of Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth, and posed in a scene that is not in the text of the novel, is clearly absurd. And because I greatly like both absurdism and Jane Austen, I rather adore this bizarre and unsightly homage to Pride and Prejudice, even though it seems more like it’s an homage to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which is cute, funny, and trendy. A good pulp read, particularly for the absurd juxtaposition of Austen and zombies. Do not expect anything like Austen’s wit, which was replaced almost entirely with ninjas.).
The reason I adore this statue is because the intentions behind it are so deeply good and the outward manifestations of those intentions are so deeply grotesque. The statue portrays Mr. Darcy instead of honoring the author by portraying the author. Why not a statue of Jane Austen? Not many writers get statues, and most of them are men. So why not make a statue of one of the most beloved and talented women writers? How cool would it be to visit a statue of Jane Austen? And if she is 12 feet high and standing in the middle of a lake ruling over all she surveys, so much the better. I’ll take it.
But it’s not a statue of Austen, it’s Mr. Darcy. So why make a statue of a character in the novel who isn’t the main character? Because remember, the main character of Pride and Prejudice is not Mr, Darcy; it’s Elizabeth Bennet. We, as readers, identify with Elizabeth, and we all fall in love with Mr. Darcy (if you are a straight man who takes issue with that statement, then you should expand your definition of love. And probably read more, too.). We follow Elizabeth, and we know her scorn and anger and hurt. We learn to admire and respect Mr. Darcy, and we chastise our Elizabeth-selves for our prejudice, just as our Mr. Darcy-selves learned to overcome our pride. We get lost in the language, in the nuances of human virtue and vanity, and in the compassion and wit of Austen’s narrative voice.
This is the magic of Jane Austen. This is the magic that the BBC television series tried to capture, and apparently did (I haven’t seen it. It’s on my list. Maybe a little higher now since this statue emerged.). And it’s the magic that is nestled into the heart of the giant Mr. Darcy in the lake. It’s not sexism or illiteracy or an excessive love of television and indolence that explains why this 12 foot statue of Colin Firth leers over Hyde Park. Because by walking in Elizabeth Bennet’s shoes, we are transformed, and Mr. Darcy is the catalyst for the transformation. And the rendering of Colin Firth as a soaking wet, vaguely confused, not-true-to-text Mr. Darcy is a display of the very vagaries of humanity that Austen sought to depict. When the BBC conducted a poll on the most memorable moments of its televised dramas, respondents chose Pride and Prejudice, specifically the moment when Mr. Darcy swam in the lake. The BBC chose to literally depict their favorite moment, regardless of expensive, aesthetics, or any sense of decorum. This poor, entreating golem of a Mr. Darcy showcases all of our vanities, our desires, our good intentions and misplaced gestures. It’s the perfect homage.
I think Jane Austen would appreciate it. And she would be laughing her ass off.