One of the best-loved heroes of Jane Austen's books, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy starts off as an unconciously-haughty, proud, and class-conscious gentleman, master of Pemberley. But he is not so hard as his other peers as to hold on to his pride after being given valid notice of it: he becomes tolerant, honest, and genuinely desirous to extend kindness where he has erred. It is this level of human-ness that endears him to all Austen lovers everywhere.
We meet Mr. Darcy the first time on the third chapter, when Mr. Bingley arrives at the assembly with his two sisters, Mr. Hurst, and Mr. Darcy.
...but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration...
From the first we see that he is exalted not only because of his appearance but most especially because of his status of being part of the landed gentry, the aristocracy. However, he is to have none of it-- probably used to such a reception because of the fact of his wealth, he disdains the rest of the assembly:
...he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased;...Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party.
Much later on, Darcy admits to his character flaws, unwittingly passed on to him by his parents and their rank and station in life:
"...As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty..."
Charlotte Lucas herself is able to look deeper into his manners early on and gains a bit of understanding: "One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, every thing in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud." However, the stage is set when he slights our heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, in whose eyes we see the majority of the situations in the book: "I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine."
"Come, Darcy," said [Mr. Bingley], "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."
"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."
..."But there is one of [Miss Bennet's] sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."
"Which do you mean?" and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."
Between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley was fast friendship, but it is not only their strong friendship that we can gleam from their association. They are each other's opposites, and because they were frequently together, it is inevitable that they should be compared, their traits analyzed.
Bingley was endeared to Darcy by the easiness, openness, ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied. On the strength of Darcy's regard Bingley had the firmest reliance, and of his judgment the highest opinion. In understanding, Darcy was the superior. Bingley was by no means deficient, but Darcy was clever. He was at the same time haughty, reserved, and fastidious, and his manners, though well bred, were not inviting. In that respect his friend had greatly the advantage. Bingley was sure of being liked wherever he appeared; Darcy was continually giving offence.
For all his haughty-ness to the rest of the assembly, he is agreeable, kind, just, rational, and honest to his peers, as the Bingleys mention frequently; Mr. George Wickham also says that "with the rich, he is liberal-minded, just, sincere, rational, honourable, and perhaps agreeable, -- allowing something for fortune and figure". He does not intentionally slight his equals, and has no pretention when it comes to them: he certainly could have slighted the Bingleys, nouveau-riche as they are in comparison to his artistocratic upbringing. He is not so hard-set in his ways to be stubborn in his ideas, where he percieves them wrong, and duly makes amends when he can. Such happens with Lizzy:
Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others.
This is one of Darcy's most endearing qualities, almost cancelling out his flaws. While he may judge rashly against the people of lower standing, if he sees cause for praise, he is not one to withhold it. Accosted by Miss Bingley on the event of Lizzy's going over to Netherfield on foot and unmindful of the dirt and mud, he allows that it is something he would not allow in his younger sister: but it does not detract from the fact that he still found praise in Lizzy's eyes:
"I am afraid, Mr. Darcy," observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, "that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes."
"Not at all," he replied; "they were brightened by the exercise."
And yet he is not overly liberal with his peers: like Lizzy, he studies their characters and is not one to try to please when there is no reason or cause for it, even for friends: he is unerringly just and honest, with a little wanting of kindness; he doesn't hide his opinions when asked, but says it clearly and without affectation. For he says of Mr. Bingley, even as the latter is present:
"[Mr. Bingley's humility is] The indirect boast; -- for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing any thing with quickness is always much prized by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved on quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself -- and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or any one else?"
He abhors disguise and pretention, and avoids it at all cost. This is evident in Pemberley:
The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
And Lizzy herself soon looks into a further understanding of himself, once again touching on the fact that, as a wealthy aristocrat, he has been exposed many times to the scheming and pretentious attentions of many people:
"...The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you."
In additional, he is very deliberate and rather reserved. One can gather so from the way he writes to his sister, as commented on liberally by Miss Bingley (which he also corrects, when she errs in her aim to please): slowly, and usually long, and according to Mr. Bingley, "He studies too much for words of four syllables."
To match this steadfastness of character, he is, by his own admittance, hard to sway once his respect has been lost:
"My temper I dare not vouch for. -- It is I believe too little yielding -- certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. -- My good opinion once lost is lost for ever."
Also of particular note is the fact that while he is class-conscious, mindful of, for example, the follies of marrying into a class lower than his-- this flaw also gives him a sense of nobility and social awareness: a kindness to the poor, and a regard for those who work for him. This is alluded to by Mr. Wickham himself:
"It has often led him to be liberal and generous, -- to give his money freely, to display hospitality, to assist his tenants, and relieve the poor. ... He has also brotherly pride, which with some brotherly affection, makes him a very kind and careful guardian of his sister; and you will hear him generally cried up as the most attentive and best of brothers."
But in this instance, of better import would be the testimony of his housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, who has known him since he was but a boy:
"...I do not know when [Mr. Darcy will marry]. I do not know who is good enough for him."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying, "It is very much to his credit, I am sure, that you should think so."
"I say no more than the truth, and what every body will say that knows him," replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, "I have never had a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old."
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying,
"There are very few people of whom so much can be said. You are lucky in having such a master."
"Yes, Sir, I know I am. If I was to go through the world, I could not meet with a better. But I have always observed that they who are good-natured when children are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted, boy in the world."
Elizabeth almost stared at her. -- "Can this be Mr. Darcy!" thought she.
"His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Yes, Ma'am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him -- just as affable to the poor."
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subject of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain. Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits, as they proceeded together up the great staircase.
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "that ever lived. Not like the wild young men now-a-days, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw any thing of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men."
This trait that causes him not to "rattle away like other young men" is oftentimes the reason why people not from his circle call him proud. He admits to "not the talent which some people possess,...of conversing easily with those [he] have never seen before". Such seems to be the case as his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, while they were both visiting at the Collinses and Lizzy, had often cause to ridicule Darcy's "stupidity" -- owing to the probable fact that it is not usual for Darcy to be so reserved when among friends, as Colonel Fitzwilliam would certainly have categorized Lizzy and the Collinses to be. To be sure, on meeting Lizzy and the Gardiners once again, his reservation seems to have flown, and Mrs. Gardiner so much as mentions to Lizzy:
"...His behaviour to us has, in every respect, been as pleasing as when we were in Derbyshire. His understanding and opinions all please me; he wants nothing but a little more liveliness, and that, if he marry prudently, his wife may teach him."
And in truth-- is it not so? Lizzy is able to draw our hero out of himself: their verbal sparring are highlights throughout the classic novel. He is truly a human, realistic, believeable and endearing character, worthy of all the praise and regard for him.