Pride & Nonsensibility


In Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, the author introduces us to four men whom combined are what most modern women want; Darcy, Bingley, Wickham and Collins.

While most readers are lost in Mr. Darcy, him being the male lead and the romantic intend of a happy ever after for Elizabeth Bennet, we allow his flaws from the beginning, because we know, that he will be redeemed in the end. He will admit that he was wrong and what woman doesn’t love a man who admits to being wrong?

But the character of Darcy overshadows the many qualities of the other men in the book and in our real lives as well. As readers, we recognize the men of fiction when we look up from the pages and depending on our self perception, we treat them as our favorite heroines do. We say ‘no’ to Collins, we are fooled by Wickham and we enjoy the friend zone we have with Bingley. And in our search for Darcy, we miss out.

Let me illustrate by listing their qualities:

Austen Men Qualities

And let us then list their flaws:

Austen Men Flaws

While many of these men share a few qualities, their flaws are pretty much their own. Their flaws are also set in the eyes of Elisabeth Bennet and let’s not forget she has a few flaws herself and in the end admits to being wrong herself.

Should we remain in the qualities alone, each man ends up with a woman much like himself; Darcy with Elisabeth, Wickham with Lydia, Collins with Charlotte and Bingley with Jane. And while we as readers are happy for three out of four couples, we can’t help but dread the future of Mrs. Lydia Wickham.

We modern women know, that two wrongs do not make a right and the naïve and silly Lydia will soon learn, that her husband is not what she thought. But alas, that is the bitterness of a modern woman thinking. Dear Miss Austen never wrote a sequel to any of her stories. As readers, we don’t actually know.

The advantage of being a modern reader is, that most of us are educated women, strong minded and with financial equity of our own. The road we walk have been paved by others; women who taught us we deserve to have our dreams come true. We walk a road paved with divorces, equal rights, single parents, female executives and so much more. We all know, that we don’t need to marry in order to secure our futures, the way the Austen women had to. But we want to…

We still need men in our lives*. We need love, we need partnerships and security. But with the changes of society we find it more and more difficult to find the men we are looking for. And so we turn to fiction. We have Prince Charming in our childhood fairytales and Mr. Darcy in our youth and lifelong romance. And we look up from the pages and find ourselves surrounded by the other three…

Personally, I’ve had many men come and go through my life. Many have been Bingley’s and while I’ve immediately recognized their qualities, I’ve only ever been friends with them. They are the men for other women. They are the men for my friends and for my sister. I love them. When they are single, I look for women for them to date. When they are in relationships I’m happy for their happiness. They are, in my opinion, the deserving men. The good men. But they are not the men for me.

I constantly fall for the Wickham’s of the world. Charming, handsome men destined to cause heartbreak. Often that heartbreak is not even caused by their lying or carelessness, but by not living up to my expectations. I’m secretly hoping that they are Darcy’s. And so I break my own heart and leave them before they can leave me.

The Collins’s I’ve met have all been good men. But as I’m not looking for marriage and children, they are also not the men for me. While I have the deepest respect for traditions, the normal everyday lives and family life, I have long ago learned, that my path leads another way. I am a spectator at weddings and an excellent babysitter, but like Elisabeth Bennet, I decline any romantic interest from these men, as I would be the last woman on earth to make them happy.

I have yet to meet a Darcy. I’ve only ever encountered them in fiction and whenever I meet an arrogant handsome man in real life, I’ve never been inclined to think, that he might be my one true love. I’ve always thought of such men as idiots and stayed away from them as often as possible.

I’ve met a great deal of Wickhams… suffice to say, fool me twice

I’ve learned, that one woman’s Collins is another woman’s Wickham or Bingley. No man is as simply characterized as the arch types of Pride & Prejudice, even Jane Austen knew that. Through the course of the book, we learn, alongside Elisabeth Bennet, that these men are not merely their first impressions.

In other Austen books, the men share the characteristics, but our heroines often end up with the Collins’s and Bingley’s, not the Darcy’s.

In Sense & Sensibility, Willoughby starts out as a mix of Wickham and Bingley, but ends as up as a mix of Wickham and Darcy. Colonel Brandon seems a boring Collins at first, but turns out to have a good mix of both Darcy and Bingley in him. Edward Ferrars is at all times a mix of Collins and Bingley and he is who we all root for in the end. No Darcy in him at all. So why do we look for the Darcy’s?

The mix of Collins and Bingley is also the match for Fanny Price of Mansfield Park and Catherine Morland in Northanger Abby. Emma has friend-zoned her Bingley and almost loses her chance for happiness with him, because of her own blindness. And in my personal favorite Persuasion, Anne Elliot is too much of a Bingley herself and doesn’t realize that her Wentworth is only behaving like a Wickham and Darcy mix, because she hurt him.

I’ve come to the conclusion, that I might be both the Darcy and Elisabeth of my own life. My romantic notions have made me arrogant and unaware that what I want and what I need might not be the same thing. Maybe some of the Wickham’s that I’ve thrown away weren’t all that bad? Maybe I’ve judged some Collins’s too soon? Maybe I’ve befriended one too many Bingley’s and never learned the goodness they can bring to my life as lovers? Have I lost my chance at a mix between Bingley and Wentworth to my own Pride & Nonsensibility?

Perhaps, but I hope not.

Should I get my head out of the books and meet the modern men rather than expect the Austen Men?

Absolutely, but not today.

I’ve just made a cup of tea and have another chapter to finish… Oh, Wentworth, I would never give you up so easily.

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