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That Mr. Darcy Portrait Is Fine

And you are wrong about your favorite Mr. Darcy

(Drama Channel UK/Focus Features/BBC)
(Drama Channel UK/Focus Features/BBC)

In case your mother did not text you today about the latest Scandal in the Austen world, here goes. This is apparently what the real Mr. Darcy would’ve looked like:

People are not pleased. The eyebrows are tough; “white ponytail” is not really the grooming choice that signals “heartthrob” to a 21st-century crowd. The academics who guided this portrait — John Sutherland, a professor of modern English literature at University College London, and Amanda Vickery, a professor of early modern history at Queen Mary University of London — did not really help their case with their written description: “Pale and pointy-chinned,” with “a long nose on an oval, beardless face,” per The New York Times. Some Darcy heads have taken issue with the idea that he would be more of a “ballet dancer than a beefcake.”

Do you want your Mr. Darcy to be a Fabio? Isn’t the whole point of this exercise that Mr. Darcy is a well-read rich guy who doesn’t need muscles because he has respect for your singular intellectual curiosity? Are you throwing away 10,000 pounds a year (roughly 800,000 pounds these days, plus the house) because my man can’t grow some scruff?

This portrait is fine. The bigger issue here is that the world at large seems to have fixated on Colin Firth’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice performance as the ideal Mr. Darcy. This is incorrect: The 1995 miniseries is not even Colin Firth’s best performance as a Mr. Darcy. (That would be in Bridget Jones’s Diary.) The best onscreen example is — deep breath — Matthew Macfadyen’s 2005 performance as a Mr. Darcy who has actually heard about sex before, and maybe even contemplated it once or twice. Ten percent chance he experimented with a girl from the village near Pemberley. Matthew Macfadyen is a sensitive soul, but he has seen the world.

Spare me your shock; Jane Austen knew plenty about sex. It is basically all her characters fret about — who’s secretly already had it, who can make the appropriate legal arrangements to have it, who can find the least offensive way to talk about it without actually talking about it. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are a foundational text for the concept of “sexual tension” and, as Curtis Sittenfeld pointed out so aptly in her retelling of Pride and Prejudice, direct ancestors of the hate fuck.

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle know nothing of this conflict. Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley live it in every scene. Matthew MacFayden is the best Mr. Darcy, and the Joe Wright Pride and Prejudice is underrated. Thank you for your time.