Mr Darcy. Though he never dives in the pond and emerges all wet in the book, you can be forgiven for picturing him so. Christian Grey. The modern symbol of naughty sex. These characters are, as far as I can tell, universally recognisable, and it seems, almost every woman‘s type. Yet they, and the stories they come from, are so different it is staggering – so what can possibly be appealing about both to almost all woman of almost every generation?
The differences are innumerable, yet I shall try to list the few that seem the most important. As this year is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, there are some obvious contextual differences. But what matters is that modern women still find old Fitzwilliam appealing, a veritable paragon amongst men. At no point during the Jane Austen novel do the characters have any physical contact. They dance, yet it should be expected that Lizzie would be wearing gloves. The sparks in their relationship fly from the converstaions, striking on the iron of eachothers’ will. Their relationship is clearly tracked, as they do have conversations and interactions, they see and hear each other in public and private. And they dislike eachother.
Let’s compare this now to E. L. James‘ novella. The characters meet, are attracted to one another, and dive straight in to sex, which it would appear, Mr Grey is extremely proficient at. This is hot, but it does definitely lack the depth, the passion – yes, passion can be more than sex – of the Bennett/Darcy relationship. The literal tongue lashings are aplenty, and yes their relationship has its difficulties, but in the end, they are a sure thing. There is absolutely no ‘will they, won’t they suspense’ and in truth, I am yet to know if Ana and Christian would actually like each other outside of the bedroom – they don’t seem to spend much time elsewhere.
The heroines. Ah the heroines. Although, I confess, my interest tends to be piqued more by the guy in the story, if the heroine is some sort of ninny, I lose interest. Enter, Anastasia Steele. I mean seriously. What. A. Drip. She lacks the wit, the intelligence, the humour and the mettle of Lizzie. And Christian is happy with that, as he seeks a submissive partner. Darcy, however, chooses a challenge. The difference is laudable, and the question is quite simple ladies – would you rather be seen as a challenge, or easily tamed? Do you respect a man who wants a woman he has power over, or one whom he sees as his equal? Well, for those Darcy and Grey fans out there, it would appear you want both.
Now let’s be honest. When Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, women had little power, little education, and were praised for the most trivial accomplishments, scorned for pursuing anything challenging. So Lizzie broke through the barriers as a fiery, proud woman. Now, women have careers, have education, make their own decisions and call the shots – so we read novels about men who swoop in and take over. Could it just be that we want whatever we don’t have? That by desiring Darcy, we want the power, strength and pride that women were denied for so long – but by desiring Grey and his whips and chains, we want to revert back to the previous role, relinquish the power we gained and be taken care of? Women are no longer property that can be legally battered (though it obviously still happens), so we read novels about girls who consent to it? Society has evolved, and it would appear, so has desire. Though whether that desire is actually a devolution of women’s rights remains questionable.
P.S. I’m team Darcy.
P.P.S Here’s a picture of Colin Firth