Mr. Darcy, the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice (1813), has become the model for many romance heroes. According to Deborah Kaplan, the romance hero is characterized by being “self-assured, hot-tempered, capable of passion, and often mysteriously moody” (171). All of these qualities are evident in Darcy’s character. Yet, despite Mr. Darcy’s undeniable status as a hero, his narrative remains a point of intrigue for readers and writers. Darcy’s shift from the “arrogant young man” at the beginning of Austen’s novel to the “polite gentleman whom Elizabeth marries” has generated an ongoing debate about his true character (Moler 491). The mystery surrounding Darcy might be why KaraLynne Mackrory’s novel, Yours Forevermore, Darcy (2015), reimagines Darcy and Elizabeth’s interaction after he horrifically itemizes her family’s inferiority, carelessly telling Elizabeth he “liked [her] against [his]will, against [his] reason, and even against [his] character,” to focus on Darcy’s transformative arc (Austen 379). To demystify Darcy, Mackrory endows him with qualities historically attributed to female characters and thereby unifies his behavior. As a result, Mackrory disrupts the romance hero in favor of our contemporary desire to subvert gender norms and see male characters actively participating in the private sphere.
Mackrory self-published Yours Forevermore, Darcy in 2015 through Meryton Press, independent publishers of Austenian and Romance novels. Mackrory has also authored three additional novels, each a variation of Pride and Prejudice told primarily from Darcy’s perspective. Her third novel, Haunting Mr. Darcy (2014), earned her the Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY). In Yours Forevermore, Darcy Mackrory streamlines Austen’s plot, utilizing romance tropes to reunite Darcy with Elizabeth after his first proposal. Unlike Pride and Prejudice which is written from Elizabeth Bennet’s viewpoint, Yours Forevermore, Darcy is written primarily from Darcy’s perspective focusing on his domestic life and a series of cathartic, secret letters written to Elizabeth, but never delivered.
The letters disclose Darcy’s consistent character throughout the development of his relationship with Elizabeth, originating from their first meeting at the Meryton assembly and ending two months after his proposal at Rosings Park. Twelve letters are written, addressed and stowed in a hollowed tome; however, he only gives Elizabeth the single letter about his and Mr. Wickham’s past, never expecting her to receive the others. Without his knowledge, Darcy’s maid accidentally posts the letters to Elizabeth after they were left unattended on his desk. Upon receiving the letters, Elizabeth discovers the untold love story Darcy has internally struggled to suppress. Although the letters are the catalyst for Mackrory’s plot, they have little impact beyond affirming Elizabeth’s affection for Darcy and presenting an opportunity for Darcy’s second proposal when she returns them to him. Instead, Mackrory disrupts gender norms through Darcy’s style of letter-writing and his nurturing relationships towards female characters. Darcy’s modernity is emphasized by his lack of toxic masculine behavior. Instead, the narrative makes the reader privy to his emotional development from within his private sphere.
The private sphere is inherently personal enabling Mackrory to create a cohesive transformation for Darcy and dispel confusion about his character shift. Historically, romance heroes are defined by their role in the public sphere, their ability to act on the world and separate their emotional needs from that activity, while romance heroines participate in the private sphere through the management of one’s home and family, focusing on relationships with other women. The restrictive nature of these gender norms underpin toxic masculinity and the glorification of stoicism in men. In turn, this stoicism is what lends Darcy’s character a famously mysterious aura. In Mackrory’s narrative, Darcy’s engagement in the private sphere and the feminization of his character clarifies his transition. I am defining feminization as the presentation of qualities often displayed by female characters, drawing on Leslie W. Rabine’s definition of female structures in romance literature. Rabine argues that female structures consist of women relying on their relationship with others to affirm themselves and on an interconnection between emotions and logic (50). Darcy participates in these structures by composing love letters to Elizabeth and personally attending to his sister’s education as well as his staff’s wellbeing. While Austenian retellings are not by definition modeled after Harlequin narratives, Mr. Darcy’s character has for long served as a prescriptive model for the romance hero. In fact, Kaplan notes that in a “‘tip sheet’ from a publishing house of mass-market contemporary romances, Mr. Darcy is offered up as the exemplary romance hero” (171). Darcy’s status as a romance hero is updated through Mackrory’s feminization as she combines typical masculine traits of a romance hero with feminine characteristics through letter-writing, relationships with women, and domestic ventures.
At the beginning of Mackrory’s novel, Darcy has concluded his final letter to Elizabeth. He confesses his admiration, his inability to forget her, and essentially his “heart’s agony” which prompts his transformation (113). The letters are filled with unrequited love and longing, referring to Elizabeth by first name and often with the term “dearest” (183-189). He is sensitive and charming, claiming to constantly think of Elizabeth when she is not near and struggling to focus when she is (182). Although letter-writing was utilized by both men and women in the nineteenth century, it was considered a more feminine endeavor. Mackrory infuses a combination of masculine and feminine style of writing in Darcy’s letters. For example, Darcy’s intimate address of Elizabeth conforms to masculine letter-writing per Merja Kytö’s and Suzanne Romaine’s study “Adjective Comparison in the Nineteenth Century” (2007). His descriptions of amorous desire also correspond to the power he maintains being a male. However, his closing’s, “yours forevermore” consists of “inflectional and periphrastic superlatives” which are deemed feminine (207; Mackrory 189). Darcy substitutes classical aloofness for all-consuming sentimentality and transparency. He reflects the Harlequin heroines’ tendency to prioritize the romantic relationship which is demonstrated by his compulsion to alter his behavior for Elizabeth. In addition to his writing style and subject matter, Darcy’s behavior towards his sister, as her surrogate parent in the absence of both mother and father, and his domestic ventures feminize his character.
Darcy further interacts in the private sphere through the integration of female characters. His sister, Georgianna, and housekeeper, Mrs. Carroll, exemplify the “living network of intimate relations” that Rabine notes is significant for female self-affirmation (52). Although Darcy maintains his privilege as a male character and the hero of the story, seeking Elizabeth’s approval throughout his transformation parallels the quandary heroines often struggle with in Harlequin Romances. Mackrory continues Darcy’s redemption in the private sphere when he apologizes for nurturing arrogance in Georgianna’s upbringing. She defends Darcy’s superiority by asserting, “you are a Darcy…you come from a family of long standing…Is that not something to have pride in?” oblivious of her condescension towards those of inferior lineage (129). Darcy gently corrects her, amending his flaws in response to Elizabeth’s critique and demonstrating his kinder nature. Georgianna also validates Darcy’s transformation by accepting his correction and affirming the significance of Darcy’s private sphere.
Darcy’s domestic ventures emphasize his immersion in the private sphere. His private life is revealed in Pride and Prejudice during Elizabeth’s tour of Pemberley. Mrs. Reynolds, Darcy’s housekeeper, takes “great pleasure in talking about [Mr. Darcy] and his sister,” thereby exposing Mr. Darcy’s consideration towards his staff (Austen 484). In Mackrory’s retelling, Mrs. Carroll is also endeared to Mr. Darcy especially when he takes a personal interest in the daily lives of his servants. He requests to be informed of “life changes or circumstances whereby [he] might be of some assistance,” as a demonstration of his improved person (133). Due to the gendered expectation that women maintain the household, Darcy’s responsibility for his staff is predominantly financial. He would rely on Mrs. Carroll to manage the servants’ needs according to her judgment. However, his desire to be more than monetarily involved shows him adopting feminine characteristics to illustrate his gentlemanlike nature and the overall worthiness of Elizabeth.
Associating Darcy with these contemporary ideals through the performance of feminine duties subverts gender stereotypes in this romance novel. Mackrory’s Darcy shuns toxic masculinity and emphasizes the importance of representing romance heroes who inhabit both the public and private spheres. Darcy’s feminization permits him to express his intimate thoughts and emotions throughout the novel which his original arrogance concealed. His masculinity and role as a romance hero allows him to act on those feelings in a consistent fashion.
Mackrory’s project of feminizing Darcy to reveal the constancy of his character by romanticizing men in domestic spheres is successful. Readers experience a wholistic Darcy who genuinely connects with the women in his life and appreciates the perspective they offer including romance novels written “by a Lady” (194). In contemporary society men are often actively domestic and perform duties that nineteenth-century readers would consider feminine. Men engage in feminine spaces domestically and professionally through their participation in housekeeping, childrearing, and service-oriented occupations. Ultimately, Mackrory’s portrayal of Darcy responds to readers’ desire for more than the over-confident, temperamental romance hero. She foregrounds the underrepresented traits men commonly exhibit in our modern world and effectively responds to the need for romance heroes in touch with their feminine side.
Yours Forevermore, Darcy, by KaraLynne Mackrory
Meryton Press (2015)
Paperback, eBook, (251 pages)
ISBN: 978-1-68131-000-8, $13
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Kindle ed., Duke Classics, 2012.
Kaplan, Deborah. “Mass Marketing Jane Austen: Men, Women, and Courtship in Two of the Recent Films.” Jane Austen Society of North America, 1996, pp. 171-181. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number18/kaplan.htm
Kytö Merja, et al. “Adjective Comparison in the Nineteenth Century.” Nineteenth-Century English: Stability and Change. Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 194-214.
Langton, Simon, director. Pride and Prejudice. BBC, 1995.
Moler, Kenneth L. “Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen’s ‘Patrician Hero.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol.7, no.3, 1967, pp. 491-508. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/449604. Accessed 25 Jan. 2020.
Rabine, Leslie W. “Romance in the Age of Electronics: Harlequin Enterprises.” Feminist Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, 1985, pp. 39–60. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3180131. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.