Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mr. Darcys and Captain Wentworths of the World

In my attempt to blog while I am in Europe, I've decided that I need to "practice" before I leave. I am such a horrible blogger, which is most obvious just by looking at the date on my last post: April 16. If I am to keep a blog going at all in Europe, I have to start now, I've decided.

I may be stepping out on a limb with a blog about the opposite sex, but I am in no way "bashing" men. In fact, this blog is more of an admittance of my own behavior rather than a slandering of the male sex. I've been thinking lately how often I find myself, or one of my friends, swooning over men from an era that is quite different from the era in which we live now. We...and I really do include myself in this...we watch every BBC/Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Jane Austen's or Elizabeth's Gaskell's novels and nearly melt at every touch, every word, every moment the gentleman's eyes connect with his fair maiden. Our stomachs tie up in knots, and we forget to breathe as we are immersed into the scene unfolding before our very eyes.

I have a feeling that some may read this and think, "Good grief! It's just a story...this girl is crazy! Mr. Darcy is just a character. Mr. Knightley doesn't exist. And Mr. Thornton was mean!" While I do admit it does seem slightly silly to become wrapped up in these characters, it is inevitable. Most women, at least those who hug their pillows and hardly dare to blink lest they miss something while watching Pride and Prejudice or North and South, are looking/waiting for their own Mr. Darcy. Even their own Mr. Thornton. It is not just women of our time who have searched for their Austenian gentleman. Women have been falling at the feet of Captain Wentworth and Mr. Darcy for nearly two hundred years. There is something instilled in these characters that is timeless and continues to make a mark on girls of all ages.

I still have not admitted my own folly in this. I watched a film tonight, Lost in Austen, in which a woman from modern London mysteriously changes places with Elizabeth Bennett. While the entire plot of Pride and Prejudice is changed, it all works out for good in the end, with a few bumps and potholes along the way. It was not so much the story itself that caught my attention tonight but the title of the film. Lost in Austen. It echoed in my head when the movie finished and continued to repeat over and over. I realized that I was maybe a little lost in Austen myself.

As I watched these films and read the books, I made a mental list of the qualities that I thought were essential to finding a man. It is not that making a list of qualities is a bad thing. In fact, I think you should know what you want and should not settle for less than that. My mistake, however, was evident once I was absorbed in the world of Austen and other writers like her. I was so set on that mental list of qualities, that I readily excused the weaknesses of the characters I had fallen in love with. Of course, I knew that Mr. Darcy was prejudiced or that Mr. Thornton was a little rough around the edges, yet I told myself that those character flaws were what helped drive the story.

While that may be true, I find that I am not so ready to excuse those same flaws, or new ones, in men today. I bemoan the fact that these men from novels have become non-existent. I rant with my girlfriends about society's lack of single gentlemen. (I am in no way saying that those who have found their own are not really with a gentlemen or their own "Mr. Darcy.") We turn away from men who do not seem to "fit the bill," even at first glance, and barely give them another minute of our time.

 If I take a good, hard look in my heart I find that I am being unfair to men all the world over. Besides the fact that I do not know all of the men in this world, could it be that I focus too much on the flaws and fail to see the strengths, the very qualities I am looking for? Do we all, as females, fail to recognize that the flaws of Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, or any of the other gentlemen we prefer from the novels were what the heroines themselves focused on at first? Elizabeth found Mr. Darcy to be insufferable and full of prejudice. She was not swept off her feet at first meeting. It took working through the flaws in both characters to realize he was Mr. Darcy *swoon*.

I will still get teary-eyed while watching Mr. Thornton see Margaret Hale on the opposite train at the station. I will feel the butterflies in my stomach when Captain Wentworth shows Anne her childhood estate and begins to dance with her in the front yard. I think that even if I never find my own Mr. Thornton or Captain Wentworth (although I hope that I do), I still need to see the qualities in the opposite sex and not be so quick to find the flaw(s). And this is going to take lots of work!