“A wildly entertaining read.”—The Washington Post
What if we've been reading Jane Austen and romantic classics all wrong? A literary scholar offers a funny, brainy, eye-opening take on how our contemporary love stories are actually terrifying.
Covering cultural touchstones ranging from Normal People to Taylor Swift and from Lord Byron to The Bachelor, The Darcy Myth is a book for anyone who loves thinking deeply about literature and culture—whether it’s Jane Austen or not.
You already know Mr. Darcy—at least you think you do! The brooding, rude, standoffish romantic hero of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy initially insults and ignores the witty heroine, but eventually succumbs to her charms. It’s a classic enemies-to-lovers plot, and one that has profoundly influenced our cultural ideas about courtship. But what if this classic isn’t just a grand romance, but a horror novel about how scary love and marriage can be for women?
In The Darcy Myth, literature scholar Rachel Feder unpacks Austen’s Gothic influences and how they’ve led us to a romantic ideal that’s halfway to being a monster story. Why is our culture so obsessed with cruel, indifferent romantic heroes (and sometimes heroines)? How much of that is Darcy’s fault? And, now that we know, what do we do about it?
This provocative if only intermittently convincing study from Feder (Harvester of Hearts), an English professor at the University of Denver, deconstructs the "myth of the haughty crush turned romantic hero," as epitomized by Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Feder suggests reading the novel as Gothic horror, a genre Austen "totally loved," and contends that she created Darcy as a "kind of monster" whose dark underside ("He pays a dangerous rake to marry our heroine's sister so that Darcy can marry Lizzy without tarnishing his reputation") has been largely ignored by conventional readings of the novel as a romance. Feder makes a persuasive case that Wickham is a "serial predator" and Darcy a jerk who "teaches us to excuse bad behavior and seek out people... who treat us like crap"; she overreaches, however, in condemning Darcy for "chaining Lydia to her predator," downplaying Lydia's agency in choosing to run away with Wickham. Additionally, the concluding sections detailing the disappointment of Feder's acquaintances who have "dated Darcys" feels out of place. This doesn't always persuade, but it's sure to spark debate.