Adventures of an Unloved Austen Hero,
Or, Theme and Variations
Doubtless, O gentle and refined reader, you have heard the name of Fitzwilliam Darcy, and more than that, have heard it spoken with the sigh of longing that usually accompanies a "fan-girl" crush. "What a man he is!" you say to yourself. "Why don't they make them like that anymore- so handsome and devoted and-" Well, I'm sure you understand me. If, on the other hand, you were asked your opinion of Edmund Bertram, you would probably either scratch your head and hope the questioner would give you some hint as to who on earth he is, or to say with a look of disdain "Oh- you mean that boring clergyman from Mansfield Park?" That, reader, is precisely the prejudice I have struggled under for almost the last two hundred years. But how can I know what people say about me, you ask? That is one of the unusual abilities of a literary character- we are always able to know if we have been censured or praised, whether by a crowd of lovesick teenage girls, or by the most scholarly professor.
As my dear wife (formerly Fanny Price) and I were sitting down to breakfast one morning, she looked at me and sighed, shaking her head.
"There- I've been called boring and priggish again! What harsh judges these college students are!"
"This must have been the 23rd time this week!" I replied. "I am very sorry to hear it--- Oh! I am called names as well! - I am also very dull, you know." (The last part with a slight smile)
"I suppose that we must try to get used to it as best we can." she said sweetly, trying to smooth over this unpleasantness.
Usually, I would have let the matter drop and tried to ignore these hurtful comments, but I was in a strangely rebellious mood, and did not feel like submitting once more.
"I don't see how it is that that Darcy fellow is constantly being swooned over- he so rarely tries to make himself agreeable that it is really a wonder that anyone likes him at all!" I said somewhat resentfully. "Besides, if all it took to be an Austen hero was to wander around and brood on nothing, I'm sure that half the world would meet the qualifications."
"But Edmund!" said Fanny, with her usual gentleness. "Mr. Darcy is a fellow Austen character too, and should be treated with the same respect that you would wish for yourself or me. Besides, his popularity clearly shows that he has succeeded as a protagonist where neither of us has done so far."
"Then perhaps our difficulty is more that we must compete with him and Miss Bennet, rather than our own inferiority. If we were to strike out in something else, maybe we would have better luck."
"Something else? What else could we possibly do?"
"Why, there are so many other genres that we could attempt! Who knows- we might become the well-loved hero and heroine of something we hadn't even thought of!"
"I can't imagine what- you know that I cannot act, Edmund. The very idea makes me anxious. Pray- do not ask it of me."
"But it wouldn't be acting at all, my dear- we would be ourselves entirely, but only in a different setting or sort of story. I am sure that readers of modern works would come to love and appreciate you just as I do, if only they were able to meet you! Sometimes people are frightened away at the prospects of reading a Classic when they would have every fondness for the same characters, were they in a different sort of novel."
For some time I attempted to persuade her in this vein, but she still had her doubts about the idea, and it became clear to me that the only way I could hope to convince her was to succeed first myself, and so, assembling the sorts of possessions that heroes generally need, I set off. Poor Fanny was very distraught at my leaving her, and feared that I would end up (as the moderns phrase it) a "red shirt", but I reassured her that, being the hero of a novel already, I could never be content to be 'police officer #1' or 'man who is blown apart in the first encounter to show how dangerous the situation is'.