Austen’s Introvert

For years I’ve been a fan of the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I first watched it soon after it came out in the mid-90s, and have watched it a few more times since then. I was thrilled to receive the Blu-ray version of it this last Christmas, and wasted little time in watching all six hours of it yet again.

Seated in front of our big screen TV with a group of girlfriends, drinking tea and eating crustless cucumber sandwiches, I saw the familiar scenes unfold, but something felt different. Like all young girls with literary aspirations, I had always identified with the witty and compassionate Elizabeth Bennet, but now I was starting to find her slightly annoying. Why was she so slow to see the true intentions of the taciturn Mr. Darcy? To me, his actions and demeanor were easily readable, but she seemed utterly blind to his real character. While I know that this is the central theme of the novel (to which the prejudice in the title refers), I had always seen things from Elizabeth’s perspective, and like her, viewed Mr. Darcy as a proud, misunderstood man who needed to be drawn out in order to be happy.

But now my perspective had completely shifted, and I felt a kinship with Mr. Darcy instead. There was nothing wrong with him, I realized, he was just an introvert! I felt with him the discomfort of forced sociability, and the frustration of being misjudged because of a wish to keep one’s private thoughts to oneself.

It may be that I’m projecting more onto the character than is reasonable, but it will be interesting to go back and read the novel through this “introvert” lens. Whether I will find confirmation of my theory there or not, I find it fascinating that with age, and increasing comfort with my own way of being in the world, old stories can transform into new friends.

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8 Responses to “Austen’s Introvert”

  1. Martin said:

    I don’t think you are alone on this. Someone in a book review on Amazon talks about 8 types of introversion and one of the examples was:

    Literary–observer: Jane Austen, The Complete Novels

    My first question: was she a particularly astute observer to capture the essence of his introversion or was she an introvert building a character from personal insight?

  2. spectatrix said:

    Martin,

    I guess I assumed that Austen was an introvert, but the question for me is was she an aware and/or happy one? I’ll have to go back and read P & P, because I’m curious to see if she seems sympathetic to Darcy or not. It can happen that introverts themselves are toughest on each other, influenced by social attitudes, but it could be possible that’s not the case with Austen.

    As for the 8 types of introversion, I hadn’t heard of that, but I’ll have to look into it!

  3. frustrated introvert said:

    I started to think about introversion and how Mr. Darcy displays introverted characteristics, over a year ago. I was thinking about literary characters who seemed like introverts and Mr. Darcy popped into my head. When that happened, I started to think about how unfairly he was treated. I saw the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice and there is a scene in the move in which Elizabeth basically tries to embarrass Darcy in front of another guest, when they are at a dinner party. I don’t remember quite exactly how the scene went, but from what I remember, she basically calls him out on his lack of social etiquette. There are social behaviors that are expected of people, especially during that time, and she finds Darcy lacking in those social graces, because he doesn’t know the art of making small talk, doesn’t smile very much, and other people feel turned off by his seeming lack of interest in them. While other people are engaging each other, he tends to stand on the sidelines observing, which is looked down upon by other members of society, at social engagements. Plus, Elizabeth also judged Darcy rather harshly because she was listening to the disparaging remarks made by the manipulative Mr. Wickham, who basically wore his personality on his sleeve and seemed to have all of the qualities that Darcy seemed to lack. So Elizabeth was taken in by Mr. Wickham, which led her to beleive that Darcy was a mean person who didn’t care about other people. With someone as manipulative as Wickham whispering in her ear, it validated her initial opinion of Darcy. This all starts to change once she hears from other people about how kind Darcy really is. And then when she realizes what Mr. Darcy has done for her family after Lydia elopes, Elizabeth’s opinion of him truly changes. I also thought that Elizabeth was sort of annoying. But we also have to consider the time period and expectations of peoples behavior and how she bought right into that. Granted, peoples expectations about social behavior hasn’t really changed in certain ways, which makes it all the more important for people to not judge others based on appearances and gossip.

  4. Martin said:

    As I delved into this idea I ran across this blog post about introverts in literature:

    http://jenniesbooklog.blogspot.com/2006/05/caring-for-your-introverted-characters_31.html

    The title is an homage to the Atlantic Monthly Essay and it goes on to characterize Mr. Darcy:

    “He has to be top of the list because he’s probably the best-known introverted character ever.”

  5. spectatrix said:

    Frustrated Introvert,

    Yes, it seems obvious, doesn’t it, that he’s an introvert. I guess I just hadn’t before linked up my own experience of introversion with Darcy’s characterization in the novel.

    Martin,

    Interesting! I’m going to mention this link in a post because I think it raises a very good topic of discussion. Thanks for sharing!

  6. frustrated introvert said:

    spectatrix, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is obvious. Like you, I didn’t immediately pick up on the signs of Darcy’s introversion either. When I first read the book, I didn’t know enough about introversion to come to that conclusion. It was only after reading blogs and websites such as this one, and becoming more aware of different temperaments and personalities, that I started to think more about literary characters and people whom I had met at different times in my life, who may have been introverts. So it definitely isn’t something that you should feel should have been obvious to you right away. Once you know the sings of an introverted temperament, that is when Darcy’s temperament becomes more apparent.

    To Martin: I am glad that you referenced that blog entry because I hadn’t even thought about Beth from Little Women. And also, the work experience that the blogger shared about her extroverted coworker is something of which many of us can relate.

  7. spectatrix said:

    Frustrated Introvert,

    Thanks! Now I don’t feel so oblivious 🙂

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