“He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
I am inserting a disclaimer right at the beginning that,much to the disappointment of my best friend Jennifer, I have never read a Jane Austen novel. And it was only recently (last five years or so) that I ever even knew anything about the stories she wrote. Some friends in college suggested I would like them, but I never really took them seriously. Historical romances weren’t as appealing as, say, the trivial but incredibly cute romantic comedies of the 90s and early millennium.
Jane Austen came into my life as a first year grad student who, in an attempt to procrastinate as much as possible, caved when my roomie asked to watch the 1995 film Sense and Sensibility. It took two hours of that sweet story and I was hooked. Over the course of the next year, we rented every single Jane Austen miniseries or movie we could find, some we loved, others we hated (don’t even get me started on Gweneth Paltrow in Emma).
But to the Jane Austen purist, I am a phony, and there is probably some truth to that. To be fair, one of my 2013 resolutions is to actually read Pride and Prejudice, (the foundation of this article). But I have not yet, so I write this post speaking only of my experience of watching every single Pride and Prejudice ever made into film or screen (including the ridiculous Lost in Austen … seriously, it was a crazy fun year). And each time I have come to the same conclusion: Mr. Darcy is a big, big jerk.
Yep, I went there. Seriously, what is with this guy? His lack of personality, his complete disdain for anyone below his status, the silly “I like you I don’t like you” games he plays with Elizabeth, and of course the manipulative and deceitful way he broke up Bingley and Jane (more on that later).
Of course, he turns it all around, makes it all better, and becomes the hero, but people seem to always forget what a total weenie he was at the beginning (and really throughout the story). I’d hear my best friend talk about how she couldn’t wait to find “her Mr. Darcy,” and all I could think was, “I’m not sure I could support that marriage.” And I listened as endless women swooned over the charming Colin Firth (at a Pride and Prejudice party we had with our girlfriends). Finally, in the midst of the endless admiration and praise of this very blah man, I blurted out “Why don’t more of you look at Mr.Bingley?!”
That’s right, the charming, good-natured, thinks well of everyone Mr. Bingley. I can’t tell you how many arguments I have gotten into with girlfriends over Bingley (and Jane) being the most virtuous characters of the story. “Ha!” They would say. “But he’s such a pushover!” Being a pushover is not the same thing as putting your faith and trust in a man who claims to be your best friend. And remember, it was not that Bingley was leaving because he believed Jane (or her family) to be below him, but it was because Darcy had manipulated him to believe that Jane didn’t care for him at all.
Rather than enter into a lose-lose situation, where his heart could be broken, Bingley left (on the advice of Mr. Darcy). And in the end, in one of the sweetest scenes ever in movie history, Bingley approaches his love, admits his own faults, and lives happily ever after. He is charming, he is sweet, he is trusting, forgiving, loving, and he is like this the entire movie. Why on earth would anyone choose the hard, stern, and manipulative Mr.Darcy over this sweet man?
So I brought this debate to a bridal luncheon I was at about a month ago (for the wedding of my sweet grad school roomie, who started this whole phase in my life). I asked the bridesmaids there why on earth they would ever choose Mr. Darcy over Bingley. They looked stunned. No one had ever even thought to look at Bingley in that way. It was Darcy, after all, who was the hero of the story. I pleaded my case, put Bingley on a pedestal and insisted that they were all wrong in their “movie crush” assessment. But it was one of the girl’s comments that made me stop in my tracks:
“Yes, Bingley is a great guy, but there is something so attractive about one’s redemption and conversion.”
That’s it! What is it about conversion that we find sobeautiful that we end up rooting for it?
Isn’t that at the heart of Sunday’s Gospel? There is something so incredibly beautiful about one admitting their faults, turning from their former ways and coming home. Our hearts are moved, we fall in love and we root for him; it doesn’t seem to matter what he did, only what he is doing now. I’ve heard many people talk about how this story makes them a bit mad, how they feel sorry for the“faithful” brother, who seems to get jipped in spite of his loyalty. I gotta admit, I’ve never felt this way. Because again, faithfulness rests in the present moment, in the here and now. We can all pat ourselves on the back for overcoming past obstacles, as only as we recognize more difficult, humbling challenges are yet to come.
And so I come to my bitterness towards Mr. Darcy. It’s true, his character at the end of the story is so incredibly attractive. When he approaches Elizabeth’s father asking for her hand, I must admit I got chills … genuine, bumpy chills. In fact, it’s as if the love he has formed with Elizabeth hastransformed him into his real self, who he was meant to be all along (isn’t this our ultimate goal?)
But I still lift up Mr. Bingley. He is the antithesis of both brothers in Sunday’s Gospel. He is good the whole time, and he still humbly makes amends with Jane. He is faithful, loyal, trusting and humble, and he still finds his own reason for conversion. And yet they both, Bingley and Darcy, represent the struggle of modern man, one the loyal disciple John and the other the grumpy, struggling Peter. Both are trying to figure out how to live this thing we call faith, and both stumble in their own ways along the journey. But they both come out as faithful in the end, and I suppose that is all that matters.