Darcy, Don Draper and the Great Struggles
I don't feel the popular appeal of Pride and Prejudice as a love story. I totally understand the reaction to Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen on-screen as Mr. Darcy (boy, do I get that), but that's unrelated to the story for me. Yes, I love the romantic story within the larger story, but it always annoys me to levels quite abnormal when Pride and Prejudice is seen simply as a love story. It's so much more complicated than that. My biggest criticism of the feature-length film from 2005, starring Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley is that it distilled the whole novel into just a love story. The first time I watched the movie was under miserable circumstances, but after viewing it under more pleasant ones, I can now find things to compliment. The great success of the 1995 BBC television adaptation of the novel, besides showcasing Colin Firth, was that it included some key elements of the novel. In the novel, we see Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy grow as individuals before they become a couple. They observe others more keenly, gaining insight about relationships and behaviours. They adjust preconceived notions as they are placed in circumstances outside their normal ones. Most importantly to me, they are engaged in a great moral struggle. It's the struggle that is a human effort, whether consciously or not, to grasp what is divine. It's finding one's bearings by the great moral compass of the divine truths imprinted upon our souls. It's the pull--the allure--of Pride and Prejudice for me. It's what always keeps me reading or watching the latest book, film, or television series I've begun.
I am most engaged, most emotionally invested in Pride and Prejudice, when the plot turns to the great scandal of Lydia Bennet and George Wickham. Oh, that Wickham! Would that he never entered into their lives! But Wickham has already been a part of Mr. Darcy's life. Mr. Darcy knows things. Elizabeth learns these same things. And they don't tell. They don't mete out judgement upon Wickham. They don't seek personal satisfaction in exposing him for all he has truly been. Worldly wisdom tells us that Wickham deserved to be exposed as a fraud and a scoundrel. Instead, Mr. Darcy takes cautious and deliberate care to fix as much damage as can be corrected and to put Wickham and Lydia in as good a position as possible to leave their mistakes behind and start anew.
Every single time I read the novel, I am amazed. Honestly, I also always wonder, "Would I have done the same?" Would I have had the same moral fortitude? It's part of the timeless appeal of the novel. The personal temptations for satisfaction, revenge, or just the interior outrage that exists when we see others successfully passing themselves off as something quite different from the hidden actions of which we are aware: these have existed in humans since the Fall. No matter the time period, these battles have raged in our hearts and minds.
My thoughts have turned often to Darcy and Pride and Prejudice after viewing Season 5 of Mad Men on Netflix last week. No cable or satellite, so I'm always at least a year behind on a cable series. The main character, Don Draper, reminds me of Mr. Darcy in several ways. No, really, stick with me for this. It's what endears him to me--what makes me root for him to turn it all around-- in spite of his past mistakes.
Mad Men, a series created by Matthew Weiner, tells the story of characters centered around a fictional advertising agency in New York City during the 1960s. It tells the story of America during those turbulent times whilst the equally stormy lives of the central characters unfold. The series has been justly awarded with recognition for its writing, acting, production, and design of both sets and costumes. The characters are complicated and well-developed. The plot twists are unexpected, but in subtle, realistic ways, for the most part. We see characters of different ages adjusting to their lives and seeking stability at the same time the culture is going through such chaos. It is intelligent, beautiful and engaging television. And, in all honesty, I love that one of the female lead characters is curvy and Marilyn-esque instead of the prized willowy physique we usually see on-screen.
Don Draper, a gifted advertising executive who becomes a partner in a newcomer firm, is the central character of the show. Not only does the show's plot revolve around him, but for many of the characters he becomes some sort of nucleus for their lives. He is beyond merely attractive, in impeccably tailored suits and hats which only serve to accentuate his beautiful features. He is charming in a very learned way. His great gift that makes him such a power player in the advertising business is his ability to read people and figure out what makes them tick. He is a man with a dark past, as viewers see in slight glimpses of flashback. We know his childhood was not normal and that it was so terrible he left it behind. He appears to be the American ideal of the Self-Made Man. We seek the cracks, however, and we see all that "having it all" really lacks.
Unlike Mr. Darcy, who was raised and trained to be a man of his position, Don Draper has to piece his life together on his own. He was not raised with any faith or any compass beyond instincts of survival. He fails miserably in his marriage and fares little better in his role as a father to his three children. He seems to only find certainty in the world of work and later in the world he seeks to create when he begins a new marriage. He genuinely wants to be a good man, I think. The character of Roger Sterling, a partner in the same firm and the man who gave Don his first break in advertising, serves the role of being a contrast to Don, as Roger has no desire to be good, but only wants to enjoy every base pleasure he desires.
Throughout the series, we see glimpses of the nobility of character hidden deep within Don. He knows things about the other characters. Big, scandalous things which could ruin people's reputations and lives. And he doesn't tell. Like Darcy, he helps people privately and attempts to give them the best chance to move on he possibly can. Also, like Darcy, he expects nothing in return. Nothing. He shrugs it off. We understand that part of his motivation must be his own murky past. Unlike Darcy, who has been trained in a system of nobility and justice, Don seems motivated by his own mistakes. He seems to recognize himself in his fellow sinners and draw from second chances he was given. It's no small act to know things that you could use for satisfaction and to choose to keep them hidden. It's an even bigger act to show mercy to those same people and help them in the best way you are able so they can take a different path, especially when your own attempts at the right way have been so troubled.
Whatever their backgrounds or motivations, Don Draper and Fitzwilliam Darcy both face choices. They both face inner demons and their sinful natures. They both make deliberate decisions to forgive, show mercy, and help others find a new way. It's the kernel of goodness that makes them leading men for whom I cheer inside as I read and watch. They are both engaged in the moral struggles that make life so hard, so messy, but so interesting. I know how Pride and Prejudice turns out, but I still have two seasons of Mad Men to which I look forward. There were scenes that broke my heart from Season five because they were portrayed as truly tragic. I hope Don can find the good path for which he seems to really long. Real love and forgiveness, like that which he shares with some, but finds so hard to communicate in marriage and fatherhood. It's what keeps me re-reading Austen's novel and watching television like Mad Men. It's what keeps me examining my own conscience. Good can exist. Hope can exist. Because God exists, whether we acknowledge Him or not.