Whilst ambling recently about the drearily brash purveyor halls of some very modern malls, I noticed something rather extraordinary: not one but several store fronts/interiors were unabashedly sporting period embellishment? From chinoiserie wallpaper and scattered editions of sepia-toned tomes to historical ‘artifacts’ (as one sales associate so quaintly expressed) and gilded ‘portraits’ of gamine waifs, attired in Empire-style gingham and plaid. Was this merely faddish nostalgia—or had History finally come to stamp its sovereign seal on retail? Such riveting revelation gave me pause and then occasion to think of the uncommon, common denominator that may have brought so many malls to their senses and so many historical writers of fiction to the thoroughly modern ‘worlde’ of social media. It is something that has inspired my own work, in fact, and it is not entirely unconnected with the prevailing intrigue over English ‘history’ or, particularly, the fascination with Regency England and the ‘bonnet dramas’ of Jane Austen. I thought you should not mind my musing over it here, with you, and in so appropriate and historical a place.
Not long ago I touted a rather novel theory to a rather bemused audience of Janeites. It went something like this and, of course if you comprehend my two fine quirks, along cosmological/historical lines. A wormhole is a hypothetical connection between widely separated regions of space and time; essentially a time-travel ‘tunnel’ that connects point A to B, and vice versa. In 1795 a ‘Point A’ was spontaneously created. ‘A’ certain lady, who was singularly ‘unique’ to the literary world, gave to history, from her most remarkable mind, a most remarkable man. His name was Fitzwilliam Darcy. A creature of stature, noble mien, in possession of a large fortune and tantalizingly ‘in want of a wife’. These two, as yet unparalleled, touchstone dimensions—an enigmatic, singular Creator and her perfectly intangible Creation—had unpredictably evolved within England’s rich Regency milieu to begin an historic ‘wormhole’ in the literary Universe.
Though Austen’s heroines garnered much acclaim through the years, the ethereal star-derivative that seemed to keep driving the desire for all things Jane was arguably (and still is) her one great pride—and prejudice— ‘Mr Darcy’. But no matter how light, bright or sparkling, her scintillating phenomenon yet lacked an articulated third dimension; a ‘Point B’, if you will. Shift forward in the process of time, some two hundred years on, to 1995. It was in this coincidental, bicentennial P&P inception-year that Jane’s fabulous Fitzwilliam finally took manly material shape.(Photo by Nicolas Genin/courtesy Flickr)
As if directly shuttled to us from JA’s highly charged and emotive mind a shining gentleman, in Regency Buck, body-carving ensemble, first stepped into the ‘Meryton’ Assembly Rooms of the BBC. He came, quite like a ‘star’-man, in the fetching figure and form of one heart-poundingly glorious creation of the flesh—enter, ‘Point B’, Colin Firth!
As the meteoric swoon of this entity rapidly overtook us all, the ‘historic’ wormhole was, at such dramatic juncture, opened between its two penetrating ‘points’. From the English Regency to the modern world, Jane Austen’s ironic reflective passage between two mirroring eras was, rather theatrically, unveiled. A Janeite ‘Stargate’ was revealed and Anglophiles, history addicts and wistful escapists everywhere saw its incandescent ‘light’. Suddenly the provenance-seeking multitudes clambered lustily out of their frowsty armoires (much like Dr. Who time-machines), emerging vociferously into the tawdry neorealism of the present day, clamoring for anything and everything English history could throw at them in a technological bonnet! Janeite fanfic sites initially set the chaise-and-four bandwagon into warp speed, then came the prequels, the sequels, the mashups; the intense love of the English estate, and associated ‘Grand Tours’ industry, followed no less fervently by the devotional blogs and everything and anything seeking likely affiliation. From Tudors, pirates, Bards and knights to sword-wielding zombies and devilishly delectable ‘vampyres’, the specter of the ‘Darcinian’ wormhole effect had metamorphosed to form its perfect paradox. And as we all wildly reached for this immutable creature, back across the centuries and through multifarious genres, Darcy continued to materialize forth as the universal paragon of the timeless metrosexual.
Certainly, I cannot but conjecture that the reason we are all gathered here today, in this very fine and historic corner of the ‘blogo-shire’, perusing Sheridans and pursuing Stanhopes, is because we all owe a debt of Anglo-fetish to Jane’s Darcy, and Mr. F’s palpable representation of him. Nay, even the erstwhile Ms. Middleton’s celebrated conquest of her fair Prince has been compared to a contemporary Bennet-style coup over P&P’s gold-standard Darcy Prize!
(Photo by John Pannel/courtesy Flickr)
So, as we all proceed here to follow the fascinations of ‘the days of Anglo-yore’, and as I myself dig heartily into English history’s entrails with my next (quite literally, I assure you), I thought it appropriate to first salute the progenitors of such fashionable frenzy with some historic aplomb.
Thus with a scraping bow (à la Mr. Collins) do I invite all Anglophiles to a journey of no indifferent venture: an exploration of the past in our own time, as magnified through Jane’s Regency looking glass. A place of scrutiny where reflections of Miss Austen’s universal truths still support the teasing notion that all of history, English or otherwise, must always adore a hero.
Past or present, can his name be anything but Fitzwilliam Darcy?
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