Outside of a few Shakespearean characters and Sherlock Holmes, Batman and Mr. Darcy from “Pride and Prejudice” feel like two of the most frequently revived male characters in film and television. We have a seemingly endless appetite for new portrayals of Darcy and Bruce Wayne, and equally boundless energy to debate which of those portrayals are best.
The ubiquity of Darcy and Wayne isn’t a coincidence. These two represent opposite sides of the same coin, alternate visions of one man’s path. Let’s examine these two journeys side by side.
BRUCE WAYNE AND FITZWILLIAM DARCY START IN THE SAME PLACE
As they embark on their respective journeys (waging a war on crime/courting Elizabeth Bennet), Wayne and Darcy are both rich bachelor orphans. Both are well-known and widely speculated about. They have an irrepressible urge to meddle in shit that is not their business (Mr. Bingley’s relationship with Jane Bennet, the failures of the Gotham City Police Department). They each operate out of giant home bases. They elect to adhere to incredibly strict moral codes; Batman won’t kill, and Mr. Darcy won’t date someone below him in the social hierarchy. And they’re both brooding, grumpy, emotionally immature assholes.
But these men do not stay similarly situated for long.
STRUGGLE FORCES THEM ONTO DIFFERENT PATHS
Neither Wayne nor Darcy finds a ton of success right out of the gate. The police immediately start hunting Batman, and Elizabeth Bennet rejects Darcy’s proposal on the grounds of “he’s an impossibly rude dick.” (I haven’t read “Pride & Prejudice” in some time, but I’m certain that’s a direct quote.)
This sucks! What’s the point of being extremely rich if you can’t just act however you want without people criticizing your shitty behavior?
The Wayne/Darcy divergence begins with how they react to those setbacks. Wayne doubles down on Batman, and all the darkness, fear, and anger that his costumed persona represents. Rather than reexamine his own motivations or character, Wayne focuses on how to become a more effective Batman. The change Bruce Wayne wants is all external. Gotham and its institutions – not Wayne himself – need to be different.
Darcy could have followed that same progression. Elizabeth’s rejection might have reinforced Darcy’s sense of the social order, reminding him that one must know one’s own place to succeed in the Regency era. There’s already a model for that calcified view of the world in Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine. It’d ruin the novel, but Darcy becoming an even stuffier jerk wouldn’t be out of character.
Instead, Darcy stops being a jackass, looks inward, and starts considering what his actions mean for the people around him. He sets about righting the wrongs he’s committed and treating others more kindly. Change for Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” is entirely internal; he doesn’t expect Elizabeth or anyone else to be different in order to better align with his own moral code.
THE OUTCOMES TELL US THE VALUE OF EACH PATH
Bruce Wayne pours so much into his work as Batman: money, time, personal safety, the opportunity to form meaningful relationships. But he’s trapped in a miserable cycle, chasing the ghost of an idea. Crime in Gotham can’t ever be completely eradicated, and it often seems to take more aggressive and dangerous forms. Batman and his small circle don’t have a path to anything like happiness. He’ll never punch his way to peacetime.
Darcy, on the other hand, sees his life change in several beautiful ways thanks to his internal transformation. He starts a relationship with Elizabeth that’s mutually fulfilling and based on love, not societal rank. WIth his more thoughtful approach to the world, Darcy’s able to help his friends in more meaningful ways, securing Lydia Bennet’s marriage to Mr. Wickham to save the Bennet family’s reputation from ruin and supporting his friend Mr. Bingley’s marriage to Jane Bennet.
How can we look at these alternatives and not conclude that Darcy succeeds where Wayne fails?
Oh, and Darcy doesn’t make his young ward, his sister Georgiana, put on a costume and try to stop a dozen armed mob henchmen with nothing but flip kicks and a baton.