This past week, I was sitting in the corner of the student center, feeling rather grumpy as I worked difficult integrals when, lo and behold, there was one that could be done with a Weierstrass substitution, and it completely made my day. Readers of my blog will know I have a tendency to be rather exasperated with dead thinkers like Newton and Augustine, but not so with Weierstrass. Unlike the former, who lure you in with a few seemingly nice thoughts before they proceed to make your life hellishly difficult, Weierstrass is pretty standoffish. For one thing, his name is ridiculously difficult to spell; his substitution likewise is difficult to remember, but if you can keep your trig straight and your minuses right, the math turns downright beautiful. You start with this problem that’s impossible to solve, swap out everything you have with the equivalents Mr. W suggests, and presto, all the tough stuff falls away and you’re left with a beautifully simple, solvable problem. If the experience were to be spoken it words, it would probably go something like, “Girl, I’m sorry you’re having these issues. Go make yourself a cup of tea and have a spa date while I completely sort out your life for you.”
That sort of math had me thinking of Mr. Darcy, since he does something similar for Elizabeth Bennet in Austen’s book. I must admit I’ve thought a lot of him over the past decade. During my first degree, his DVD was pretty much guaranteed to be in every dorm in the female residences. It made for a mostly predictable movie night, given it was a film we all had and could therefore agree on. Since then I’ve often wondered what made him and that story so popular.
When I first read the book, I remember being confused by Elizabeth’s admission that she liked him mostly after seeing his estate, which seemed rather superficial (I poke fun of it in this post here). At university, I wondered if it was the intellectual sparring that goes on between them that we found so appealing, or simply the fantastic notion that you could complain and be completely and uncompromisingly difficult and a hot guy would still find you attractive. Both arguments are pretty convincing I feel. Good conversation is always nice, and being so darn desirable at your worst would be a nice thing if it were true. Some days it takes more effort than it should to be agreeable.
Though in all fairness, Darcy had a far more expansive real estate than afforded to most men. It’s highly likely he could avoid seeing Elizabeth in all her grumpy glory should he wish it, so his tolerance for bad behavior, I suspect, should rightfully be higher than the masculine average.
Still, I have to admit, I’ve had my ups and downs with him. When I was busy in business, and also for the first time in my life, miles away from my family and any genuine personal connection, I liked him a lot less. His fixing of Liza’s problems seemed a lot like a business deal without any real nod to feeling, and I had had quite enough of that sort of interaction already. I can’t even begin to say how frustrating it was when I first found myself sitting in a room with people who I knew didn’t like me…where it was nearly completely evident that they really wanted nothing to do with me if it could be avoided, and in actual fact would likely undercut me if given even a sliver of opportunity, and yet I still had to send them care packages at Christmas and chatter on in conversation with less substance than a birdsong. For a person who almost always says exactly what I’m thinking in the moment, it was… I can’t even say. I like being genuinely caring and being around genuinely caring people. It simplifies so many unnecessary complications in relationships and life almost like a W. substitution… a bit of effort at the beginning, and before you know it, you’re advancing farther than you ever imagined, with relationships stronger than you expected. At the time, in that lonely part of the world, Darcy didn’t seem that desirable.
Fast forward to engineering studies, and he’s again moved up on the attractiveness scale. When you’ve got a million and one problems to solve and your lab is going north for the winter because you happened to get the one faulty component in the pile and Newton has stuffed you with impossible integrals that even W. can’t save, any man who’s got his things together is going to seem more attractive. Nothing reminds you “ain’t nobody got time for ‘project-like’ men” quite like a temperamental circuit. So you have an estate the size of a country that has yet to be outfitted with the emotional, slightly-dangerous whims of electricity? Sign. Me. Up.
Which raises another fairly interesting point. Darcy is a book character; he literally does exactly the same thing every time you read him. Yet my interpretation of his actions was entirely different depending on the system in which I was operating, and it’s an important point to make. The idea of self and system is a nuance that often gets lost when personal experiences are presented to a general audience, especially in media, and when it is lost, fear and prejudice often take its place, sometimes affecting other relationships that really did not need meddling. And when prejudice sets in, relationships can quickly become complicated, messy integrals that are impossible to solve.
Maybe the opposite happened with Elizabeth. Having a little more pride allowed her to have a little less prejudice, which could then simplify into the story so beloved by budding, female thinkers in university dorm rooms, ready to integrate.