by Elizabeth Famous
The National Gallery in London, England:
Letter dated June 4, 1814, written by Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley Estate in the county of Derbyshire. Found September 10, 2014, in the cornerstone of the family chapel in Arcy, France, by Colleen Firth Darcy, great great great great great granddaughter of the author.
June 4, 1814
Dear Rightful Darcy Heir,
In addition to the usual apologies and courtesies, I confess my reluctance in writing this letter. Not even a year ago its composition would have defied my sense of propriety, and had the endeavor not been pressed upon me by a person whom I cannot disappoint I would not have attempted it.
As I write, newly titled Elizabeth Darcy sits by my side, feigning innocence as she contrives to glance over my shoulder. When I remark on this, she answers, "I will atone for my intrusion by complementing the evenness of your handwriting."
My Elizabeth is aware that it has been my lifelong mission to avoid those eccentricities that expose other men to ridicule, and yet she insists on extraordinary candor in the composition of this letter, asking that I record for posterity my reminiscences of life before she and I met at a Meryton assembly near her home at Longbourn. Upon completion of this letter, I am to seal it in a locked box for a future Darcy to discover, and in exchange she has vowed to never again mention some disparaging comments about her person thoughtlessly spoken by myself when we first were made acquainted. She is not merely handsome enough to dance with but entirely captivating.
She requires that I include the most intimate details of my bachelorhood including the ignoble and salacious — details that ought not be shared with anyone in my lifetime excepting her — in hopes that our great grandchildren, whose existence may depend on the completion of this epistle, may comprehend the circumstances of their progenitor.
And so I begin …
My childhood as a schoolboy at Eaton needs little exposition, as it was the same as any boy of England born into a family such as mine. My cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, son of the 35th Earl of Glossop, trusted confidant and co-guardian of my sister, may speak on the subject of an English schoolboy's day — sports, equestrian pursuits, and voracious appetites at mealtime. He was my contemporary at school, benefiting from the same tutors and mentors.
While not at school, I received another form of instruction in form of the powerful influence of both my father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. William Darcy of Pemberley. They taught me every principle of right and wrong by their example. My father in particular was a model of fairness in his business dealings with tenants and servants and exhibited chivalrous decorum whenever he ventured into society, never an angry word passing his lips while in company.
My mother, the late Lady Anne Darcy, née Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, daughter of the 34th Earl of Glossop, exulted in the highest standards of conduct. She taught me the rules of behavior for a gentleman, and I followed them to a T, almost too fastidious in my commitment to rule following. I can recall one occasion when I refrained from speaking out of turn at table even as hot soup was spilled on my thigh. The subsequent blisters had to be attended to by my nurse Mrs. Reynolds, which was a humiliating experience for a boy of ten. And no matter the provocation, I would never tattle on the misdeeds of a playfellow for fear of bringing upon myself my mother's harshest critique, "Fitzwilliam, such grumblings are beneath you!"
My parents were excellent at entertaining, but their graciousness did not come naturally to me, their only son. My Elizabeth can wax poetic on the subject of my shortcomings in this area. As a boy I had a tendency to make people of lesser rank feel uncomfortable in my presence, even if my behavior or expressions weren't in and of themselves unkind. This was not the product of ill will but of thoughtlessness and inability to catch the tone of conversation of those unknown to me. As young master of Pemberley, I made no effort to put those around me at ease. I was innately reserved and rarely loquacious, unless surrounded by intimates, so I felt no impulse to enter conversations or ask questions I'd rather not bother with. This is not to say that I was a spoiled imp meanly addressing servants or failing to greet acquaintances while on Sunday visits with my parents. My mother would not have stood for such behavior. I always did my duty but was aloft in doing so.
Before moving on to an account of my life after I reached the age of majority, I feel I must discuss circumstances involving a childhood companion named George Wickham, who has intruded on my life to such an extent that all of my happiness as well as the Darcy legacy were threatened by his schemes, including the not disinterested and probably ingenuous romantic pursuits of both my sister and my future wife. Some may accuse me of provoking his anger in one way or another, by my jealousy or disrespect of him, but on more than one occasion I have attempted to placate him and financially assist him, but it was never enough and he is never satisfied.
From his earliest days, George Wickham was distinguished as a favorite by my esteemed father thanks to his charisma and outward affability. His general good humor and liveliness made him popular among our circle of friends. His freedom to run wild and do as he liked, which far exceeded that of other boys our age, was envied by all, including myself.
Far be it for me to assign blame to anyone other than Mr. Wickham himself for his wanton behavior as a man, including high stakes gambling, spreading slanderous falsehoods and sexual misconduct, but his father, who was for many years the able steward of all of Pemberley Estate, never curbed his wife's vulgarity, allowing her to influence their son in such a way that his inauspicious fall from respectability must serve as a warning to any indulgent parent.
Mrs. Wickham was a woman unfazed by meanness. I recall covering my ears as she laughed uproariously at her son's jokes about a lady's unmentionable parts. She gave no sign of disgust when young Wickham bragged of pilfering a haunch from the Pemberley kitchen. During gatherings at Pemberley house, she offered Wickham and other boys including myself sips of spirits when we were outside my mother's notice. George Wickham as a boy was unruly and reckless, and, as he grew older, true depravity set in, ruining his character. No longer guilty of mere boyish pranks and nonsense, he became a pariah.
At age 18, Wickham began corrupting young women. His first victim was an Irish girl of middling birth named Miss Dornan, who now goes by the name Mrs. Younge. She never married but uses a married woman’s title so she may remain unmolested and make her way about London without attracting notice. As far as I have learned, her only regular employment, with one notable exception which I shall get to in a moment, was as a maid in a brothel.
At the tender age of 14, the future Mrs. Younge visited Pemberley as the child of an architect from Dublin who'd come to Pemberley on commission and planned to stay for twelve months. A fortnight after her arrival, she disappeared, taking with her clothes and pocket money. Her father was of course distraught. A magistrate was called, but, as far as I know, her family never learned the truth, nor did my esteemed parents.
I myself did not learn of Wickham's involvement in her disappearance until many years later, after both my parents had passed, when under threat of prosecution and with the aid of bribery, Mrs. Younge confessed the whole of her history with Wickham, including the story of how Wickham had arranged to have her, as a girl of 14, taken away from her family and friends at Pemberley, only to abandoned her in London with promises of his return. His visits were infrequent but enough to leave her clinging to him as her "darling Wickham" and offering herself to him in any capacity he required. Not even the dastardliest plan was beneath the depths she sunk for him.
When my sister Georgiana was 15, one year older than the trying age at which Miss Dornan was corrupted, she went to Ramsgate for a summer holiday, inspired to visit by her love of music and the promised enjoyment of a concerts series held there. I secured the services of a Mrs. Younge as companion to my sister, not realizing she was the former Miss Dornan. She was recommended to me by my cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, who got her name from a fellow colonel, who I later learned was acquainted with George Wickham. Mr. Wickham helped Mrs. Younge forge reference letters using information he possessed as a former intimate of my family.
About a month after Mrs. Younge and my sister established residence in Ramsgate, I arrived unexpectedly and discovered that my hire was in conspiracy with Mr. Wickham to persuade my sister to run off with him to Gretna Green. Georgiana's 40,000-pound inheritance was his main object, as well as getting back at me for not providing him with the family living he requested in addition to the generous payout I made to him in lieu of the preferment. The thought of him succeeding in his designs on my beloved sister is unbearable to me. I don't exaggerate when I say that my peace of mind would have been forever ruined if he'd succeeded with my sister as he had with Mrs. Younge. What a tragedy it would have been if I'd been unable to protect Georgiana just as my father had been unable to protect Miss Dornan.
Ten years my junior, my sister Georgiana always looked to me as a father figure and strived to please me in all things. When I came upon her in Ramsgate with her trunks packed, I was stunned by her refusal to answer my direct questions. After pressing her, she confessed to the whole of her plans with Wickham. To this day I cringe to think of my angry outbursts that morning. I now realize that the reason she turned to a companion such as George Wickham had to do with my deficiency as a brother and guardian. My domineering manner of dictating to her in all matters of import as if she were still a girl of ten had pushed her into the arms of a corrupt and syrupy sycophant.
Returning to Pemberley with my sister free of Wickham, she and I conversed at length, and amid her tears she told me that what she really wanted was a brother whom she could confide in. She said she never truly wanted to marry Wickham, just appreciated his kindness. I promised to do better, to respect her as a young woman and encourage her to be open with me about her feelings, whether or not they were in line with my own. That night I went through my mother's jewelry and choose a favorite piece for Georgiana, asking her to assume her rightful place as mistress of Pemberley. She did not immediately take to the role, but I believe she is now delighted to act as co-hostess alongside my bride Elizabeth.
Moving on to the story of my years at university, I can say this period was noteworthy not only in that I came to develop my interest in botany and ancient Greece, but it was during this period that I developed a distaste for the contrivances of the fairer sex.
Frequently invited to dinner by the families of fellows at Cambridge, I encounter comely young ladies so eager to please that their conduct bordered on scandalous. After hearing only a few words about my connections, they would seek my notice with pitiful displays and undignified ploys. Had my name been kept anonymous, I venture to say I wouldn't have been half so cunning a card player or expert a rider. At a private ball in town, I recall one lady bending forward to pick up her fan, then looking up at me to ask, "Do you like my new muslin?"
"It allows one to discern your person with transparency," I replied, but this comment she seemed to enjoy immensely.
By the grace of god, I have the ability to assess my own virtues, and this enabled me to avoid being puffed about by flattery as other young men in the their early twenties might have been. I recall visiting the country home of a family grieving the loss of an elder and overhearing the aunt whisper, "I heard Mr. Darcy is likely to be very soon engaged. I must invite him to dinner so my niece might have her chance before the other young lady secures him."
The truth is that I was never close to an engagement, unlike my intimate friends who were forever felling in love, yet my aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, would often call unexpectedly to warn me of dangerous rumors to that effect. On several occasions she stopped by my lodgings to inquire as to whether, in disregard of her and my mother's wishes that I marry my cousin Anne, I had made an alliance with a certain titled lady or reputed beauty as had been scurrilously reported to her. On these occasions, I carefully explained to her that my mother's wishes with respect to her daughter were not binding; however, I did not go so far as to bluntly assert that I had no interest in my cousin romantically. Be that as it may, the three or four eligible ladies who did interested me over the years, and with whom I ventured to become better acquainted, were scarcely more likely to win my hand.
I, like any other man, appreciate feminine beauty and acknowledge the lure of it, but the young ladies who put themselves forward as potential love interests upon first hearing a man's income, and without knowing anything substantial of him, expose themselves as not only mercenary but entirely careless with regard to their own future happiness. Perhaps this unfortunate conduct is precipitated by dire financial situations whereby ladies are poor compared to the gentlemen of their family. Disproportionately small sums being settled upon daughters, while leaving most of an estate to the eldest son, has led to pressure to marry for financial reasons, as opposed to happiness. It has always been the case that men in the Darcy family have settled substantial sums upon females in the family, so Darcy daughters have no need to choose a partner out of desperation.
You, as my descendent who has discovered this letter, are responsible for teaching the young ladies of the family that if they are desirous of a good marriage, they ought to direct their energies to study, strengthening of their minds and powers of judgment, and development of accomplishments useful to the mistress of an estate. A match based on mutual affection is preferred, and in order to achieve this a lady ought to work not only on her appearance but perfecting her moral virtues and presenting herself as both sensible and good tempered.
As a young man, I looked to my friend Charles Bingley’s sisters as examples of ladies of good breeding, and Caroline Bingley is an example of a woman I once admired. I was introduced to her by her brother soon after he and I met at Cambridge. Thoughts of him as a suitable partner for my sister caused me to accept his invitations to dine at his house in town. As for his sister and I, it was not so much that she entertained me (although her performance on the pianoforte was delightful) or challenged me (although she had numerous strong opinions) but that she appreciated the qualities I possess: my family legacy, my intelligence and my reasoned reactions when faced with adversity. She held me in high esteem, and this assisted my partiality.
My immediate interest in Miss Bingley was also based on her talent at navigating social situations and playing hostess with ease. These qualities were of great importance to her brother, as well as myself as his frequent visitor. They were qualities my mother possessed, and I once assumed that I would choose a wife with these qualities in abundance: a natural yet practiced hostess. This preference changed when I found myself faced with a woman who stirred my interest with her saucy playfulness, but this letter is a history and not a description of my current state of marital felicity.
A history of my bachelor years cannot avoid the mention of several unsettling cases of licentious conduct on my part. Firstly, I confess to a hastily arranged first carnal encounter at the age of 19 with a young lady of the same age who worked in the kitchen at the Lambton Inn. She told me she'd been with several men previously, so I needn't worry if I were inexperience, and she offered to become my mistress, saying, "We needn't worry about deciding on my allowance till later."
After the encounter, I mumbled farewell and made my way out the back door of the inn, uncharacteristically elated but without just cause for the smile on my face. Several months after I heard that she'd left Derbyshire and gone on the town after getting involved with an older married man, resulting in his wife exposing her to the scorn of the entire community of Lambton.
Any explanation I might offer for my behavior involving this ill-fated young woman is obscured by the fact that there were no rational thoughts passing through my mind during the ten minutes I spend with her in the pantry closet. I do recall that a week after our single encounter she angrily called me out for not continuing our affair as I alighted from my horse near the inn, and I managed to apologize with sufficient religious fervor to stave off any public altercation. This wretched experience taught me three things: 1. the idea of a man being married to one woman and involving himself with a second as his mistress is insupportable, 2. don't use a woman for sexual gratification without her full consent to be used merely as a vessel and 3. the filthy business of prostitution has its place.
Something my father failed to teach me, and I had to learn on my own, was that I, as caretaker of a celebrated English estate, must avoid country girls, servants, and shopkeeper’s daughters who could be ruined by relations with me. Young men of means will always find a way to lay with women, but it's deplorable to be responsible for a young maiden falling out of respectable society and never being able to marry, be it to a game keeper, coachman, or maybe even a cleric. It's wrong to soil an unmarried woman's reputation, as overt and tempting as her amorous offers may be. A man may avail himself of prostitutes because they have no character to preserve, but it's inexcusable to be the one who leads a young woman astray.
When several years out of Cambridge and just back from my grand tour of the continent I hired a fiery-haired young woman as chambermaid at my house in town, I knew it would be morally abhorrent to expand her household duties to include attending to me. She initiated contact, offering me a palliative massage, but this was likely a misguided attempt to better her situation in life. It would be a disgrace to my name to use a lesser's ignorance, and disregard for consequences, for my pleasure. I could not but envision a scenario in which I impregnated this young woman, causing a life of ignominy for the resulting child. I released her from my embrace before completing the act and wrote a letter of reference to secure her employment elsewhere. The days and weeks that followed I sublimated my frustrations with daily swims at the public bath.
As for my above-mentioned advocating of prostitution for unmarried men, my beliefs are pragmatic, not wholehearted. While on tour of Europe, I let rooms over an olive oil shop and within a short walk of the ruins of the Coliseum and was soon made aware of a nearby house of ill repute, with high-priced prostitutes who worked for an affluent madam with extensive property throughout Rome. After attempting to avoid their notice, I found myself accompanying a group of men from the club to their front door. After that, I regularly hired one lady but was always uneasy about it; it was humiliating to pay a woman for her company. She was professional and rarely let on that she wanted to get it over with and go about washing herself. I will never forget lying on her bed staring at the the erotic oriental wall hangings that were anything but while my skin itched from the yellowing over-bleached sheets.
As beautiful as was my preferred lady of the night, I was never fully satisfied by her, nor by other prostitutes I met in London, because there was no genuine affection in the coupling. It was merely a business transaction. Thus, in my mid twenties, my thoughts turned to marriage, and not just a suitable marriage to an accomplished woman but a love marriage. Of course a wife is much more than a lover — she also shares a common outlook and goals — but my thoughts on choosing a wife were undeniably altered by the carnal dissatisfaction I describe. My Elizabeth, who is continuing to read this account while looking over my shoulder, expresses her astonishment at my forthrightness. Luckily, her profusion of blushes makes me saving, and I do not blush.
June 5, 2014
Taking up my pen again, I continue …
When on the cusp of manhood, I would have told you that I wanted a wife of equal social standing who came from a prominent family, someone of excellent character who wasn't inordinately chatty. But as I grew older I realized the importance of eliminating the possibility of a passionless marriage. A wife with a certain air, an elegance like my mother was perhaps necessary but not sufficient for me.
As a younger man, I expected that, like my father, I would attach myself to a demure wife who always agreed with her husband in public settings. My mother, with her perfect manners and not overdone or officious hospitality, danced gracefully and spoke with a bit of French accent she learned from her governess. She understood subtlety and grace, but she was not overly enthusiastic, never effusive with me or my sister in an affectionate way.
Based on my experience with my mother, I developed a prejudice that women who always smile lack depth of feeling, associating equanimity with a lack of ardent emotions. So, if I wanted a partner in life to share a robust intimate relationship with me, I needed to seek a woman who expressed fervency in life. This I realized even before I met my Elizabeth.
I should mention that my mother, Lady Anne Darcy, was never thought conceited like her sister Lady Catherine. Unlike her sister, she was naturally soft spoken. As younger sister to boisterous Catherine, my mother was in the background during her first season in town; her coming out was barely talked of because of her quietness. However, she was attractive to a sensible man such as my father. As a young gentleman of great wealth, he appreciated my mother's prestigious pedigree and made an effort to get to know her, finding her to be the epitome of genteel. They were married with joyous blessings on all sides. The unification of the two great families, Fitzwilliam and Darcy, was the talk of the town in London and all over England.
My father was a charming man and, as such, attracted interest socially after his marriage and before. I believe he was faithful to his wife, but in my presence he never showed himself to be enraptured with her. My mother didn't partake in sparkling conversation or laugh with spirit. She was not an advocate of exercise or fresh air. My mother was devoted to her husband and happily gave her life to him according to her lofty sense of fidelity and obligation.
As the only son of Lady Anne and William Darcy, I was taught to respect the importance of the Darcy legacy. My father pressed upon me that my choices affected not only myself but all of Pemberley lands and village. If I sinned, sin would blacken Pemberley, as those under me would follow my example. I have never let these teaching stray far from my thoughts and they impact everything I do. In my father's final years, I began assisting him in overseeing Pemberley. My first responsibility was hiring a landscape designer to update Pemberley grounds and give them a less formal, more natural appeal. My father lived long enough to see these alterations, and on his death bed he said that he was comforted by the thought that he was leaving Pemberley in good hands. "As long as you maintain the respect and admiration of those in our employ, they will readily do right by you," he told me, before calling in Georgiana who sniffled as he told her how pretty she was.
Much has been said about my pride that I am weary of speaking on the subject, but, I proclaim, as someone recently humbled, that my pride came from the praise I received from my father for my dedication and abilities. He told me that it was because of my noble qualities that I deserved my position as future master of Pemberley. At times my pride has caused me to express myself poorly. I've never been able to suffer fools gladly and often turn away in disgust. As a young man, I expected to be automatically acknowledge for my status and looked upon in silent admiration. As you may guess, my overabundance of pride did not go unnoticed by the woman I fell in love with. Since she entered my life, I've ventured to overcome the more troublesome aspects of my haughtier, and develop more acute sensitivity to the feelings of others. With her as my guide and my inspiration, I plan to pass on these improvements to our future son.
I hope that you, as both my reader and my heir, are informed by this letter and that you may be guided by the lessons I learned as a bachelor, or at the very least, I am confident you now know something of your forbearer's thoughts on living honorably.
 Colleen was born in 1995 when the BBC mini series Pride and Prejudice staring Colin Firth debuted, and her father, Fitzwilliam Darcy VII, has a strange sense of humor.
 "How can you contrive to write so even?"
-from Pride & Prejudice, Chapter X of Volume I (Chap. 10)
 "Certainly," replied Elizabeth -- "there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without."
"Perhaps that is not possible for any one. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule."
-from Pride & Prejudice, Chapter XI of Volume I (Chap. 11)
 "I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
-from Pride & Prejudice (chap. 31)
 "No," said Darcy, "I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding -- certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost for ever." –from Pride & Prejudice, Chapter XI of Volume I (Chap. 11)
 "Your profusion makes me saving; and if you lament over him much longer, my heart will be as light as a feather."
-from Pride & Prejudice, Chapter XVII of Volume II (Chap. 40)