Who was the Inspiration Behind Mr. Darcy?

Who was the Inspiration Behind Mr. Darcy? – And Why It’s Probably Not Who You Think

Illustration by Charles Edmund Brock (1870-1938) for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1775-1817) (London: Macmillan & Co, 1895)

If you have ever read Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice (and let’s be honest, probably re-read many a time over), you may be one of those who have marvelled at the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy, the hero to deserve our heroine Elizabeth Bennet. If you have, you are not alone. A virtual ‘cult’, within the Jane Austen-fandom, has grown up around the character of Mr. Darcy.

Thus, it is perhaps no surprise that much speculation has centred on who might have been the original source of inspiration for Austen when she invented this popular hero. Often, the chief candidate for this has been named as a young, Irish law-student, Tom Lefroy. This is perhaps unsurprising, due to the facts that he is the most well-documented romantic interest of Austen’s and that she began writing Pride and Prejudice shortly after their brief courtship.

However, I would like to argue for another view on the matter; that Lefroy was probably more of an inspiration for George Wickham than he was for Fitzwilliam Darcy. I say this, fully recognizing that it may be an unwelcome idea to some. With the 2007 film ‘Becoming Jane', the romantic dramatization of the Austen/Lefroy love-story, Lefroy has been expertly imbedded in the popular consciousness as the great love of Austen’s life.

However breath-taking and well-acted ‘Becoming Jane’ was, there is little to suggest it is more that a mere fiction. What we do know of this chapter of her life, is that they met whilst he was visiting relatives who also happened to be neighbours of Jane. They danced together, flirted, laughed and sparked a fair measure of local gossip by their behaviour. We know this mostly from Jane’s own letters in which she jokes about expecting an offer of marriage from him. Or was she secretly being serious? Whatever she was actually wanting or expecting, it all came to nothing. Neither Lefroy nor Jane were rich enough to justify them marrying, and has been suggested that his family took some steps to discourage Lefroy from flirting further with Jane.

Very little of bitterness towards Lefroy exists in those letters of Austen’s which survive. And I do not personally believe that Jane Austen harboured deep resentment towards him in her later life. Still, there is a common theme present within mostly all of her novels; young, charming, witty, flattering men are not to be trusted. They will disappoint or fall short of morality sooner or later. Only consider, George Wickham, John Willoughby, Frank Churchill and William Elliot.

There are several inconsistencies when attempting to parallel the two relationships. Jane and Lefroy take an immediate liking to one and other. Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy most certainly do not. Lefroy was out-going, charming, lively and a keen dancer. Darcy, famously, is none of these things. These factors are in fact much more aligned with the character of Wickham in the novel. As I said, I do not believe Austen felt the same level of disgust towards Tom Lefroy as the character of Wickham, or Willoughby or Elliot, are set up to inspire in her readers. Rather, I believe Jane was telling us all not to trust in what is obviously charming and delightful; to look beyond first impressions of our own love-interests and see what valuable things may lie obscured behind what is awkward, withdrawn and un-flattering.

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 Anna-Christina Rod Østergaard is 26-year-old university student, currently reading for a master’s degree in English and Philosophy at Aalborg University in Denmark. She reads every Austen novel at least once a year and rarely reads a book that is less than a century old. She is a lover of history, literature, folklore, fairy-tales and, of course, Jane Austen. If you, like Anna-Christina would like to make a contribution to the Jane Austen blog, read our instructions on how to Submit a Blog

12 comments

Bear in mind the lovely Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey, though .. charming, charismatic, but thoroughly decent. Perhaps he was based – at least, in part, on Mr Lefroy? Just a thought ..

A J WADDINGTON February 18, 2021

Great article but given the title I was disappointed that there’s no theory about who the inspiration was.

Amy February 17, 2021

Intriguing article about our dear author.
I wonder if it could have been the other way around, Lefroy being Elizabeth while Mr Darcy emulated Jane herself?

Elin Eriksen February 17, 2021

I agree with Lefroy wasn’t as Darcy at all but… who was the gentleman who inspired Darcy?

Marie lynn February 17, 2021

I must say that this was a most intriguing article. However, I experienced a little letdown. So who
was the person Darcy was patterned after? We may never know.

Kurt Mathews February 17, 2021

I could be mistaken, yet I have come to believe that Mr. Darcy has various qualities from various men that Miss Austen admired or respected in her lifetime. Her wisdom about men and life make me chuckle and smile. Much is the same today as it was then; people can be fickle. Mrs. Robin Sonstegard

Robin Sonstegard February 17, 2021

I doubt that Jane knew any man of Darcy’s class, but simply imagined what such a man might be. A few years ago someone wrote an article in the journal about who might have been the “real” Darcy and I found her choice appalling. Let Fitzwilliam Darcy remain in Jane’s imagination and us enjoy him as written.

Meg February 17, 2021

Thanks for a great article and I could not agree more heartily!!!

Barbara Cantilena February 16, 2021

I have never subscribed to Lefroy being the basis of Darcy . He more likely resembles Frank Churchill, and to a certain extent Wickham. I agree with the comments above on the warning from Jane.
Mr D may well be a combination of the men she has observed during her lifetime of any age and amongst her acquaintances. But why not allow her to simply invent him. JRF

JR Reader February 16, 2021

So…who was the inspiration for Mr Darcy? The author poses the question, alludes to an answer yet does not provide one.

Laura February 16, 2021

This article addressed who probably was not the inspiration but it didn’t say who likely was. The title is a bit misleading, methinks.

Cathie February 16, 2021

I agree charm is a dangerous quality in Austen makes. Lefroy turned out to be a very establishment figure who achieved high legal office on Ireland. He opposed Catholic Emancipation and spent money in an attempt to convert Catholics. His wife had 13/14 children. God help her. He is now forgotten in Ireland and is buried in my hometown of Bray Co. Wicklow.
Thank god she didn’t marry him. He wasn’t quite Wickham or Willoughby or Elliot to be fair.

Jack Brennan February 16, 2021

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