Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sarah Frantz on "Darcy’s Vampiric Descendants"

I am very pleased to be able to announce that Sarah S. G. Frantz's "Darcy’s Vampiric Descendants: Austen’s Perfect Romance Hero and J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood" is now online in volume 30.1 (Winter 2009) of Persuasions On-line, a publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

The juxtapositioning of Darcy and vampires in the title of the essay reminded me of the existence of Vampire Darcy’s Desire: A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation by Regina Jeffers and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange, but Sarah Frantz's essay is not about such very direct vampiric descendants. Indeed, the fact that J. R. Ward's heroes are vampires is relatively unimportant to her discussion, except inasmuch as it is the cause of their "hypermasculinity."

Frantz argues that
the proof of the power and appeal of the hero’s confession, and of Austen’s genius in creating it in the first place, can be found in the modern romance reader’s continued desire for similar masculine confession and emotion in modern romance heroes. Indeed, the most significant change in popular romance over the last thirty years is the increase in the reader’s access to the thoughts and emotions of the romance hero. [...] From the perspective of popular romance narratives, then, Austen’s achievement was to locate the emotional climax of the novel in Darcy’s narration of his maturing emotional state, even though it was constructed primarily from the exterior through dialogue. Modern popular romances expand and exploit the power and appeal of Darcy’s confession by providing continuous access to the interior perspective of the romance hero as he realizes and admits that his heroine has become indispensible to his happiness.
It could, perhaps, be argued that the hero's confession was not created by Austen. In Diego de San Pedro's late fifteenth-century Spanish sentimental romance, Cárcel de Amor, for example, it is initially made through an intermediary. However, the hero's pains are also depicted via his apparent imprisonment in a prison of love, where he is chained, and crowned with metal spikes. He eventually dies of love, but his sufferings and their depiction suggest that there has been a very long and varied tradition of depicting heroes' immense emotional suffering caused by love. Even if one only goes as far back as Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) we can find a hero making a confession of love. Mr B.'s letter to Pamela, in which he opens with the words "In vain, my Pamela, do I find it to struggle against my Affection for you" (250) even contains the same words, "In vain" and "struggle," which are used by Mr Darcy: "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you" (Chapter 34). Mr B's love also appears to make him fall ill and he tells Pamela from his sickbed that:
Life is no Life without you! If you had refused me, and yet I had hardly Hopes you would oblige me, I should have had a severe Fit of it, I believe; for I was taken very oddly, and knew not what to make of myself: But now I shall be well instantly. (255-56)
Compared to some earlier heroes and the sometimes very dramatic manifestations of their lovesickness, Mr Darcy's outburst may indeed seem "relatively mild." Frantz argues that is the insights which modern romances provide into "the interior perspective of the romance hero" which have led to an intensification in the type of evidence provided of the hero's emotions:
Darcy’s relatively mild words to Elizabeth in both the first and second proposal scenes are meaningful because the lack of narrative access to his internal perspective makes the directly expressed words a powerful representation of the barriers he has overcome in order to be able to express them at all. But when access to the hero’s thoughts is granted by the narrative, the emotional power of the hero’s confession of his feelings for and his education by the heroine must be attained through other the narrative strategies, resulting not only in supernatural heroes whose inhuman abilities redefine the limits of the merely human hero, but also in a narrative insistence on locating the emotional climax of the novel in the hero’s tears. Stereotypically in modern popular romance, the more masculine the hero, the more emotionless he is, and the larger the barrier that must be overcome to achieve access to his emotions.
Frantz focuses on heroes' tears:
In order for these superhuman men to prove that they have broken through the barrier of their masculine emotionlessness enough to fall in love with and appreciate the changes wrought by the heroine, the narratives invariably depict them crying. Masculine tears are something modern women are taught to long for as demonstrating the depths of a man’s emotions, precisely because our culture paradoxically teaches boys and men that, in order to be “real” men, they should never cry.
Of course, not all modern romances feature "superhuman men," and not all "modern women are taught to long for" masculine tears. Furthermore, not all readers of the essay will share the same "culture." Given that Frantz's essay moves from analysis of an early nineteenth-century English tex to several early twenty-first-century American ones, it might have been useful to have been told a little bit more about differences between the cultures in which they were both produced. Perhaps differences in culture, as well as differences in the degree of access the author grants the reader into the heroes' thoughts, have affected the depiction of "the hero’s confession of his feelings." In addition, although Ward's novels "invariably depict them [the heroes] crying," not all modern romance heroes cry.

In fact, Frantz seems to acknowledge this last point when she writes that "The current trend in the hero-focused popular romance means that the more alpha the hero, the more likely he is to cry to prove his love for the heroine." She has therefore chosen to study the tears shed by the heroes of J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series and she concludes that
As campy as they are, Ward’s hypermasculine vampires are Darcy’s ultimate heirs. Darcy not only must mature because of his love for Elizabeth, but he must also recognize and welcome the change his heroine has wrought in him. Superhuman, nearly immortal, cursed, and emotionless, Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Butch, Vishous, and later Phury and Rhevenge, represent the hyperbolic extreme of Darcy’s attractiveness, power, and pride. Their tears of love, acceptance, and despair break through strong taboos of masculinity and represent the inevitable physical embodiment of Darcy’s verbal expression of his emotional maturation. The stunning popularity of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series indicates that modern romance readers—just like Darcy’s first fans—appreciate the opportunity to plumb the true emotional depths of the romance hero. The more masculine the man and the more devastating to his own emotional control is his admission of the importance of love to his very existence, the more powerful and precious that admission is to the reader. Pamela Regis, after claiming Pride and Prejudice as the Ur-text of popular romance fiction, argues that “Ordering society is now an issue of taming or healing the hero. . . . Untamed or unhealed, the hero will not truly appreciate the role of the heroine in his life; he will not engage with her emotionally” (114). The spectacle of masculine tears in the popular romance both tames and heals the hero and allows him to accept, appreciate, and verbalize the necessity of his love for his heroine. But Darcy led the way two hundred years ago.
You can read the whole article at the Persuasions On-line website.

I do wonder where this analysis leaves Austen's other novels, and non-alpha romance heroes. Is Northanger Abbey the "Ur-text" of the modern romance beta hero, for example?

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. The Republic of Pemberley's online edition.
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela. Ed. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.

The photo of the "Title page from the first edition of Pride and Prejudice" came from Wikipedia. The photo of the cover of J. R. Ward's Dark Lover came from J. R. Ward's website.


  1. I was interested in the idea of Northanger Abbey as the 'Ur-text of the modern romance beta hero'. Although NA is my least favourite Austen novel Henry Tilney is definitely the hero I'd most like to marry. I find his willingness to engage in ever so slightly camp conversations about women's dress fabrics and so on particularly appealing.

  2. I just can't see the relationship of the crying heroes of contemporary romances to Darcy's first proposal. That proposal reveals more about his flaws, both emotional and intellectual, than anything else, at least from Elizabeth's perspective.

  3. "Ur-text of the modern romance beta hero"

    I don't entirely grok "alpha" and "beta", but I do find it interesting that only in a Gothic spoof does Austen write a Henry Tilney type as a hero. And by that I mean a witty hero with a sense of humor about himself. Also, as Sarah points out, he's not only aware of fashion but willing to talk about it--though I read much of his patter as light mockery.

    BTW, Justine Larbalestier just re-read Northanger Abbey and found Henry's clever, ironic style a barrier to a happily-ever-after with Catherine.

  4. RfP - yes, never really noticed the fact that the ironic Henry is perfect for a mock Gothic novel - he overturns our expectations of what a serious hero of melodrama should be like. I've just read the blog you link too and agree with Justine. Catherine is endearing - and her facility for embarrassment and mortification draws the reader in - yet she really isn't clever enough for Henry. Having said that Henry is my favourite hero it now occurs to me that I don't actually find any of JA's other heroes fully satisfactory. But neither the hero nor the heroine of MP is especially engaging yet that is my favourite novel not just by JA but by anyone.

  5. That is just fabulous, the similarity of Mr. B. and Mr. Darcy's "in vain have I struggled" speeches. I read Pamela so long ago I have no memory of any particular words or phrases.

    Thanks, Laura--and Sarah--for pointing this out. I'm glad I didn't know this while I was working on my own P&P pastiche, as I admit that similarities between dear Mr. Darcy and creepy Mr. B. definitely creep me out, but it is a wonderful insight into Jane Austen's mind.

    On the subject of Henry Tilney: he's my favorite JA hero too, but I have a more optimistic view of the marriage. Catherine isn't stupid; she's just young, not overly educated and naive. In a way, their marriage will become the "good" version of the caustic, sad Bennet marriage in P&P. Henry begins loving Catherine when he sees how much she loves him. But she won't become a vapid, grating Mrs. Bennet. Henry will encourage her reading of more sophisticated novels, and the two will grow increasingly intimate, mentally as well as physically, as Catherine "gets" more of his ironic humor. She'll always look up to his intellect, but as time goes by there will be less distance between them intellectually. And he will continue to appreciate her warmth and uninhibited love.

    If he needs a greater venue than the domestic hearth for his wit to shine, he'll become renowned for his laugh-out-loud funny sermons that also make the congregation think deeply about the text.

  6. "Henry Tilney is definitely the hero I'd most like to marry"

    Although it seems clear that Darcy is probably most female readers' favourite Austen hero, Henry Tilney does have a fan site. I was intrigued by the essay there which suggests that Austen may have based Henry at least partly on the Rev. Sydney Smith (who also has a website dedicated to him). Here's an excerpt from the essay:

    There is no record stating that Sydney Smith and Jane Austen ever met, let alone that they might have danced together at an assembly. But, as David Cecil points out, Sydney Smith in 1797 was "tall, pleasant-looking and extraordinarily amusing in a vein of humour peculiarly his own." (79) As is Henry Tilney. [...]

    if one accepts the possibility that Jane Austen met and was inspired by Sydney Smith, a comparison between the two can explain a great deal about Henry. For instance, Sydney Smith "delighted in talking nonsense on serious subjects and in producing strings of ludicrous images to prove his point; Henry Tilney's comparison between dancing and marriage was very much in his line." (Collins 163) W.H. Auden agrees, stating that Smith liked to "create pictures in what might be called the ludicrous baroque style.

  7. On the website of the Sydney Smith Association, it says that he married a lady named Catherine, in 1800. I'm sure there were lots of Catherines around in Austen's and Sydney Smith's era, and in any case the essay on the Henry Tilney website suggests that Austen might have met Sydney Smith in 1797, so it would have been before his marriage, but apparently he "had been engaged [to Catherine] some time before" and she was "an intimate friend of his sister" (Sydney 23).

    Like Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney's, the match was one which did meet with some opposition, because although Catherine's mother was in favour, her brother felt that Henry wasn't rich enough. Catherine, however,

    had too much spirit and good sense to sacrifice her own and her lover's happiness to her dignified brother's opinions. "I was twenty-two," relates the bride-elect in a hitherto unpublished fragment, "and my mother said if I chose to forego the comforts and luxuries to which I had been born, I alone was to be the sufferer; and that of my ability to decide upon that which would best constitute my happiness there could be no more doubt than of my right." (Reid 53)


    was supremely happy in her new life [...] and gradually other people grew more or less reconciled. It was a union which brought with it peace and gladness, and the glimpses we shall hereafter get of the cheerful and well-ordered home of Sydney Smith, are enough to convince all but the most hopelessly cynical that there are greater risks in life than those which young people run when they are rash enough to marry for love. (Reid 54)

    Reid, Stuart J. A Sketch of the Life and Times of the Rev. Sydney Smith, Rector ofCombe-Florey, and Canon Residentiary of St. Paul's. Based on Family Documents and the Recollections of Personal Friends. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1885.

    Smith, Sydney. Wit and Wisdom of the Rev. Sydney Smith and Passages of His Letters and Table-Talk with a Biographical Memoir and Notes. Ed. Evert A. Duyckinck. New York: Widdleton, 1870.

  8. Oh, and here's some more about Sydney Smith, from Chris Viveash's "Sydney Smith, Jane Austen, and Henry Tilney" in Persuasions (2002):

    His knowledge of fabrics is unquestioned as he replies to his patroness, Mrs. Hicks Beach, at some length, in a letter from Bath, quoting prices, dimensions, and colors of "Stuffs," quite in the manner of Henry Tilney.

    There isn't, as both these essays point out, any evidence that Austen and Smith really did meet, but it's an interesting idea, perhaps.

  9. "I just can't see the relationship of the crying heroes of contemporary romances to Darcy's first proposal"

    I can't speak for Sarah, of course, but I have the impression, from reading Sarah's essay, that she's interested in comparing the modern scenes containing crying heroes with

    "Darcy’s ardent confession of his sins and his appreciation of the education and the reformation he experienced during the course of the narrative."

  10. "Justine Larbalestier just re-read Northanger Abbey and found Henry's clever, ironic style a barrier to a happily-ever-after with Catherine."

    Like Ann, I do believe they could be happy together. Catherine isn't stupid, she just hasn't been exposed to a lot of teasing humour. In some respects that's something Darcy isn't used to either, and it's suggested that he'll learn how to take it from Elizabeth: "She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laught at, and it was rather too early to begin" (P&P Chapter 58. So I believe that Catherine, who can learn to love a hyacinth, will also eventually learn to recognise when she's being teased.

    I think Henry comes to value her because she is "Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise" (Chapter 25) and I think he's not being ironic when he says to her in the same chapter that “You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves.” She's very young and has lived a very sheltered life, but with a bit more experience of the world, and with Henry helping her to think things through, I think she'll soon become a lot more mature and better able to understand other people. And so although in Chapter 26 she thinks of General Tiley "why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?", in Chapter 27 she receives Isabella's letter and doesn't believe what's written there: "Such a strain of shallow artifice could not impose even upon Catherine. Its inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehood struck her from the very first."

    Unlike Mrs Bennet, Catherine has a strong sense of right and wrong, and she's capable of thinking about others and trying to understand their feelings. Her lack of cynicism will perhaps provide a bit of balance to Henry's rather ironic way of looking at the world.

    In addition, from a purely practical point of view, her background as a vicar's daughter means that she'd be an asset to Henry in his work.

  11. That is just fabulous, the similarity of Mr. B. and Mr. Darcy's "in vain have I struggled" speeches. I read Pamela so long ago I have no memory of any particular words or phrases.

    Thanks, Laura--and Sarah--for pointing this out. I'm glad I didn't know this while I was working on my own P&P pastiche, as I admit that similarities between dear Mr. Darcy and creepy Mr. B. definitely creep me out, but it is a wonderful insight into Jane Austen's mind.

    Thanks, Ann! It appears, now that I've gone and looked online, that some other people had made the comparison between Mr B and Darcy some time ago.

    Henrietta Ten Harmsel, in her "The Villain-Hero in Pamela and Pride and Prejudice (1961) begins by stating that "Pride and Prejudice seems so far from Pamela that the surprising similarities of Jane Austen's novel to Richardson's have gone almost entirely unnoticed" (104) but although she quotes Darcy's "In vain" speech, she only says that it's "similar to Mr. B's: 'I could curse my weakness and folly, which makes me own that I love you ...'" (106).

    Carolyn D. Williams, in her "Pamela and the Case of the Slandered Duchess," (1989) gives the two quotes I noticed:

    Mr. B. may well be doing Pamela a favor by marrying her, but it will not be a proper marriage unless he values her too highly to think so. This was a lesson Jane Austen still thought worth repeating in Pride and Prejudice (1813). As an earl's grandson, Mr. Darcy slightly outranks Mr. B, but Elizabeth Bennet is a gentleman's daughter, so the distance between hero and heroine is much narrower than in Pamela. Jane Austen probably considered this the widest gap that sensible readers could expect to be bridged by marriage, unless the bridegroom was a fool. Mr. Darcy's first proposal looks disconcertingly like Mr. B's second. "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed" has a lot in common with "I find it in vain, my Pamela, to struggle against my affection for you" [...]. Both are admissions of defeat. (531)

    Still, given that I'm not an Austen or Richardson scholar, I don't think I did too badly to stumble across the similarity. I wouldn't have spotted it, though, if it hadn't been for Sarah's essay being focussed on the masculine confession of emotion. I knew Mr B did admit something, but I certainly didn't remember that the words were so similar to Darcy's. And I only read Pamela a few months ago, so I can't blame the passage of time for my lack of memory of them. I didn't spot the similarity the first time I read the words either, even though Darcy's sentence is pretty firmly embedded in my memory.

    Ten Harmsel, Henrietta. "The Villain - Hero in Pamela and Pride and Prejudice." College English 23.2 (1961): 104-108.

    Williams, Carolyn D. "Pamela and the Case of the Slandered Duchess." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 29.3 (1989): 515-533.