May 13, 2015

Has the real Mr. Darcy been identified?


A British author believes she's identified the inspiration behind Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy. via Wikimedia Commons

A British historian believes she’s identified the inspiration behind Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy.
via Wikimedia Commons

Fitzwilliam Darcy is one of Jane Austen’s most iconic characters—brought to life in screen adaptations by the likes of Laurence Olivier, Colin Firth, and Matthew Macfayden. Now, an English author and historian believes she has identified the real-life inspiration for the Pride and Prejudice leading man.

Hannah Furness reports for The Telegraph that Dr. Susan Law of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, has come to the conclusion that Darcy was very likely modeled after an aristocrat with whom Austen spent time, the first Earl of Morley John Parker. Law is the author of a new book, Through the Keyhole: Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House, in which she lays out her case.

Law acknowledges that she’s dealing mostly with circumstantial evidence, but there is a fair amount of it. She points out that Austen spent time at the Earl’s home in Plymouth at the time when she was working on Pride and Prejudice. She was good friends with his second wife, Frances, whom many believed to be the author of Pride and Prejudice when it was first published, anonymously.

“She never came out and said ‘Your husband was Mr Darcy,'” Law explains, “so we can not say that 100 per cent. It can be very frustrating and it is like trying to piece together a jigsaw. It has been fascinating and I have been longing to find that cast iron bit of evidence. But after spending so long on it, I am pretty convinced.”

Before marrying Frances, Parker had been embroiled in a sex scandal with his first wife, that led to his suing her for adultery and their eventual divorce. Law surmises that the scandal served as the inspiration for a major plot point in Mansfield Park. She contends, “There was a media frenzy over this. The original adultery is generally believed to have been behind the adultery plot in Mansfield Park.”

After spending five years researching her book and reading through archival materials about Parker, Law is convinced that he was Austen’s model for Mr. Darcy. He’s not the first historical figure to be identified as a possible inspiration. Furness points out that “Thomas Lefroy, with whom Austen is said to have had a love affair in 1796, and Dr Samuel Blackall, a theology student and fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge whom she met on holiday” have both been discussed in the past. Austen experts, however, tend to be skeptical of such claims, and will likely need more evidence to find Law’s case convincing.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.