elizabeth_hoot (elizabeth_hoot) wrote,

The Ubiquitous Shy Question (repost)

Originally posted 20 Apr 2008

Anyone who has been in the Austen fandom very long will know what 'the Shy Debate' is. I'm not really planning on arguing it out very thoroughly. But here are my thoughts/rants.

(Side 1) Fitzwilliam Darcy is shy.

(Side 2) Fitzwilliam Darcy is not shy.

Myself, I'm more or less on side 1.5, depending on the definition of shy and whether a book or movie character is being referred to. For instance, I'd totally be on the Shy-ite side if they were going with the definition 'one who is shy draws back from others, either because of a withdrawn nature or out of timidity.' On the other hand, with this one -- '[shyness] emphasizes self-distrust, fear of censure, failure, etc., and a hesitant, tentative manner as a consequence' -- well! It is to laugh.

Anyway, about three different versions of the debate have cropped up quite independently, and I'd like to address a few of the more predictable absurdities.

(1) 'The book isn't called Shyness and Prejudice' is an idiotic argument. Nobody's saying that Darcy isn't proud; the Shy-ites' contention is rather that he is shy as well as proud. The 'title argument' makes about as much sense as arguing that if you have a purple bike with streamers, the streamers somehow take away from the purpleness.

(2) The narrator doesn't lie, and a direct statement from her always trumps Sekrit Subtext. When she says that Darcy is haughty, she doesn't mean that, 'well, yes, he's haughty at times, but then, everyone has their haughty moments -- and really, he's only covering up his secret feelings of inadequacy.' She means that he's haughty.

(3) On the other hand, don't mix up a character's opinions with a direct narrative statement. The fact that Elizabeth doesn't think Darcy's shy is so irrelevant that I almost lack words for it.

(4) Adaptations are not evidence. Of anything. Just incidentally, Messrs Firth and Macfadyen were both playing Darcy as shy. Lawrence Olivier was obviously not. I'm not sure about David Rintoul -- he gave new meaning to the word 'inscrutable.'

(5) Personal anecdotes -- whether of one's apparent shyness vanishing after some insignificant exertion, or of acting snotty to cover up secret feelings of inferiority -- are not textual evidence. Nor can your feelings and experiences be generalised to all humanity. Even -- that is, especially if you identify with a character, you can't assume that they would feel what you would, or project your own qualities and 21st-century values onto them.


My final observation, and weighing-in/analysis/thing -- I've found that I inevitably end up defending the Shy-ites, although I actually disagree with most of what they say. Partly it's because of the identification issue -- most of the anti-Shy-ites seem to be very confident and outgoing, and the Shy-ites much more tentative and in need of defending -- but mostly, I find, it's because I agree with the fundamental premise.

Setting aside all of the layers of nonsense, the basic Shy-ite idea is that Darcy isn't reserved and unsociable because he's proud, but because he's reserved and unsociable by nature. As an introvert and a perfectionist by nature, it seems completely reasonable that he should feel uncomfortable doing something (socialising with groups of unfamiliar people) he finds both disagreeable and difficult. We're told, repeatedly, that he is very different when he's around his own circle of family and intimate friends. We see it happening, when he treats Elizabeth and the Gardiners as if they belonged to his family circle and therefore deserved the courtesy of cordiality (which he clearly didn't think her worthy of before). We then see him reverting back to his previous standoffish reserve when back at Longbourn, shrugging his shoulders behind Sir William's back, while his fiancée tries to protect him from the worst of it.

What the anti-Shy-ites seem to be saying (at least the ones I've, unfortunately, happened across) is that his reserve is only the outward manifestation of his pride, and that he only feels uncomfortable (if, indeed, he does) around the Merytonites because he looks down on them. His dislike of dancing is also, apparently, a thinly disguised form of pride. In fact, just about every aspect of his pre-Hunsford nature comes down to pride, with the possible exception of his philanthropy.

Not my interpretation, obviously. IMO, it's evident that he's reserved because it's in his nature to be so, and that this is fundamentally distinct from his pride, or some obscure deeply-hidden lack of confidence.

And, as a parting note, I really wish those who insist on battling this out every other month would come up with some less asinine arguments.
Tags: character: fitzwilliam darcy, fandom: austen, genre: meta
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