When Fitzwilliam Darcy first encounters Elizabeth Bennet at the Meryton assembly, he tells Bingley, “At such an assembly as this, it [dancing] would be insupportable? Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.” To which Bingley argues the merits of the women attending the assembly. When his friend points out Elizabeth “sitting down behind you,” Darcy replies, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at person to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
Near the end of the book, Elizabeth asks Darcy, “…when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?” To which, Darcy replies, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew what I had begun.”
Now, the romantic in most of us likes to believe in “love at first sight.” We cling to Austen’s phrases to prove Darcy experienced this great phenomenon. Austen tells us, “…and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till, catching her eye, he withdrew his own, and coldly said…” To those of us who love the idea of Darcy’s falling in love with Elizabeth across a crowded room, we cling to the idea that he must force himself to look away from her. Does he wish Elizabeth Bennet’s attentions? Does he wonder of the impression she has of him?
After the assembly, Elizabeth tells Charlotte in speaking of Darcy, “I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine.” Was this a “defense mechanism” on Elizabeth’s part? At the evening at Lucas Lodge, we learn, Occupied in observing Mr. Bingley’s attentions to her sister, Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes….
Even though Darcy attempts to keep his new obsession under control, he takes great pleasure in eavesdropping on Elizabeth’s various conversation. “He began to wish to know more of her; and as a step toward conversing with her himself, attended to her conversations with others. His doing so drew her notice.” Is he in love at this point? Likely not. But Darcy has met a woman who does not feign a regard for him and his wealth, and he finds that enticing – at the very least, Elizabeth’s actions were from the ordinary. When the others in attendance at Sir William’s entertainment decide to dance, “Mr. Darcy stood near them in silent indignation at such a mode to passing the evening, to the exclusion of all conversation….”
Sir William attempts to force their hands and have them dance. “Mr. Darcy with grave propriety, requested to be allowed the honor of her hand, but in vain.” After her refusal, Elizabeth looked archly, and turned away. Even so, Darcy finds himself admitting, “I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”
Darcy defends Elizabeth against the Bingley sisters’ remarks, but he agrees with their evaluation of the Bennets’ connections. “But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world.” Has he begun to think of Elizabeth as his future wife? Has Darcy had the argument with himself regarding her connections? As the days at Netherfield pass, Darcy continues to assess Elizabeth’s finer qualities: “…and to all this she must yet add something more substantial in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” After Mrs. Bennet’s attendance upon Jane at Netherfield, ...leaving her own and her relations’ behavior to the remarks of the two ladies and Mr. Darcy; the latter of whom, however, could not be prevailed on to join in their censure of her….
When she defends Mr. Bingley over him, Mr. Darcy smiled, but Elizabeth thought she could perceive that he was rather offended, and therefore checked her laugh. Darcy takes umbrage when the Bingley sisters purposefully cuts Elizabeth from their walk in the gardens. Then, taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she [Mrs. Hurst] left Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felt their rudeness….
We know something of his developing affections after Elizabeth takes him to task for suggesting she might like to dance a reel. Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed that, were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.
Darcy begins to enjoy their verbal swordplay, but he also begins to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention. When Elizabeth and Jane prepare to leave Netherfield, we learn, In Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked, and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her and more teasing than usual to himself. He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him – nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that, if such an idea had been suggested, his behavior during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday; and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her.
So when in Pride and Prejudice do you believe Darcy accepts that he loves Elizabeth? One of the examples above? In truth, for me, it is a scene at Rosings Park. I love how this particular scene progresses in both the 1995 and the 2005 film adaptation of the novel. It is the scene when Elizabeth is playing the pianoforte. Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing your can think anything wanting. We neither of us us perform to strangers.” To me, he is saying “I have had the argument with myself and I find nothing wanting in you,” and he says “we,” not “I.” They are both from step with strangers, but they are not strangers to each other. They are one soul in two bodies.