Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) and Charlotte Brontë’s Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre) are members of an elite group in the British literary canon: the Byronic Heroes. But who is a better character? A better man? A better initially-ill-conceived-but-ultimately-heart-throbbing love interest? In the interest of SCIENCE, I will borrow Forever Young Adult’s Highly Scientific Analysis™ to find out!
Spoiler warning: Both Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice have several juicy twists and turns, many of which I will discuss in detail. I know it was practically impossible to escape high school English class without reading something by Jane Austen or a Brontë sister, but if you haven’t read these books and you want to remain pure, turn back now! If you have read these books or you just don’t care, read on!
Without further ado, let the great Darcy VS Rochester battle commence!
Round One: Tragic Character Backstory
Mr. Darcy: 5
Mr. Rochester: 10
Rochester is the clear winner here, by which I mean his backstory is so much more tragic than Darcy’s. Rochester was forced to marry a crazy, cruel woman for her fortune. He was chained to her until one of them died, and since he’s not a murderer he did the next best thing–lock her in the attic, forcing him to live with the constant guilt and hatred of his own house.
What does Darcy have to complain about? His adoptive brother almost ran away and eloped with his baby sister? Compared to a Brontë novel, if you enter a story with your wits, limbs and fortune intact, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.
Round Two: Relationship Progression
Mr. Darcy: 6
Mr. Rochester: 8
Darcy gets major points in my book for how he handled the whole Wickham/Lydia situation. It wasn’t his problem, after all. No one would have blamed Darcy for not stepping in to pay off Mr. Wickham and encourage him to marry Lydia, because no one would have ever imagined that he would do such a thing. He didn’t even do it to show Elizabeth that he loved her, because he wanted to keep it quiet. It’s the most selfless and wonderful thing Darcy ever does in the pages of Pride and Prejudice.
However, the nature and proximity of Jane and Rochester versus that of Elizabeth and Darcy means that Rochester wins this round. Jane and Rochester live in the same house, which gives them an abundance of solitary, intimate conversations away from the listening ears of mothers, sisters and friends. In spite of Mrs. Fairfax, Miss Ingram and Adele, Jane and Rochester often seem like the the only two people in the world–especially at night.
Rochester, however, gets a deduction for two counts: the existence of Miss Ingram and the existence of Mrs. Rochester. Rochester uses Miss Ingram to make Jane jealous (because he’s a thirteen-year-old girl) and he uses Mrs. Rochester to pretend to be single so he can pursue both Jane and Miss Ingram. He shows two faces: the gallant gentleman with Miss Ingram and the rakish one with Jane. I swear, that smile… He also gets major points for this swoon-worthy declaration of love:
I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you–especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if… two hundred miles… come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.
Everyone all together now: “awwwww!”
Round Three: The Proposal
Mr. Darcy: 5
Mr. Rochester: 7
In vain I have 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.
Oh Darcy. Darcy, Darcy, Darcy. The only way Darcy could figure out how to propose to the woman he loves is by insulting her. “I wish I didn’t love you,” he says. Did he mean “it’s not socially prudent for me to love, but I do anyways?” yes. Does this make his first proposal better? Nope. Darcy gets points for the iconic line “you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” but he loses a lot for the whole “your family is embarrassing and I kind of wish you didn’t belong to them” sentiment.
I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions… I ask you to pass through life at my side – to be my second self, and best earthly companion.
I gotta tell you, the only reason Rochester didn’t score a perfect 10 in this category is because he lied to Jane’s face about having a wife. Jane inadvertently calls him out on it when she responds to his proposal with “Your bride stands between us,” (meaning, of course, Miss Ingram). Rochester responds: “My bride is here” (meaning that he’s not going to marry Miss Ingram), all the while neatly sidestepping the fact that he’s… actually already married.
Round Four: The Gigantic Screw-Up
Mr. Darcy: -5
Mr. Rochester: -10
I guess Darcy “won” here, which means his gigantic screw-up was significantly less horrible than Rochester’s. Darcy’s main issue here is lack of communication. He didn’t tell Elizabeth the truth about Wickham, he didn’t ask her about Jane’s feelings for Bingley, and he was, for some reason, unable to communicate his feelings for Elizabeth without completely insulting her. Someone needs to give this kid a lesson in Human Conversation.
Rochester, on the other hand, needs a lesson in Not Lying to the Woman You Love and at least three semesters of How To Avoid Keeping Women Captive in Your Attic. The only good thing that can be said about Rochester in regards to the whole Mrs. Rochester vs Jane situation is that he refused to murder his wife. And when that’s the best thing you can say about someone’s actions, then you still have a pretty serious problem.
Round Five: The Happy Ending
Mr. Darcy: 10
Mr. Rochester: 7
Austen gave Darcy and Elizabeth a happy ending (in the 1995 BBC adaptation, they even had a double wedding with Jane and Bingley!), so they get full points here, because I’m a sucker for happy endings. Rochester and Jane got a couple of points knocked off because Charlotte Brontë just couldn’t control herself and had to a) destroy Thornfield Hall in a fire b) use the fire to make Rochester blind and c) took away one of his hands. I mean, seriously, Charlotte? Would it have killed you to let them be happy?
She did allow Rochester to get some of his sight back by the time Jane gave birth to their son, so that was… marginally nice of her.
Final Round: The Actor
Mr. Darcy: 9
Mr. Rochester: 6
Everyone and their mom has adapted Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, both for the screen and the stage. For simplicities sake, I’m going to judge one actor each. For Pride and Prejudice, there’s only one adaptation worth mentioning (sorry Keira)–the BBC 1995 mini series, starring the wonderful Colin Firth.
Look at that face. That half-smirk that simultaneously mocks the world while wondering how you became such a beautiful, beguiling creature. The only reason Colin Firth didn’t get a 10 in this category is because he ended the film wearing this hat:
I mean, come on. It’s larger than his face.
Mr. Darcy: 30
Mr. Rochester: 28
It was a close call, but in the end it looks like not lying about having your insane wife locked in the attic works in your favor–Mr. Darcy wins!
What do you think? Is Rochester superior to Darcy in every way? Should I have thrown Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff into the mix as a dark horse in the running? Tell me in the comments!