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Reviews of the new Pride & Prejudice movie, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, have been overwhelmingly positive, though the question has been raised – did we need another version, when some people still regularly break out the DVD of the 1995 Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle BBC miniseries? My answer is hell yeah. Let’s have a new version every year, if they are equally well done.

Mr. Darcy was my first love, and it’s been an enduring love, lasting through other, more fickle, romances. Some of those were even real. I read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights – featuring my lesser loves, Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff – at an impressionable young age. More years have apparently not made me less impressionable to the charms of the Byronic hero, the flawed, brooding antihero. More recently, in more modern form, I passed through a mild flirtation with Toby Zeigler, and now Dr. Gregory House is Darcy’s fiercest rival.

Do these kinds of men exist in reality? Eh, if I wanted reality, I wouldn’t have plunked down $7.50 to see the Pride & Prejudice matinee, or told my friends that Tuesday evening – House evening – is out for volleyball league because I’m … busy. Very busy. Work is often crazy that day, you know.

House, M.D. creator David Shore told Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times: “I didn’t set out to make him sexy. I just wanted him to be interesting.”

She responds: “But interesting in a way guaranteed to drive a certain type of pain-tolerant, female literary geek – ‘oh Mr. Rochester’ – absolutely wild. It is the women who have read and re-read Jane Eyre with its gruff and broken hero, who have sat patiently through countless remakes of Pride and Prejudice in fluttering anticipation of that one teeny tiny moment when granite-faced Mr. Darcy at last gives way who are signing up for their own personal House fantasy camp.”

I feel as though I should object to that characterization. “Pain-tolerant, female literary geek”?! Sigh. I guess the truth hurts. McNamara isn’t far off the mark, though I don’t think she completely describes the appeal of these characters for all of us geeks. As she says: “The eccentric, emotionally detached genius is a staple of female fantasy – a thinking woman’s substitute for the bad boy in leathers.”

But I’ve never been one for the bad boys in real life. Astonishing as it might sound, I like a guy to be nice to me, nice to my friends, nice to my cat, nice to the waiter. (On the other hand, I’ve known many a guy who complains that he’s too nice for women to be interested in him, and I gotta say, if “too nice” is the only flaw you can see in yourself, you’re deeply in denial, and if “niceness” is your biggest attraction, you’re not that interesting.)

I’m not a fixer, either. My closet door has been broken for months and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet. Where would I get the energy to fix a human being? And that’s ignoring the point I can’t get around – why would I want to be with someone unless I like them the way they are?

No, it’s not just about flirting with darkness, or converting the bad boy, though that is definitely far more appealing in fiction than in reality. It’s also about getting past the brooding, possibly broken exterior to discover the fine soul underneath.

It’s about being able to see the nobility and compassion inside the prickly doctor, and adoring the caustic wit that tempers it.

It’s about a man of discriminating taste who sees the true worth of the incredible Lizzie, despite the voice of his upbringing and society telling him she is not his equal, and fantasizing ourselves in her place. Pride and Prejudice doesn’t expect us to believe that Darcy becomes a better person through Lizzie’s love. He was always a better person, and she was the one person who could finally see it.

That’s the fantasy – discovering the diamond in the rough. Who happens to be gorgeous and rich (or at least a doctor). Yeah, who needs reality?

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)