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Darcy v Heathcliff and the Societal Implications of a Changing Era

Georgian Era literature might just be my favorite genre. It's as close to cheesy romance novels a person can get without being considered lowbrow. Just joking, Georgian Era literature is laced with class struggles and conflicts of societal expectations against self-determination, which is in truth a timeless subject. This post entry will superficially examine the change over in class mobility between the early Georgian Era literature of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice verse the late Georgian Era work of Emily Bronte by comparing their antagonists Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy. Let's begin.

Who was Fitzwilliam Darcy? He was the love interest of Elizabeth Bennet and the owner of Pemberley House, a massive fictional estate. Darcy a perfect reflection of his time, was rude to the lower status Elizabeth when they first met. Elizabeth who as a character fought off financial and social instability sought out the likes of Darcy as a means of security. He, in turn, evolved from being harsh to polite, and eventually sympathetic to Elizabeth's precarious social standing. The book may have had the two as love birds by the end, but I saw less a romance and more of a tolerance of one another. In real life, Austen was a failed social climber and Darcy was probably her fantasy coming true, only it never did for her. This is due to the fact that people with wealth tend to marry other people with wealth. This may explain why Austen felt the need to incorporate the storyline of Anne, daughter of Lady Catherine de Bourgh being betrothed to Darcy as a side plot in her book. A man of Darcy's standing would have ensured his wealth and likely not his feelings, something Austen didn't understand because she didn't factor in that powerful men like the character Darcy would have had a mistress or two.

Comparatively, it is equally important to understand the character of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. The reflection of the character created by the author shows not only the understanding that they had for the times but of social standing amongst interpersonal relationships themselves. In Heathcliff, Bronte wrote him as a man with a significant backstory, something that Austen failed to give Darcy, possibly because Austen may not have known too many of the type men she wrote about. While Bronte may have had more interactions with higher status men in her days as a teacher. Heathcliff begins as a beggar, turned stable boy, and finally a tyrant of a landowner. Heathcliff finds strong motivation to overcome the hurt Catherine Earnshaw caused him by saying it would degrade her to marry him. This moment takes the humble Heathcliff, who was begrudgingly tolerant of his mistreatment by the Earnshaw's from a lovelorn young man to a cruel soul. Bronte wrote realistic dialog for Heathcliff and although her work may have met mixed reviews at first, her book has left a lasting impression as heartfelt. Heathcliff may very well have been an original anti-hero.

The different books shine a light on the class mobility between the Regency period and the Victorian period by the way that the romantic leads interact with their love interest. Austen was slightly a generation older than Bronte, yet their books show two very different societies. In Austen's world, the only way to have money was being born into it or the less likely of marrying into it. For Bronte marrying money was still an option, but so was outwitting the landed gentry. The books each prove that an emerging middle class was changing the tides of the downtrodden. This can be seen in how Edgar Linton dispatches Heathcliff when they first meet and he makes use of his men to take Heathcliff away. In a short time though, Heathcliff finds a workaround to this obstacle. In the end, Heathcliff gets the better of Linton by first making Catherine weak, marrying his sister Isabella, and then taking his daughter Cathy and her property. All the while the dandy Linton is unable to meet Heathcliff as a match, thus proving the erosion of the elite during the two time periods. Austen wouldn't have even considered incorporating a truly poor man as a romantic prospect in her time.

These books bring an important context to today's social issues. In that, it is true and certain that society has and never will be stagnant. The Heathcliffs out there are not going to be lowly forever and the men like Darcy were not as secure in their wealth as they were in Austen's time. Darcy had control over his socially lower connections as we can see in how he handled George Wickham (was Wickham Darcy's Heathcliff?). A man like Darcy would never have known a Heathcliff outside of giving an order or maybe even a coin for charity. In Heathcliff's time though, a man like Darcy would be dominated eventually due to his inability to stray away from his rigid social code or his overreliance on the status quo protecting his interests. Ultimately, the things we all expect are far more temporary than we realize and those that shy away from the world are bound to be bulldozed by it as it changes without them like Edgar Linton.

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