A Lesson From Jane Austen About How We Judge Character

By Eleonora di Liscia

PrideandPrejudiceBookCoverOption3Jane Austen didn’t write about politics.  She stuck to what she knew—the narrow society of the early 19th century English gentry.  But the themes she explored through that society are still instructive today—even when applied to the 2016 Presidential campaign!

Let’s take Pride and Prejudice, casting Hillary Clinton as Mr. Darcy, Donald Trump as Mr. Wickham, and the American public as Elizabeth Bennett.  Who will win Lizzie’s heart?

Lizzie first meets Darcy at a ball. He is aloof and his manners are not sufficiently ingratiating for the gentry.  He lacks superficial charm.  He won’t dance, and Lizzie overhears him making unflattering observations about her and her family.  She, and other residents of Hertfordshire, don’t like him very much.  There’s something about him they just don’t like.

But as the story unfolds, we learn that things are not what they seem.  To some extent, Darcy/Hillary is a victim of prejudice. His real character has been obscured by the media of the day—word of mouth—with some malicious gossip thrown in to stir the pot.

Soon after the ball, Mr. Wickham arrives with the militia.  Wickham has history with Darcy, and he reports that history as innuendo and half-truths, all in a way designed to make Darcy look bad. According to Wickham, Darcy was really, really mean. Darcy cheated Wickham.  He was just really, really unfair.  Because Lizzie/the American Electorate already doesn’t really like Darcy/Hillary, she is all too happy to hear bad things and to believe every word Wickham/Trump has to say.

Not only that.  Lizzie is attracted to Wickham because she thinks he is frank, open, and charming.  (OK, our analogy breaks down a bit there.  Trump is hardly charming, but his supposed “frankness” is touted by his supporters.)

It takes some time, but Lizzie is eventually undeceived. She learns that Wickham is a first class liar. Turns out Darcy wasn’t really unfair to him. The truth is that Wickham tried to run off with Darcy’s sister.  Darcy made a deal with him, paid him off, and now Wickham wants more money.  Lizzie rethinks her whole dealings with Wickham and luckily realizes her mistaken judgment about his character before she votes for him for President.  Now, she reflects, why was he telling me all that stuff when we just met? What a big mouth!  Maybe all that apparent frankness isn’t so hot.  And he was lying to me the whole time.  Gosh, how did I get suckered by that narcissistic creep?  Except when Jane Austen writes it, she puts it a lot more elegantly.

After Lizzie learns the truth, she keeps it secret to spare Darcy’s sister from becoming an item on TMZ.  Wickham attempts to run off with and thereby ruin Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia, the quintessential low-information voter.

Now Darcy comes to the rescue. Darcy/Hillary knows how to get things done.  First, demonstrating his superior administrative abilities, he finds the wayward pair.  Then, he uses his negotiating skills, honed from dealing with world leaders, to save the Bennett sisters from a life of disgraced spinsterhood.

Elizabeth falls deeply in love.  You see, once you get to know him, you learn that Darcy/Hillary is the real deal.  In Jane Austen, good character trumps glibness and facile likability every time.  You marry the guy/girl you can count on, the one who thinks about other people, not the amoral, narcissistic charmer.

As Elizabeth says of Darcy and Wickham: “One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”

OK, the analogy breaks down again.  Trump hardly has the appearance of goodness.  But let’s substitute the word “leadership.”  Trump’s supporters think he’ll make them safer in the world by standing up to terrorists and that he’ll get things done.  Like Wickham, however, Trump is really just a lot of hot air.

If you want real leadership, you’ve got Hillary.  She’s worked successfully in the Senate and as Secretary of State.  She’s also got real goodness.  Contrary to the media’s storyline, Hillary, like Darcy, is a much warmer and more genuine than how she is portrayed.

If Elizabeth Bennett could learn to get past appearances and pick a real gem, then so can America.

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