[repost from wordpress]
Awhile ago, I happened across Maya’s (sarahtales’s) theory of Snack Food characterisation. It goes something like this:
Reasonably well developed characters come in three basic types: the Angst Muffin, the Sandwich, and the Pastry.
The Muffin is defined by Pain & Suffering, and is typically humourless and overflowing with repressed passion and angst. Deep down (sometimes very deep down), Muffins are tragic, sensitive souls who long to be loved and appreciated — though often they’re pretty picky about just who they want to be loved by. Think Heathcliff, Hamlet, Fëanor.
The Sandwich is defined by incredible, indescribable, mind-boggling niceness. Not honour, necessarily — a Sandwich need not be honourable at all, though often they are — but niceness. Typical Sandwiches are wholesome, hearty, steady, loyal, and reliable. Samwise Gamgee and George Knightley are quintessential Sandwiches.
Pastries, however, are rather more difficult to define, though easy enough to spot. Take a good look around. That clever, satirical person, the one who seemed either boring or appalling at first glance? That’s the Pastry. Typical Pastries are witty, sardonic, and absolutely assured of their own unassailable rightness.
A few distinctions need to be made here. Pastries and Sandwiches can suffer, often a great deal — they just don’t consider the suffering itself terribly significant, but rather the epiphany or experience that caused the suffering. And pride is not solely the province of Pastries; in others, however, it comes from something other than the Pastries’ specifically intellectual arrogance. Also, there is some crossover between the types — some Muffins have Sandwich-like inclinations, and so on.
So, I happened across all this, and it struck me that this is The Problem with Adaptations & Fanon.
Fanon!Darcy is typically described as brooding, aristocratic, wooden, proud, shy, passionate, unsmiling, decisive, sexy. All these descriptions are shamefully reductionist and most are unsupported or in direct defiance of the text. I have never been able to quite wrap my mind around this phenomenon, except with a vague feeling that, somehow, It’s All Colin Firth’s Fault. (Except really Andrew Davies' & Co, but never mind that.)
Now, however, I have discovered the truth.
The truth is that Darcy is a Pastry, but nearly everyone thinks he’s a Muffin.
I cannot completely blame Mr Firth. Matthew Macfadyen played him as a total Muffin, too. However, few people seem to have taken Macfadyen’s Darcy as OMG the only possible Darcy EVA!!! so I consider his version less culpable — and it started before the last Pride & Prejudice anyway.
So, I decided to take a gander at the other Austen novels, just for the heck of it, through the Snack Food lens. Here are a few thoughts.
Miss Austen was not, by nature, a Muffin fan. Not that she disliked them — just that she found it difficult to take them seriously. However, she was not one to let that interfere in her art. She moved from mockery and caricature to genuine attempts to portray, to sympathetically portray, the Muffiny plight. All of these portrayals are highly controversial, perhaps because of her own ambivalence.
See Exhibit A, Fanny Price. Miss Price, in other circumstances, would probably be a Sandwich. Like her cousin Edmund, she has a lot of Sandwichy characteristics. Nevertheless, she isn’t a Sandwich. And, despite the grotesque efforts of Rozema & Co, she’s not a Pastry, either. She’s an Angst Muffin. She’s all about suffering, past and present; her entire character is wound about it. Which is not to say that she is not very admirable — however timid and shy and tremulous she may seem in general, she stands her ground when push comes to shove. That doesn’t make her less Muffiny, though — just the highly-strung, morally upright, introspective variety of Muffin.
A more traditional pair of Muffins show up in Sense & Sensibility — a most unlikely pair, as they first appear. Not a pair at all. Just two Muffins wandering across the Sandwichy landscape.
Marianne is one of them, of course. Never was a truer Muffin ever born. Unlike Fanny, however, Marianne is a Muffin who rejoices in her Muffinness until the very end. Then she decides to be an Elinoresque Sandwich, not realising that her sensible, excruciatingly civil sister is in fact a closet Pastry. I’m always doubtful about the success of this venture. It’s one thing to be an improved, less selfish Muffin. It’s another to be something else entirely. Nevertheless, she throws herself into it with true Muffin fervour, and ends up a prize to the worthy Colonel Brandon.
Who, ironically, is her fellow Muffin. I’m not sure why so many people go to the effort of transforming Darcy into a gloomy, brooding thirty-something with a tragic past, when Colonel Brandon is on offer. The colonel’s character is shaped and dominated by The Eliza Incident, years after it happened. Now, this makes him eminently suitable for Marianne — it’s not just he’s proved his worthiness and gets his prize, but that he can really get her in ways that probably nobody else can. Nevertheless, the relationship still squicks me. Not the age difference, just . . . something’s not quite right.
Perhaps it’s just the Muffin Trap. Muffins very easily go to extremes, or what non-Muffins would consider extremes; they need balance. Sticking two Muffins together — especially two such Muffiny Muffins as Colonel Brandon and Marianne — seems, to me, to be asking for trouble. Perhaps they’re different enough to serve as checks to one another, but in my opinion the danger is the opposite — that they’re too similar and will only feed one another’s excesses.
That’s always the trouble with Muffins. Fortunately, Muffins are not often seized by overpowering passion for other Muffins. Their natural attraction is generally for the steadier, more resilient Sandwiches, though sometimes a Muffin/Pastry relationship will crop up — Elinor-Marianne and Marianne/Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility (though I’ve seen a number of people rooting for Elinor/Brandon), Darcy-Georgiana in Pride & Prejudice, Fanny/Henry in Mansfield Park, Frank/Jane in Emma. Even successful Muffin/Pastry relationships, however, are not usually what you’d call well-balanced.
Muffins are not the only ones to fall into a Snack Food Trap. Sandwiches tend to be the most moderate type, though they can pass from just ‘nice’ to excruciatingly impressionable, gullible, or self-righteous. Still, they’re just not as inclined to it — perhaps because they’re much more about other people than themselves.
And, of course, there’s the Pastry Trap (disclaimer: I’m using this phrase in a different way than Sarah/Maya did). The problem with Pastries is that they’re uncommon; probably the most uncommon of the types. And non-Pastries don’t really get that ‘cleverness for its own sake’ thing. Most of them don’t approve of that kind of thinking. More Muffinesque Pastries will feel that nobody understands, Sandwichy Pastries will try and — er — temper their wit and vivacity, while pure Pastries often retreat into a sort of amused, cynical misanthropy. It’s a lonely life, being a Pastry, unless you find clever, understanding Sandwiches, or — against all probability — another Pastry.
Darcy, of course, is a classic Pastry, from the sharp scheming mind to the insouciant, oddly endearing snark, not to mention that sort of intellectual arrogance, the unwavering belief in his own judgment, whatever the circumstances (Cunning Plans FTW!). This is my bone to pick with Firth’s, Macfadyen’s, and fanon’s Darcy. They’ve turned a dyed-in-the-wool Pastry into an Angst Muffin.
There is, however, a rather significant difficulty for anyone attempting to portray him as a Muffin. If you start post-Hunsford, you can use the rejection to fuel Muffin!Darcy’s Pain & Suffering. No problem. His entire existence can be wrapped up in that agony, in proper Muffin fashion (in fact he says that he was tortured by the concept of being ungentlemanlike rather than her refusal in and of itself — self-absorbed Pastry that he is — but in the world of Muffins, any torture is good torture). However, a lot of fics start long before that, and in that part of the book, Darcy never so much as hints that any of his behaviour is owing to Pain & Suffering (Elizabeth describes his usual behaviour as ’sedate’ which is not really a Muffiny adjective). So you have to search for anything which could be possibly intensified into real trauma.
Well, there’s his parents’ deaths, leaving him a twenty-two-year-old orphan and pseudo-father to a ten-year-old sister – and his subsequent inheritance of thousands of acres of land and a vast fortune. Strangely, most ficcers seem to have gone for the latter, and there is much waxing eloquent on the tragedy of doing what he’d been trained for since he was in leading strings. I’d think that the loss of his parents would be harder, but whatever. So it’s turned into the trauma which has forged his character.
That isn’t Austen’s Darcy, however. In Pride & Prejudice, both Darcy and Mrs Reynolds agree that he’s been basically the same since he was a little boy. The child, haughty, critical, generous, even-tempered, really was the father of the man. His excesses, he says, are due to the indulgence and neglect of his parents during his early childhood, and neither he nor anybody else suggests any other cause. It’s enough. (Colonel Fitzwilliam, who has apparently been Darcy’s bosom buddy for years, considers his awkward taciturn behaviour at Hunsford and Rosings peculiar for how Darcy generally is, not how he was five years prior.)
Some might argue Sandwich!Darcy, which is at least more defensible, but Darcy is more good than nice. It really comes out in the Lydia episode, where he insists to the end that it was first and foremost about his sense of responsibility (ie a matter of personal honour), and only secondarily about his feelings for Elizabeth. Perhaps he never goes so far as to say ‘my way or no way,’ but it’s implicit in the way he just mows over everyone. Similarly he doesn’t give Bingley his blessing until he has personally observed Jane and decided that she loves Bingley after all. He also insists that he gave his assurance to Bingley based on his own observations, not on what Elizabeth told him at Hunsford. Plainly, consensus-style management is not for him.
Incidentally, there was a discussion over at the Republic of Pemberley (gah) about how Darcy’s behaviour shows that he’s still somewhat arrogant and Elizabeth will have to keep a check on it, which just made me laugh. Hopefully they will serve as adequate checks on each other. Elizabeth certainly is no less assured of her perfect rightness than he is! They’re incredibly alike, for all that he’s earnest and she playful — sharp and brilliant and complex, with competing strains of generosity and intolerance. It’s fortunate that they aren’t any more alike, actually — they’re different enough to, as the ROPers say, check one another by pulling in the opposite direction, but nevertheless theirs is an attraction of affinity, not difference. Any more alike and they’d bring out the worst in each other rather than the best, like Frank and Emma (a less admirable pair of Pastries).
… and that’s as far as I’ve thought that out. But I’m sure it would provide plenty of amusing analysis.