As one of the most iconic fiction couples in literature, there must be a reason for Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s popularity. Sure, they set off with a rough start, and their initial negative impression of each other makes future interactions cold and rather salty. Yet, somehow, their impressions of each other change. They go from essentially hating each other, (spoiler) to getting married.
You have probably heard the popular saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It basically means that first impressions are important and practically impossible to redo; so don’t mess it up. However, Lizzy and Darcy show us that it is possible to overcome them—true power couple right there. Lizzy and Darcy show us three ways to overcome bad impressions: surprise, a pivot in character, and time.
Jane Austen originally intended for Pride and Prejudice, to be titled “First Impressions” because the novel is chock-full of this theme. As the two main characters of the story, Lizzy and Darcy both find themselves neck-deep in the troubles of negative impressions and false perceptions. We are first introduced to Darcy at the ball as he enters with his good friend, Mr. Bingley. Although Darcy is a fine looking man, known to be tall, handsome, and “having ten thousand a year,”his outer appearance and financial position is quickly forgotten as we find out he’s got some personality flaws (Austen 6). At least that is what we think before we find out he is actually just extremely awkward and shy.
“His manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend” (Austen 6).
Women today would probably be calling him a pompous jerk which explains why Lizzy Bennet’s first encounter with Darcy is not the most pleasant. At the ball, she overhears a conversation between Bingley and Darcy. Prompted by his own prejudice against those with less money or of a lower class, the first words Darcy says about Lizzy are “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me” (Austen 7). Darcy’s remarks about Lizzy completely hurt her pride and so she declares that Darcy is the “most disagreeable, horrid man, not at all worth pleasing”. “I quite detest the man,” she adds (Austen 8). Clearly, no good first impressions were made that day. Their mutual bad first impressions result from their own pride and prejudice that nearly destroys their friendship.
Relatable? I think we’ve all been there. You’re at work. You might be having a bad day or you didn’t get your morning cup of coffee. Maybe your significant other just broke up with you or you are experiencing a death in your family. Somehow, you’re not yourself so you do something out of line, and there, you’ve just made a bad impression. Your new colleague would most likely assume that your below average conduct is pretty much who you are as a person instead of hear out an explanation. And since our brains are great at ignoring information we think is false then reinterpreting it to fit into what we think is true, we know that it is extremely challenging to overcome a negative impression (Smith).
Lizzy and Darcy have their impressions of each other in a twist. First of all, Lizzy already hates Darcy because she finds him aloof and condescending. On top of that, she hears from her friend (also Darcy’s mortal enemy), Mr. Wickham, that Darcy took the inheritance Darcy’s father left for Wickham. Thanks to Wickham’s good looks and charms, it is no surprise Lizzy believes everything he says. So Lizzy decides Darcy deserves nothing but contempt. On Darcy’s side, he simply thinks of her as lower class and finds her mother annoying and too eager to marry off her daughters to rich men. What an awful start to a relationship. However, since Pride and Prejudice needs a happy ending, Lizzy and Darcy show that it is not impossible to change how others view you.
Overcoming First Impressions
Since the brain is optimized to conserve energy, the brain will not re-evaluate something if there is no reason to. You cannot expect to overturn an impression by making subtle gestures (Clark). So, a way for an impression to change is to create surprise. Surprise functions like an alarm clock suddenly waking you up from sleep, the device that stops the sleeping stage and transfers you into waking up. It is the immediate moment that shifts an individual’s first impression into another opinion. Darcy’s unexpected marriage proposal is a surprise leading to a change in impression.
After Darcy confesses his feelings to Lizzy saying, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,”—Lizzy’s reaction is illustrated by: “Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was silent” (Austen 97). At that moment, everything she used to believe about Darcy’s feelings towards her is rendered thoroughly false. She is appalled to learn that Darcy does not hate her, but in fact is in love with her. She exclaims, “why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you like me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?”(Austen 98).
However, not only is Lizzy completely caught by surprise Darcy’s confession, but Darcy is also shocked that he just got rejected, as Austen writes, “[Mr. Darcy] had no doubt of a favorable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security” (98). Yet, Lizzy’s spiteful reply gives Darcy a different idea altogether: “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, [...] You could not have made the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it,” she says while Darcy looks on “with an expression of mingled incredulity and mortification” (Austen 99). Ouch, that perhaps did not go as planned.
In this moment of surprise, the perceptions Lizzy and Darcy have of each other are actively changing. Lizzy so surprisingly learns that Darcy is in love with her. Lizzy discovers that perhaps whatever judgements she made about Darcy could be completely off. Darcy realizes Lizzy’s hatred towards him thanks to her harsh remarks. Darcy is perhaps realizing that something is wrong with his personality; he has not been acting appropriately but rather with too much pride and conceit.
The surprises do not end here. The turn of events when Darcy writes Lizzy a letter giving an explanation to Lizzy’s accusations that followed the proposal and confession of his feelings. Lizzy’s reaction towards the contents of Darcy’s letter was nothing short of surprised: “If Elizabeth, when Mr. Darcy gave her the letter, did not expect it to contain a renewal of his offers, she had formed no expectation at all of its contents.
But such as they were, it may well be supposed how eagerly she went through them, and what a contrariety of emotion they excited” (104). Darcy’s letter ignites the first idea that he may not be the arrogant and disagreeable man he is assumed to be. It clarifies the reasons behind Darcy’s sour relationship with Wickham. The unexpected letter causes Lizzy to realize the misunderstandings between her and Darcy.
By simply creating that surprising factor, impressions start to change. You may be in a situation where people have formed an inaccurate impression of you. Finding a way to surprise them could be enough to get them changing their views. The point is to get them to think, “Woah. What’s with him?”.
A Pivot in Character
This concept of overcoming impressions is simply showing off a different side of your usual character. Darcy begins to show kindness towards Lizzy instead of his usual aloof personality. However, further along in the story, Lizzy makes a comment: “had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner,” which is basically calling Darcy a jerk (Austen 99). Her comment is a wake-up call for Darcy, and he decides to change his ways becoming much nicer, friendlier, and more respectful. His pivot in character happens when Lizzy goes to visit Pemberley, Darcy’s estate, and finds Darcy there.
Of course, Darcy has always been a respectful man because at Pemberley, his housekeeper reveals that he is never ill-tempered and always treats everyone well. “I have never known a cross word from him in my life,” the housekeeper says, and refers to him as the “sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted boy in the world” (Austen 125). However, Darcy’s shy personality causes him to act differently in public thus giving off the wrong impression that he is not a very pleasant man. His pivot in character causes Lizzy to change her thoughts about him. She begins to want to spend more time with him since, before that, she detested him and wanted to stay as far away from him as possible.
We can certainly learn from our dear Mr. Darcy that in order to change people’s perceptions of us we need to step out of our comfort zones and show a different and perhaps more favorable side to our character. A shy person may come across as rude and conceited. An outgoing and enthusiastic person may seem loud and impolite. A pivot would mean the shy person speaks up and initiates more conversation. The outgoing person would need to slow down, step back, and just listen.
Impressions are quick to form but slow to change. We can actually make impressions of people within tenth of a second. In that split second, we measure their attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness (Gregoire). Overcoming first impressions over time is the gradual shift that eventually leads to a change in impression and is probably the most basic method of overcoming an impression. Since it takes time to truly get to know someone, an impression can change over time if the initial one is false. Impressions can also change over time even without any forceful effort.
Darcy’s change in impression is not clearly described in the novel, but surely he must have a change of heart seeing how he went from finding Lizzy “tolerable” to “ardently admiring and loving” her. Since it is not clear what exactly goes through Darcy’s mind, we can just observe how over time, he begins to see Lizzy in a different light. The more time he spends with her, watching the way she reads, listening to her play the piano, and just talking with her, he finds her increasingly interesting:
“[...] he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”
With Darcy’s example, we learn that Darcy’s impression can be changed without Lizzy having to purposely do anything. You see, time is just a way of allowing things to naturally fall into place. Over time, but depending on the circumstances, people may have the opportunity to get to know you better. They may eventually come to realize something different about you. Waiting and just letting time do its job may be the only thing you would need to do. However, also remember that overcoming impressions with time just means accountability. If you decide to surprise or do something nice for a colleague just once, he or she might just think you are up to something. It takes perseverance and lots of follow up. It is building evidence to prove that you are not who they think you are.
You Can Overcome a Bad First Impression
First impressions are quick to form and impossible to redo. In a split second, practically everything about a person’s character is already assumed, such as their trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness. Although an initial impression is impossible to redo, there are ways we can overcome it.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice involves characters that know about bad impressions and false perceptions all too well. Lizzy Bennet and Mr. Darcy fight through their initial bad impressions and finishes the story with a happy ending. Despite the potentially lasting effects of first impressions, especially the bad ones, Lizzy and Darcy show us how overcoming impressions can be done: through a result of a surprise, a pivot in character, or just time doing its thing.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones B, 2016. Print.
Clark, Dorie. "4 Ways to Overcome a Bad First Impression." Harvard Business Review. N.p.,19 July 2016. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
Gregoire, Carolyn. "How To Make The Perfect First Impression (According To Science)."The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 May 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2017.
Smith, Jacquelyn. "A Social Psychologist Explains How to Recover from Making a Horrible First Impression." Business Insider. Business Insider, 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.