Teri Wilson
May 04, 2015 12:18 pm

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl in possession of a bookshelf will one day find herself in literary love with Jane Austen’s swoon-worthy creation, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

But brace yourselves, book lovers, because it turns out that Mr. Darcy — the character we’ve been crushing on for over 200 and who has inspired an entire subgenre of literature — might have been an actual, living, breathing man.

And no, we’re not talking about Colin Firth.

Or even Matthew Macfayden.

We’re talking about an actual person who existed back in Jane Austen’s day. For reals. And Dr. Susan C. Law, a British historian and author of a new book about sex scandals in 19th century England, Through the Keyhole, believes she knows exactly who he was. For the past five years, Dr. Law has been piecing together evidence by poring over newspapers, letters, and even diaries. She claims that documentation all points to one man — the first Earl of Morley, John Parker. 

Um, who?

According to Dr. Law, the Earl was a university friend of Jane Austen’s brother, Henry. Henry eventually became the domestic chaplain to the Earl’s family, and Jane had a very close friendship with the Earl’s second wife, Frances. When Pride & Prejudice was originally published in 1813, its authorship was anonymous. The title page named the writer as simply “the author of Sense and Sensibility.”

The book was an instant hit (and still is, obvs), and Dr. Law maintains that at the time, the common belief in literary circles was that Frances herself was its author. Her husband, described as “very intense,” bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Darcy.

As Law told The Telegraph, “It is clear that Jane Austen had very close links with the family. She sent Frances one of the first editions of Emma — when she only had twelve printed . . . We know how close Jane Austen and Frances were. She never came out and said ‘your husband was Mr Darcy,’ so we cannot say that 100 percent.”

For years, experts have speculated about who inspired Austen’s greatest hero. Thomas Lefroy, a man many believe Austen was in love with back in 1796, and Dr. Samuel Blackall, a theology student she met on holiday, are the two names that have popped up time and again. But Law is convinced that the Earl is the one and only Mr. Darcy.

“It can be very frustrating and it is like trying to piece together a jigsaw. It has been fascinating and I have been longing to find that cast iron bit of evidence. But after spending so long on it, I am pretty convinced.”

She even says there’s evidence to suggest that the Earl was Austen’s muse for other literary plots. Before he married Frances, he was involved in an infamous scandal that led to a divorce from his first wife, whom he sued for adultery after she eloped with a family friend. “There was a media frenzy over this. The original adultery is generally believed to have been behind the adultery plot in Mansfield Park,” Law said.

Is the Earl the real Mr. Darcy?

As Dr. Law herself says, we’ll never know for certain. Only one thing is sure — in vain we have struggled. It will not do. Our feelings will not be repressed. You must allow us to tell you how ardently we admire and love you, Mr. Darcy.

Whoever you are.

Images via here, here, here, here and here.

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