In our high school, on the wall of a corridor, there was a tiny cutout within an elaborate gold frame. It was lined with red velvet, and in it nestled a little white speck, like something you’d take out of your teeth if you didn’t brush them after eating oatmeal. It was supposed to be a relic of St. Thomas Aquinas – a tiny chip of his bone.
There are two real take-aways there. The first: Catholics are quirky. The second: when an otherwise inconsequential object is associated with somebody important, it starts to take on some of their qualities.
It’s why I wash my great-grandmother’s china by hand and would be upset if I dropped a piece, but don’t lose any sleep if I fumble a plate from Target. (Get me a rom-com to star in, because I’m an otherwise put-together career woman who drops things a lot.) It’s the reason we hold on to hand-knit scarves through dozens of clothing purges, even if we don’t wear them. It’s basically the whole reason auction houses exist.
Which brings us, in a way, to Jane Austen. This summer, an exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. – Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen and the Cult of Celebrity – will be displaying Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt.
If the phrase “Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt” doesn’t mean anything to you, have a nice day and we’ll see you tomorrow with a post that’s more relevant to your interests.
If your eyes lit up with recognition, it’s because you’re familiar with the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth as dashing, condescending Mr. Darcy.
Need a refresher? Here you go:
Yeah. This isn’t just ANY puffy shirt from the 90s…
It’s the blouse that showed a generation the relaxed – but also bumbling and awkward -side of Mr. Darcy.
And I say this as more of a Bingley girl. I KNOW. Always have been, always will be, and I will fight anyone on that. And by fight I mean, like, flutter our fans scornfully at each other. I’m really not a fighter, and this is Pride and Prejudice, not a rumble.
I can’t be the only one who thinks Mr. Darcy’s Wet Shirt is more than just an old shirt – it is somehow imbued with the qualities of Mr. Darcy. Or 1995 Colin Firth. Whichever. After all, it is being displayed in a museum. Further, I found out about this from the New York Times, not some sort of newsletter specifically about the better film adaptations of Jane Austen books. I can’t be the only one who cares a little.
Just like that weird bone-chip in our high school hallway, you have to display important things carefully. How should the blouse be exhibited? I have some ideas:
- First of all, you can’t just half-ass it, or it’s going to look like laundry. Regency-era laundry, but still. It will not do:
- Second, this is Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt. Not just a shirt. Can they rig up some sort of misting system? Like you’re waiting in line at Epcot.
- Great. But when you see costumes displayed, they’re usually on scale mannequins. I like this because at every costume exhibition, I can compare my height and general size to whoever wore it. I cannot be the only person who does that – even at the First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian. Mary Lincoln was smaller than I would have thought!
- But let’s go back to that video clip. This is fabric that BREATHES and MOVES. Wouldn’t it be a pity to waste that? So maybe they could use some sort of animatronic dummy to really get that sense of movement.
- WAIT. See how that blouse billows when it’s submerged? Maybe we need more of a tank situation. Like a small pond and shoreline, so you could see it dip in and out of the water.
- The thing is, fire hazards. Right? Putting an electronic mannequin in and out of the water is sure to set some sparks flying – and I’m not talking about the sparks of obvious chemistry between Darcy and Lizzie Bennett.
- What I’m saying is, I think we have to use a real human. But wouldn’t it be hard to find someone of the same exact size and charisma as Colin Firth?
- So that settles it, then. Colin Firth, wearing the shirt, in a small Pemberley habitat. See you all in Washington this August!