Imagine this: your favorite hunky male fictional character, smartly striding through the acres of wispy long-grass that spread out around his palatial estate. He carries a riding crop in one hand, hinting at naughty things to come, and his normally blousey white button down clings to his pecs, drenched in pond water from his recent swim.
If you’re a breathing human between the ages of 18 and 80, you most likely knew within seconds of reading that description that the hunky male could only be Fitzwilliam Darcy, the cold millionaire who wins Elizabeth Bennett’s heart in Pride and Prejudice despite his utter jackassery. (A list of Darcy’s insults towards Miss Bennett would fill a notebook, including the world’s worst proposal, which includes the statement, “I have fought against judgement, my family’s expectation, inferiority of your birth, my rank. I will put them aside and ask you to end my agony.” Oh, Darcy, no.)
That very shirt which grazed Colin Firth’s physique for the 1995 BBC mini-series version of Jane Austen’s most famous novel–and launched a thousand gasps and memes–will be on display starting August 6 at the Folger Shakespeare Library here in DC. It will be a part of a larger exhibit titled “Will and Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” which the New York Times has reported will also include “a bundle of wood collected at Shakespeare’s birthplace, a bottle of Austen-inspired “Bath Gin,” and Will and Jane action figures.” It’s a fitting title for the two canonical authors who have inspired more modern inspection than any others. The duo have inspired everything from 10 Things I Hate About You based on The Taming of the Shrew; Clueless based on Austen’s Emma; last year’s Death Comes to Pemberley; and the recent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film, both based on P&P.
It’s worth noting that the drenched shirt (and accompanying chest hair) are entirely of the imagination of the BBC filmmakers, who perhaps needed to add a little spice to the otherwise chaste pre-marital relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth; Darcy never swims in Austen’s novel. Regardless it has entered the cultural lexicon as an essential bit of Austen-alia.
Alas, the shirt will not be wet for the actual exhibit, but feel free to close your eyes and imagine Colin Firth walking towards you nonetheless.