Remember #TheDress—the viral phenomenon that had people in a tizzy about a single piece of clothing? Well, before there was The Dress, there was The Shirt: the soaking white garment worn by a hunky Mr. Darcy as he emerged from a lake in the BBC’s acclaimed 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries. The highly discussed shirt (and the part) made Colin Firth an international star and arguably even played a role in introducing an entire generation to Jane Austen. Now, writes Jennifer Schuessler for the New York Times, it’s coming to the United States.
The shirt will make its way to the U.S this August for an exhibition at Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library, Schuessler reports. For Austen addicts, the reason for its particular fame is obvious: During a pivotal scene in the film, Firth’s Darcy plunges into a pastoral lake at his country estate, Pemberley, and emerges to find out that a surprised Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle) is visiting his house.
Spoiler alert: The encounter unsettles both of them and later on, both Regency-era rebels realize their contentious relationship is actually love.
Okay, so Austen didn’t write the shirt—or Darcy’s swim—into her 1813 novel. But readers and viewers have always found excuses to swoon over Fitzwilliam Darcy, the book’s cranky and uptight hero. “he interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy,” wrote Annabella Milbanke, who later became Lord Byron’s wife, in a letter soon after the book's release. Interest in Darcy has burned well into the 21st century, the stuff of fanfiction, historical inquiry and even really weird architecture.
So has Jane Austen’s public appeal. The author has been dead since 1817, but as the wildly popular BBC series shows, she’s become even more admired. Centuries after her death, the Austen industrial complex is going strong as generation after generation falls in love with her mannerly romances (and Darcy). Even the 20th anniversary of the miniseries that spawned that shirt was cause for celebration last year.
Garments won’t be the exhibition’s only draw. It will feature everything from bobbleheads to gravestone rubbings—memorabilia that highlights the cults of celebrity that have grown up around both Austen and William Shakespeare, the Folger’s focus. But you can’t be blamed if you’re planning on attending just to see the shirt that will forever be associated with Austen’s grouchy, good-looking hero.