One of English literature's most enduring characters – thanks in part to his embodiment on screen by that troika of male totty Colin Firth, Laurence Olivier and Matthew Macfadyen – Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy celebrates his 200th birthday this month.

He is, of course, the romantic lead in Jane Austen's novel Pride And Prejudice, first published in three hard cover volumes on January 28 1813. But you probably knew that.

You may not have known that Austen was paid only £110 for the copyright, miserly when you consider the effect her creation would have on generations of readers, particularly those on the distaff side. In a 2004 poll for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Darcy was voted the romantic icon women would most like to date and the fictional character most women would like to invite to a dinner party.

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But the novel isn't all about Darcy: the clever, sassy Elizabeth Bennet is equally iconic. Both heroine and main protagonist, it's her inherent charm and wit that melt the heart of the proud, arrogant, handsome landowner. It's for that reason that women like both Darcy and the bookish Elizabeth – it's proof that the prettiest girl doesn't always get "the catch".

Men tend to look a little less favourably on him, however. "I never met a man who likes Darcy, though most women seem to," wrote literary critic John Carey. Olivier himself was unmoved by Darcy too. "I was very unhappy with the picture," he wrote in his autobiography of his 1940 film portrayal. "It was difficult to make Darcy into anything more than an unattractive-looking prig."

Maybe that's the appeal of Darcy, however. He isn't obvious, or easy or even particularly likeable. But, in the words of Martin Amis, he exhibits the ability of men to be "chastened, deepened, and finally democratised by the force of love."