Pride and Prejudice

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

Lizzy and Jane, Darcy and Bingley, Longbourn and Pemberley – the characters and locations are so seeped into my consciousness they could be real. Mrs Bennet finding husbands for her 5 daughters, Mr. Bingley arriving at Netherfield with his sisters and proud friend, Mr Darcy. Ridiculous Mr Collins who’s to inherit Longbourn and smarmy Wickham, inveigling himself into their affections. I’ve seen so many screen adaptations that I thought I already knew the story and wondered what I would gain from actually reading the book. And maybe for the first 50 or so pages that was true as the characters and locations are put in place and the story really rattles along, by page 39 we already know that Darcy has noticed a ‘pair of fine eyes‘!

But then the book came into its own and I realised how wrong I was. This is very much the story of Elizabeth Bennet (rather than the family and neighbours), who despite the constraints of society is assertive and strident, she holds her own strong opinions and with the added characteristic of insight manages to be herself.

The verbal sparring and wicked wit was everything I was expecting, (Miss Bingley especially!) and romance blossomed. But there were two things that really stood out for me as different from the screen versions.

I must admit to never being much of a fan of Lizzy in the screen adaptations, she always seems a bit haughty but here I was struck by her youthfulness and found her much more likeable. She’s thoughtful and understanding, particularly with Jane, but she takes things to heart so fully that I found it easy to see her as a 20 year old girl. When Charlotte Lucas agrees to marry Mr. Collins, Lizzy thinks she’ll never be able to speak to her again

‘She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr Collins, was a most humiliating picture! . . . and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again.’

Mrs. Bennet is a figure of fun and Lizzy’s almost constant eye rolling and embarrassment at her mothers behaviour is humorous and understandable but she is deeply hurt, indeed, ‘mortified’ at her fathers complete lack of empathy. Where is the twinkle in Mr. Bennet’s eye that we see on screen?

This was the second thing that struck me, the utterly unfavourable light that Mr. Bennet is cast in. Mrs Bennet might have her head full of weddings and red coats but at least she is involved in the lives of her daughters. Her pursuit of marriageable partners for them is a necessity. Mr. Bennet, patronises and jokes at the expense of his wife but he hasn’t invested in his daughter’s futures either financially or by giving them an education. He says to Lizzy

‘For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours
and laugh at them in our turn?’

He is completely ineffectual, patting hands and returning to his library. When Lydia runs away from Brighton,Jane Austen writing at the age of 22, makes it perfectly clear that the responsibility for Lydia’s ‘vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled’ nature is laid squarely on the shoulders of her parents. The overindulgence of her mother and the moral absence of her father.

And if education is needed for girls, boys’ education needs an overhaul. Darcy talks about his own upbringing and education as encouraging him ‘to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world’. Published in 1813, forty years or so before Anne Bronte tackled the same subjects in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I wasn’t expecting Pride and Prejudice to be so subversive! It was a really wonderful read.

19 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice

  1. These are excellent points, Jane. I’m due for a re-read of Pride & Prejudice and I’ll have your insights in mind. This is probably my favourite Austen, just as Wildfell is my favourite Bronte but I’ve never seen the parallels before.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s interesting that Lizzy comes across differently in the book. I must admit, the BBC adaptation stands a lot more clear in my mind than the novel. It might be due for a reread.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The casting in the BBC version is brilliant isn’t it?! I can see that it would be impossible to transfer the nuance to the screen,
      which works well for us – great t.v. and a great read!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting analysis, Jane! You have raised many wonderful points. I re-read the book a few years ago and I was struck by how weak a man Mr. Bennet is and though he elicits sympathy at first, you quickly lose respect for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is interesting to hear the ways that your experience of the book was different to the screen adaptations. Your review reminded me of how young Lizzie is and how inadequate Mr Bennet was as a parent, even though he and Lizzie clearly loved each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did make me wonder about the relationship between them, he upsets her so much and she can really see his failures, how can she have any respect for him? But she seems to love him. And why doesn’t he take more notice of her? Silly man.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your ‘silly man’ comment just made me smile, because Mrs Bennet is usually considered to be the silly one. But you’re right, he is silly, amongst other things. Afraid to face facts and do what should be done (I’m trying to think of a word for this, but can’t).

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Like most intricate novels P&P doubtless repays rereading, if only to pick up on what may not have made an impact the first time around. I don’t mind screen adaptations because they usually bring a new perspective on the original, but nothing beats actually taking on what the author actually wrote. A useful discussion, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the screen versions, and I thought the BBC especially brought out the wit But I suppose it’s just that Lizzy and Darcy are such full characters, bigger than the plot of this story.


  7. Apparently there’s a sex pheromone in mice called Darcin (named after Mr Darcy). It’s released in male mouse urine and when female mice smell it, well, they aren’t at home to any other suitors.
    Which is glorious on many levels and tells me that the scientists involved have heard of Pride and Prejudice but never actually read it – the fact his first marriage proposal is refused is a key plot point! If he was a mouse and just needed to have a strategic wee, it’d be a very different story 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In some ways I think the many film adaptations have done Austen as disservice, as I think they’ve simplified all of her books (in part of the nature of the medium, of course) and made it easy for people to dismiss the books as thinking “oh I know what that’s about,” when they’re more. That said, I still love watching them! But I’m glad to hear you found something of value in the novel. It’s always great when a book rewards us for our attentions.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s