Part II: Pride and Prejudice, cont’d
I just finished P&P and I liked it as much as ever. Unlike most FoJ’s (Fans of Jane), it is not my favorite of her novels; that honor is reserved for Persuasion. I do enjoy it very much, however, and never turn down an opportunity to read it.
As I mentioned before, Miss Bingley positively jumped off the page in this reading. Her jealousy is blatant and highly entertaining to read about. I love how Elizabeth takes great pleasure in believing that Caroline’s fondest hopes may be for naught when she hears that Darcy may be engaged to Miss De Bourgh.
Now for something potentially controversial: I don’t love Elizabeth Bennet. Not at first, anyway. I find her to be a rather self-absorbed young woman who looks at the world solely from the perspective of how it affects her. She’s not very empathetic. In this reading, I was taken aback at how rude she was to Charlotte, her best friend, when learning about Charlotte’s engagement to Mr. Collins. Elizabeth is very proud of her wit and her cleverness and she allows herself to be taken in by a man who flatters her. That’s fine if you’re a typical adolescent, but it’s not fine in a mature adult. Why is my opinion controversial? Because a lot of readers think that Elizabeth is a mature adult from the start of the story. I beg to differ. Much is made of Darcy’s transformation from stuffy prig to romantic hero, but not nearly as much is made of Elizabeth’s transformation from self-absorbed girl to mature woman. The title doesn’t just refer to “proud” Darcy and “prejudiced” Elizabeth. These words were, I believe, carefully chosen by Austen because they both refer to both characters.
I am also on record as not liking Mr. Bennet very much. Without getting into adaptation territory, I’ll just say that I am not fooled by his wit into thinking he’s a benign character. Quite the contrary. He’s a bad husband and a bad father whose indolence is, in part, responsible for Lydia’s behavior. By the way, “indolence” is not my word. It’s Austen’s. From chapter 50 of the novel:
Mr. Bennet had very often wished, before this period of his life, that, instead of , he had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him. He now wished it more than ever. Had he done his duty in that respect, Lydia need not have been indebted to her uncle for whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for her.
…That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his chief wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced his activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned to all his former indolence.
In other words, this is a lazy man who is also rather self-absorbed. Yes, he loves Elizabeth, but it is a signal that she’s growing up and becoming less self-absorbed when she realizes that his benevolence towards her does not compensate for his ill-treatment of the rest of his family.
As was the case with their edition of S&S, the Signet Classics edition of P&P that I read has an introduction by scholar Margaret Drabble and an afterword by a popular author of contemporary women’s fiction. The afterword for S&S was by Mary Balogh, and the afterword for P&P was by Eloisa James. When she’s not writing romance novels, Eloisa James (a.k.a. Mary Bly) is a professor of English Literature (primarily Shakespeare) at Fordham University in New York. Her father is Robert Bly, the poet, and her mother is author Carol Bly. So there was not quite the divergence of opinions between the introduction and the afterword as we saw in S&S. I admit that I missed the differences in style and opinion and look forward to reading other afterwords by non-scholars down the road.
For this edition of our Jane Austen Odyssey, we’ll be looking at the following adaptations (because these are the ones I own):
- P&P40 — Greer Garson/Laurence Olivier
- P&P80 — Elizabeth Garvie/David Rintoul
- P&P95 — Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth
- P&P05 — Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen
These are the “traditional” versions of P&P. If I have time, I’ll check out the modernizations:
- Bridget Jones’s Diary — Renée Zellwegger/Colin Firth
- Pride and Prejudice-A Latter-Day Comedy — Kam Heskin/Orlando Seale
- Bride & Prejudice — Aishwarya Rai/Martin Henderson
I like some more than others and my opinions may surprise you. So, next up is P&P40 which, because of the costumes, is referred to by some as “Jane Austen meets Margaret Mitchell.” See you then!