Pride & Prejudice
By J.A Horrocks
Jane Austen's novel Pride & Prejudice has become one of English literature's finest pieces of work, a personal favourite of mine telling the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy's initial dislike to eventual affection. In the novel we meet the Bennet family, a large family of five girls who reside at Longbourn and we are immediately introduced to Mrs. Bennet whose sole purpose in life is to find suitable husbands for all her daughters, the Longbourn estate being entailed to a distant cousin on the death of Mr. Bennet. With the arrival of two very eligible young men to the neighbourhood, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, and their subsequent acquaintances with the older Bennet daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, we enter a world of regency manners and courtship, Jane Austen portrays the small privileged world where romance and comedy entwine to produce a delightful and entertaining love story.
When Jane Austen began writing Pride & Prejudice in 1796 she was 20 years old and we can only wonder at the talent of such a young woman in creating such diverse and wonderful characters. Today the world over the names Darcy, Lizzie, Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins, characters created over two-hundred years ago, are now quite commonplace, helped in no small part by the numerous television and film adaptations of the novel. Jane herself referred to the book as her "own darling child" showing the affection she held for this work. Her characters came to life for her, in fact on her many visits to exhibitions while in London she would wonder through the galleries and search out likenesses of her characters, finding Mrs. Bingley in a portrait by French portraitist Jean-François-Marie Huet-Villiers on one occasion. -
"I was very well pleased-particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy" Letter to Cassandra, 1813
What would she make of the choice of actors selected to portray her characters, Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy?
With Pride & Prejudice Jane Austen wrote a story of romance that still does not age with time, how many readers of her novels have been "crossed in love" such as poor Jane Bennet and yet we all hope for a happy ending. In this novel we focus on one main romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but are also offered additional romances between Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley, Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. The later courtship and subsequent marriage of the quartet was more an act of duty and need than love, Mr. Collins feeling duty bound by his patron Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
"Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry.- Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way."
While Charlotte saw an opportunity to unburden her parents and achieve a comfortable home and station in life "I am not romantic you know. I never was.", but Charlotte did beat them all to the alter and delighted her family by achieving what had been thought an unlikely event.
"The whole family in short were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte's dying an old maid."
For Jane Bennet her chances of romance and marriage are spoilt as soon as they have begun with the interference of Miss. Caroline Bingley who plots to ensure that her brother's romantic interests lie with his friend Darcy's sister Georgiana,
"My brother admires her greatly already, he will have frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the most intimate footing,"
Mr.Darcy is also found to be guilty of forcing the two lovers apart by removing Bingley to London and remaining silent about Jane's later presence there, he
admits to Elizabeth Bennet his involvement and remains proud of the actions he took.
"I have no wish of denying that I did every thing in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success."
Jane Bennet was a character created by Jane Austen to convey modesty and discretion, she finds no fault in others and will always judge kindly thus being the
complete contrast to her more vocal and critical younger sister Elizabeth. Her heartache does not end until the much more complicated relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy has been resolved. She and Charles Bingley are supporting characters within the novel but their love story impacts on the development of Darcy's and Elizabeth's.
In Elizabeth Bennet we have a very intelligent, independent woman, who can and will speak her own mind and throughout the novel is often called upon to do so. When Mr. Darcy first proposes to her, not long after learning about his actions to distance Bingley from her sister Jane, her speech can leave him in no doubt as to her opinion of him
"From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and you selfish disdain of the feelings of others .... I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry."
Elizabeth is the main protagonist of this novel, her story is the one we follow, her initial hurt pride when snubbed by Mr. Darcy at the assembly room in Meryton
"She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me." sets her on such a prejudiced course against him that every item of news about the man proves that her first impression was correct. His rude, arrogant and impolite behaviour towards her friends and neighbours, his actions concerning Mr. Wickham and the later very upsetting news concerning her sister Jane proves to Elizabeth that her conviction about his character is right. Mr. Darcy however manages to ruin his introduction to the people of Meryton on his first appearance "...he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased;...".
From this early crucial scene in the novel Darcy has managed to create a very negative impression in the eyes of all new acquaintances and in particular a young Miss Elizabeth Bennet. As his thoughts and feelings for Elizabeth change he has to realise that he will face quite a struggle to improve her impression of him. His pride, however, does not prevent him from travelling to Kent to propose, unfortunately his proposal full of ardent love and admiration is also peppered with reasons why he should not be asking for her hand in marriage at all - "His sense of her inferiority--of its being a degradation--of the family obstacles...".
As proposals go it was not the most romantic or successful and only manages
to create even more animosity between our hero and heroine. However with time and Darcy's full written explanation of his actions towards her sister Jane and Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth is able to reconsider her feelings towards him and realise that she is quietly flattered by his feelings towards her. To adhere to the polite society of that time neither party discusses what has passed between them and so while all are comforting Jane for her lost chance at romance nobody is aware of Elizabeth's own secret.
The history between Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham had begun in Meryton some weeks earlier, where their combined dislike for Mr. Darcy appeared to increase their attraction for each other. They began a friendship which was pleasing to both them and their friends, one so comfortable that Mr. Bennet could tease
his favourite daughter about it
"So Lizzy, your sister is crossed in love I find.... When is your turn to come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane.....Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably."
It is Mr. Wickham that Elizabeth searches for at the Netherfield Ball only to be disappointed by his absence, she does accept Mr. Darcy's request for a dance but we are a long way from romance here, her feelings for both men being greatly opposed. Her friend Charlotte warns her against allowing her "fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man of ten times his consequence." Her aunt Mrs. Gardiner also warns Elizabeth about falling in love with Wickham. "Seriously, I would have you be on your guard. Do not involve yourself, or endeavour to involve him in an affection which the want of fortune would make so imprudent."
However Elizabeth did not need to act on her aunt's advice for too long as Mr. Wickham himself quickly removed himself from the position of suitor and it was later discovered that he had gained the hand of a young heiress Miss. King. Elizabeth was left to consider what might have been but was honest with herself to admit that although she had been used by him he had not broken her heart. In fact her loyalty to Wickham remained until the letter from Mr. Darcy recalling his own history with Mr. Wickham and the attempted elopement with his younger sister Georgiana Darcy. From this point Elizabeth's opinion of both men alters as she recalls her own past assertions,
"I, who have prided myself on my discernment! - I, who have valued myself on my abilities!....Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself."
The relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy seems to be at an end, Elizabeth returns home unable to relay the news and events that occurred while staying with the Collins's, to Jane alone she recalls the proposal and the subsequent revealing of the two men's characters.
Mr. Darcy's estate being in Derbyshire and Mr. Bingley having vacated Netherfield it is now highly unlikely that our heroine and hero would meet again near Elizabeth's home at Longbourn. Their relationship however is renewed when she accepts her aunt and uncles invitation to travel to the Lake District with them, however due to Mr. Gardiner's business commitments their plans are forced to change to Derbyshire, where her aunt without realising the effect it would have on Elizabeth, suggests visiting Pemberley. She tries her best to avoid the visit "The possibility of meeting Mr. Darcy, while viewing the place, instantly occurred. It would be dreadful!", but on finding that the family were all away is persuaded to visit the house of which she could have been mistress. Although Elizabeth's opinion of Darcy had mellowed slightly, after the tour of Pemberley by the housekeeper she was to believe that he was the finest of men, the best landlord and master, and a very handsome gentleman. In fact the housekeeper's glowing description of Darcy was faultless, about Wickham she would only say "...I am afraid he has turned out very wild". Elizabeth left the house with so many muddled thoughts about Mr. Darcy that she would never have imagined that she would meet him again, almost immediately! Jane Austen does not provide us with the conversation that takes place between the two young people when they bump into each other in the gardens, Elizabeth is rightly the most uncomfortable of the two with the embarrassment and the shame she feels to be caught this way, the actual situation she had tried to avoid! Mr. Darcy is pure surprise and confusion but remains calm enough to behave cordially to Elizabeth and her relatives and even asks after the well-being of her family. This is one of the most embarrassing scenes in the novel but there is also an element of excitement, they have been forced together by unexpected circumstances, where will this lead? Finally Darcy has a second chance to improve her impression of him and Elizabeth now completely on the back foot receives his gallantry and appreciates his thoughtfulness in this very awkward moment.
"And his behaviour, so strikingly altered, - what could it mean? That he should even speak to her was amazing! - but to speak with such civility, to enquire after her family!"
From this surprise meeting Elizabeth and Darcy are able to refresh their relationship on a more friendly footing, maybe this could be the start of a romance?
While Elizabeth has been touring Derbyshire her younger sister Lydia has been in Brighton and her actions there and subsequent involvement with a certain Mr. Wickham will now cause a rift between Elizabeth and Darcy once again. This forth and final romance in the novel, if it can be called that, is rushed, thoughtless and about to cause her family great distress. News of the elopement casts a shadow of shame over all her family, putting an end to any chance of her elder sisters marrying well. Her flirtatious and very youthful character made her an easy target for Wickham who we later learn did not intend to marry her at all! This was extremely scandalous behaviour and all members of said family would be affected by it for many years to come. Although Elizabeth shares the dreadful news with Darcy and he offers her sympathy, she realises that any possible future friendship with him is now over. Mr. Wickham and his immoral lifestyle has possibly ruined the chances of romantic happiness for Elizabeth and for Jane.
And so the lives and loves of the Bennet sisters have been inter-twined, any success in courtship has been ruined by the actions of others. We are left with four daughters trying to console their mother whose mood swings from desolation, imagining her husband dying from fighting a duel with Wickham to arranging the wedding clothes if Lydia and Wickham are found and forced to wed.
"And, above all things, keep Mr. Bennet from fighting. Tell him what a dreadful state I am in......And tell my dear Lydia, not to give any directions about her clothes, til she has seen me, for she does not know which are the best warehouses."
In Pride & Prejudice we will eventually get our happy ending and three more brides, a long time after Charlotte Lucas! The direct action by Darcy to hunt down Wickham and force him to marry Lydia and to support Bingley in his request for Jane's hand, clears the way for him to try again with Elizabeth. This time she is pleased to accept and after convincing her family of her deep love for him, Elizabeth Bennet "the brightest jewel of the country" really will become mistress of Pemberley.