Sunday, 10 February 2008

Pride and Prejudice, Part One

Heaven! bliss! I saw Mr Darcy tonight! PBS Masterpiece Theatre, showing the 1985 version of Pride and Prejudice. I laughed at the wit, the repartee between Darcy and Lizzie, and shuddered with her at her awful family, I delighted at the storytelling and plots so neatly laid out, the characters of everyone. I've seen the Keira Knightely version so often these past two years that I'd forgotten how much I like this Mr Bennet, and how mean Bingley's sisters are to the Bennets and all the Meryton society. There will never be anyone like Colin Firth for Mr Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle as Lizzy, for me.
I suppose I should talk more about the writing, but first let me say, this is one of the most perfect 6 hours of tv viewing as there ever will be, for me.

What I will talk about is how Austen uses the Bennets middle-class status to show the range of classes in the English countryside, a subject she knew well, and how character defects are in all the classes. The levels of society are clearly pointed out in this version, with the Bingleys, Darcy, and Lady Catherine de Burgh at the top, followed by Sir William Lucas - and the Bingley girls are very catty and point out he was a shopkeeper before his knighthood was granted, thereby making it clear he comes from a lower level than they; and then the Bennets, and finally the rest of Meryton society. Austen takes great care to show the drunkenness of Bingley's brother-in-law, the inappropriateness of Sir Lucas offering to introduce the Bingley girls to London society, and Mr Collins horrible name- dropping of his benefactress, Lady Catherine de Burgh. Bad behaviour is not limited to the lesser classes, as evinced by Mr Darcy the first time he refuses to dance with Lizzie, and Sir Lucas again when he congratulates them on their fine dancing and points out everyone is hoping for the match between Mary and Charles to be announced. Good manners is for everyone, and not limited to wealth or social status. Wit, intelligence, kindness, also are not limited to social status, in Pride and Prejudice. It is part of Austen's skill and the movie's enduring charm that she writes about these character flaws so accurately, and everyone has a flaw, even the saintly Mary who doesn't show how she feels about Charles, thus leading Darcy to suspect wrongly that she hadn't lost her heart to him at all. Lizzie is wrong about Wickham, Darcy is wrong about Mary, Lizzie, and in not telling everyone about Wickham in the beginning, Bingley learns he has to make his own choices and not rely on Darcy's opinion. All the characters and actions are linked - Lydia is as shallow and impulsive as her mother, and one wonders how Mr Bennet could have married his wife, and it must have been almost as hasty and ill-advised - though luckily turning out much better because of Mr Bennet's character and situation, than Wickham and Lydia do. All around, Mary and Lizzie see bad marriages. The happiest ones seem to be Lizzie's aunt and uncle, who take her to Pemberly. When Charlotte says one should marry first and only learn about the flaws afterward, Lizzie is shocked; but this foreshadows Charlotte marrying Mr Collins - and has a more obsequious character ever been written? He makes me shudder - without knowing much about him at all - she accepts very quickly after little acquaintance! and Lizzie marrying Darcy knowing all about him, including his sister, and seeing his family home, first. Pride and Prejudice is of course where Charlotte represents the spinster, that Anne represented in Persuasion. We don't see her accepting Mr Collins in this episode - that comes next week - and when Mr Collins comes along, we see her tonight squaring her shoulders before taking him home for dinner to her parents, and so it doesn't come as a surprise later when she accepts him, even though it does because it is Mr Collins! Ugh! but in early 1800 England, in your late 20's, would you say yes? I couldn't, I'd have to be like Lizzie....but that's for next week. This week, was the setting up of all the plots, the stories, the characters.

There are so many levels of storytelling in Pride and Prejudice that it can be seen, and read, many times, and there is always something new to discover. Tonight, for instance, I saw the bad manners in the higher levels of society - especially Sir Lucas's, - and I looked for Mary to show she was attached to Bingley and I couldn't find it. Oh, this is such a good filmed version of the book!

And I suppose one of the most enduring qualities of this work is that when Darcy slights Lizzie in the beginning, every one of us has been there at some time in our lives, too, and have reacted like she did, becoming blind to any good characteristics the offending person had. This is part of the wonder of this movie (and book) - and a reason why I think her work is read 200 years after it was written. She has caught people at their best and worst, and no matter how long the human race exists, these are essential human characteristics she is writing about. Rich or poor, merchant or sailor, spinster or married or devout vicar, orphan or with lots of family, people's essential character and reactions remain the same. The wonder is that no one has written in 400 years, quite like Jane Austen, either.
I hope, Gentle Reader, that you enjoyed it as well. It sets the tone nicely for Valentine's Day later this week! Mr Darcy can be my valentine every time, any time!

11 comments:

Lady P said...

I didn't catch the show, darn it. I was very tired as son had a sleepover the night before (should I say... WAKEover?). Late night, no nap makes Lady P kind of grumpy so I went to bed at 9:30 pm. I will write a note to myself to catch the next show in the series next Sunday. Meanwhile...have to go shovel... AGAIN!!!

raidergirl3 said...

Great analysis. I watched it last night, never having seen it before. I only read P&P a year ago and it was OK. I like the story, but it just takes soo loong to get anywhere, so I appreciate your insights into the nuances of the show.
Anyway, I can't remember all the twists that are going to happen, with Wickham. I know Mr Darcy is in the right and Lizzie is being duped, but it will be a wonderful surprise when it happens for me.

Who is Mary? I love Mr Bennett, and Mrs Bennett is quite shrill and annoying, poor Lizzie and Jane.

Susan said...

raidergirl3: Oops.....I meant Jane, not Mary! will go correct on the blog, sorry! I was tired and knew i was getting name wrong, but not why!!
You are in for such a treat! It gets better :-)
Patricia - you got snow? well, we did too, but only about 5 cm. Right now it is COLD and I have to go see the doctor and our clinic is CLOSED today (???unbelievable, it's part of the hospital, how can it be closed on Monday??) as the telenurse said I should see a dr within 24 hrs....so off I go to a walk-in clinic, wish me luck. will keep you advised...it is -17c right now, far colder in the wind. Figures.

Table Talk said...

You should so not worry about getting the name wrong. My first acquaintance with "Pride and Prejudice' came through a stage version when I was about fifteen. I didn't encounter the book for another year or so and then I was horrified to find that there were five Bennet girls. Hadn't anyone ever told Jane Austen there were only three? Clearly the theatre company were cutting down on 'unnecessary' cast expenses. It took me years to accept Mary and Kitty.

Susan said...

Hi Ann - thanks for that story! I don't think P&P would be the same with only 3 daughters! And i feel badly for getting Mary and Jane mixed up when it is one of my favourite stories!

Eva said...

I loved reading this. :) My sister gave me this version on DVD for my seventeenth birthday, and I just adore it!

Nymeth said...

Now that I've finally read the book I'm really looking forward to watching this! Great post.

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