Austen at Large: Some of my own prejudices when it come to Pride and Prejudice

Matthew Macfayden, Pride and Prejudice 2005

This week, as I began to reread Pride and Prejudice with my Jane Austen class, I have discovered some prejudices that I have. In reading a book that I know and love so well, I have almost found it hard to understand some people’s opinions of it. I will say that most girls in my class are very thoughtful and make wonderful remarks but there are some that I completely disagree with. I don’t know if it is because of my own prejudices against these views or what, but at times I feel that people are letting the adaptations influence their readings of the novel. Though I try to be a very thoughtful reader, and believe that students individually take away different things from a text, I find it difficult to understand where some of these girls are coming from. Sometimes I think that adaptations have limited or influenced their point of view, and yet when I think about it perhaps another adaptation has influenced or limited me as well. Yet I do try to look at the text for the text, and not how it is adapted in a movie.

I will give an example of this situation: We were reading aloud Darcy’s 1st proposal and Elizabeth’s refusal when one of the girls said “I think that Elizabeth really wanted to say yes somewhere deep down inside of her.” I could not let this observation go by without commenting on it because I did not see that in the text. If anyone wants to make an argument for it I would be more than willing to listen to it, but all this student could back it up with was that she just had a feeling that Elizabeth really wanted to say yes. When I read the text I see Elizabeth being completely driven by her dislike, irritation and misunderstanding of Darcy. She has just been pouring over her beloved sister Jane’s letters examining how much pain Jane is in because of Darcy. She notices that,

They contained no actual complaint, nor was there any revival of past occurrences, or any communication of present suffering. But in all, and in almost every line of each, there was a want of that cheerfulness which had been used to characterize her style, and which, proceeding from the serenity of a mind at ease with itself, and kindly disposed towards every one, had been scarcely ever clouded. (Chapter 34)

I think that for Elizabeth the knowledge of Mr. Darcy’s evolvement with the separation of Jane and Mr. Bingley would have driven away any feelings that she ever had (and which I think she NEVER had) for him.

Keira Knightley, Pride and Prejudice 2005

What I see in comments like this in class is the problem of Austen adaptations. I am not blaming any movie particularly, but rather the viewer. Every adaption brings something to the table that is interesting, and it is good to see many different points of view and such. What I have a HUGE problem with is when the adaptations start to taint the books; when readers start seeing the book as the movie and trying to make them fit together. No adaptation is ever going to be completely faithful to a book, (though the Fay Weldon 1980 Pride and Prejudice is pretty close), yet it is the job of the viewer to know the difference, and see through the movie. I think my friend was allowing the 2005 movie to influence her reading of the novel. I see that movie as trying to portray that Lizzy and Darcy are meant for each other from the first time they meet and that in the proposal scene, though Lizzy is very mad, there is some part of her that is still attracted to and interested in Darcy. As if they were soul mates and their souls were drawn together and yet their minds were keeping them apart.

I think this is making too much of the romance of the novel and ignoring Elizabeth’s real thoughts and feelings on the matter. The novel says,

In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection, and though her intentions did not vary for an instant, she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive; till, roused to resentment by his subsequent language, she lost all compassion in anger (Chapter 34).

I think this shows Elizabeth’s feeling on the matter perfectly. “Her intentions did not vary for a second“. It is hard for me to see the argument of Lizzy really wanted to say “yes” to Mr. Darcy in this scene. I just don’t buy it. I don’t buy it as an argument in the text and I certainly don’t buy it in the adaptation when they almost kiss at the end of the scene.

Matthew Macfayden, Pride and Prejudice 2005

I would be interested to know anyone else’s opinion on the subject because I think the use and power of adaptations is very interesting especially with Austen. A movie will never out do the book for me, I just wish that we would become better readers so that the novel will be speaking rather than an adaptation of it. Perhaps these are just my prejudices against those who perhaps like the movies better than the books, but as a lover of Austen’s novels it is hard for me to see how anything could surpass them.

Till next week!

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

20 thoughts on “Austen at Large: Some of my own prejudices when it come to Pride and Prejudice

  1. oh i agree completely. I hear it all the time from people who just discuss Austen generally and you can tell that when they are talking about the characters, they are talking about an adaptation. The minute someone goes off on a misty eyed romantic tangent about it, I know they are talking about adaptations. You’re right, the romance in the book can be entirely overplayed.

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  2. i couldn’t agree with you more. and on the snarky side, you can always tell a faker who has only seen a movie adaptation and not actually read the book. for my part, i sometimes feel that the movies are ONLY about romance and leave so much of the social satire and humor behind, which is the part that i really enjoy.

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  3. So true! While it is okay to have a book turn into a movie, I advise that people read the book first before seeing the movie so that one can get a true sense of the story, more importantly the true characters.

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  4. Virginia, I think you’re completely right. I had a similar experience in an Arthurian legends class I took. One girl had a thing for Lancelot and could never recognize when he did something wrong. She believed completely in his integrity as a character (probably based on First Knight or something worse) and the rest of the class would end up battling it out with her, trying to persuade her to see how he could possibly be doing something less than respectable.

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  5. So true! While it is ‘okay’ to review an adaptation in movie form, the true sense of the story comes from reading the book first. Movies are created and directed by those that more than likely did not write the original book and so they probably will not be true to the author’s intent or have that emotional bonding.

    I like seeing the movies but I also like to read the book first and that way I can sort what wasn’t in the book but was in the film.

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  6. I’m gritting my teeth for you! Some people are so stupid. How could anyone think for a second Eliza didn’t want to slap the skin from Mr Darcy’s face after that truly awful first proposal?
    He was condescending…rude…overbearing…and generally a pompous git. The only reason any woman with half a brain would have accepted him was if she wanted to marry him for his money and Eliza made it very clear that was not her idea of a good time. Even the Colin-Firth version isn’t as good as the book! I think screen “adaptions” are doing a lot of damage not only good literature, but how the present generation understands history. I think the word ‘adaption’ says it all. Adaption = not the real thing! Imagine the chagrin of the young woman if heaven forbid she had to come face to face with her ‘hero’. I have a few Medieval heroes, but I know that even the good guys were occasionally unheroic in the extreme!

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  7. Interesting post. P&P05 really did emphasise the sheer romance of P&P in every possible way – which is not necessarily a bad thing if you’re a hopeless romantic like me. ;-)

    When JA adaptations interpret elements of Jane’s novels in ways that you would not expect, it can be interesting for Janeites like myself, because it forsces me to think about and consider aspects of the novel that I would normally not pay that much attention to. However, if you’re someone who has not read the book, it is quite possible that it could indeed have an adverse affect on your vision of the novel.

    As for the scene that you specifically referred to – I don’t think any part of Lizzy wanted to say ‘yes’ – she hated him! But at the same time, he was just so darn attractive. . . :P in the end, the movie’s interpretation of this scene was a little different to the book – it seems to reverse the order of Lizzy’s emotions. – First she’s completely infuriated with him, then she begins to feel the compliment to her of the love of such a man . – Of couse, in the book it’s the other way round. :-) Like I said, it is a bit different than the book, but I quite like how it came off in the end. If that makes me a traitor – so be it. ;-)

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  8. It seems to me quite plausible that your student was projecting herself into Lizzie. You don’t mention what age she is, but it appears as though she’s quite young, and at that age a handsome, rich man can be appealing even though he’s a jerk.

    BTW, Weldon’s adaptation is my favourite of all the tv/movie versions I’ve seen.

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  9. Oh my! I love all the discussion. Great post Virginia, you have hit a nerve for many.

    When I was pulling the screenshots for the images for this post, I watched the first proposal scene in P&P 2005 several times. They altered Austen’s dialogue which is a shame, since it is one of the greatest emotional unloading I have every read. Lizzy is just on fire! The 1995 P&P got it right and the dialogue is closer to the text. But, I did see what your fellow student was talking about at the end of the scene in the 2005 version when they draw closer and closer to each other as the banter back and forth. He is quiet, hesitates a second, then looks down at her lips. She does the same. That slight hesitation and pull between them is not in the book at all, so this must be the director overlaying his romantic notions, and your point exactly.

    Many younger Janeites perfer this version, which curls my hair. It is not the story that Austen wrote, and unless you read the book, you would not know.

    Bluestocking – I laughed so loud at your comment that High School students should not be allowed to view the 2005 P&P. As a book seller, I can not tell you how many copies of P&P I have sold to starry eyed High School students who adored the 2005 movie, and wanted to read the book. I of course just handed it right over to them and tell them to be patient with the language and that they have a treat ahead of them! I would be happy if half of them completed it and enjoyed it, but I doubt it. They will pick it up again, hopefully in a few years and see it afresh.

    Like Virginia, the 1979 Fay Weldon adaptation of P&P will remain indelible in my heart. It has left a lasting impression on me, slanting my enjoyment of any future adaptations. It started me on my Austen passion all those yeas ago. It is a fond friend. ;-)

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  10. You go, girl. I’m glad we felt the same way about this comment – and I feel so lucky to have you in class with me! Great post. Keep them coming!

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  11. Generally I agree. None of the adaptations is perfect (especially not the 2005 one), and they influence readers a lot. However, I would like to know more about your student’s opinion. It is possible it’s influenced only by the film, but it’s also possible that she got the impression from the book.

    Lizzy does dislike him, or rather she disapproves of his character, but she also has quite a high opinion about him. She sees him as a “great man”, he is extremely intelligent and that attracts her interest in him, he is handsome, not to mention rich, and there is a sexual tension between them from the start. I’d say that she knows that she’ll have to refuse him, but at the same time she regrets having to do that, because if only he could be a better man he’d be perfect.

    The proposal chapter has this paragraph as well:

    “The tumult of her mind was now painfully great. She knew not how to support herself, and from actual weakness sat down and cried for half an hour. Her astonishment, as she reflected on what had passed, was increased by every review of it. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! that he should have been in love with her for so many months! so much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend’s marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case, was almost incredible! It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection. But his pride, his abominable pride, his shameless avowal of what he had done with respect to Jane, his unpardonable assurance in acknowledging, though he could not justify it, and the unfeeling manner in which he had mentioned Mr. Wickham, his cruelty towards whom he had not attempted to deny, soon overcame the pity which the consideration of his attachment had for a moment excited.”

    Gratification was thought to be the reason why women fall in love, and later Austen gives it as a reason for Lizzy’s change of mind. “Pity” is a feeling as well, and feelings aren’t easily defined. It’s too close to regret for comfort. Lizzy doesn’t want to have any feelings towards Darcy other than hate, which happens to be a very strong feeling, far too strong for his faults.

    Moreover she reacts very strongly. Generally she’s a person who cheers up easily, while only in very emotional moments she has headaches and cries, just like here. After reading his letter she needs many days to recover, not to mention that she thinks of him in almost ever chapter of the book, even when he’s long away. Her mind is wrapped around him all the time.

    Lizzy could and could not accept a man who hurt her sister. She uses it as a pretext here, but she took his explanation as sufficient, and after Pemberley she’d accept Darcy even if he never brought Bingley with him.

    In the part about Jane you quoted it is important to remember that it’s Lizzy’s POV, and Lizzy isn’t always the best judge, neither of Darcy nor of herself, which she’ll know as soon as she reads his letter.

    When she was going to Hunsford, she thought:

    “EVERY object in the next day’s journey was new and interesting to Elizabeth; and her spirits were in a state for enjoyment; for she had seen [Jane] looking so well as to banish all fear for her health, and the prospect of her northern tour was a constant source of delight.”

    So Jane was looking well, there was nothing for Elizabeth to worry about, and so she was going to have fun, but then Darcy comes, and Jane’s mood becomes Lizzy’s main concern:

    “MORE than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. — She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers. — How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd! — Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her.”

    Is Lizzy so silly or Austen is ironic? How many times one can be surprised?

    “She was engaged one day, as she walked, in re-perusing Jane’s last letter, and dwelling on some passages which proved that Jane had not written in spirits, when, instead of being again surprised by Mr. Darcy, she saw on looking up, that Colonel Fitzwilliam was meeting her. Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, she said,”

    So we have Lizzy, expecting to be surprised by Darcy AGAIN, who unexpectedly meets the Colonel instead.

    She’s unprepared for the meeting. She was preparing herself for meeting Darcy. She was rereading Jane’s letters to find an excuse for hating him (an excuse that we know was not there, because your quote clearly says that there was no actual complaint, only Lizzy trying to read Jane’s mood as ill). Now she has to change her attitude. She forces a smile for the Colonel, just as a moment before she was working on forcing a grimace for Darcy.

    Well, if that was Collins she’d simply change her “favourite haunt”, wouldn’t she? What woman would force herself into an unpleasant situation the fourth time?

    I’d say that Austen gives both impressions, and we are to read both. Lizzy didn’t actually hate Darcy. Using her own words she was “determined to hate” him. It’s not the same.

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  12. While I agree that adaptations can cloud view of the book, I wouldn’t blame the newest P&P for the theory of Elizabeth already having feelings for Darcy during the proposal. This theory is much older. I don’t subscribe to it, but some people claim her feelings began at the Meryton Assembly, which I don’t agree with. The newest P&P at least doesn’t date her feelings for the time before the proposal…

    I think that the reason for that theory is the prevalence in current books, films and TV of the concept of subconscious love, demonstrating as hate. People seeing Lizzy’s dislike of Darcy reach the obvious conclusion of her hidden feelings, because they expect it after so many similar stories.

    I albo like the most the 1980 version and I wish it was more available :(

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  13. I agree that the 2005 is a fairly poor adaption to the novel. It does it no justice. I thought it a drag.

    I also agree with your analysis. It’s capital! But I can understand why the people tend to think that there was an attraction on Elizabeth’s part. I think a part of us wants that attraction to be there!! “Love at first sight and fighting it with everything in her,” if you will.

    But it isn’t and wasn’t there. She did ardently dislike him and he was largely at fault as she goes on to tell him when he proposed the first time…”I have never sought your good opinion and you have bestowed it most unwillingly.” He loved her “against his will,” Like an unwanted pebble in a shoe…pinching us every step, annoying and demanding us to acknowledge it and do something about it!!

    (Sigh) Isn’t it amazing how this beautiful piece of literature continues to fascinate and captivate us hundreds of years after publication? I’ve been listening to P&P as I’m cleaning out house and I continue to glean and learn and laugh and be amused…Do you think it will ever lessen?

    I hope not!!

    Wonderful post. Keep up the good work!

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  14. I agree Sylwia. And on a side note, I do owe a bit of gratitude to Joe Wright and Keira and Matthew, as it had been a while since I had even thought about Jane Austen (gasp!) until that film had come out. But that film, brought me back to the fold and all things Austen, after many years of real life getting in the way. For all the inaccuracies, all the jumbled dialogue and even strong mischaracterizations from cannon — I still enjoyed it. And it re-energized my past love of Jane and so I re-read all her major works, bought all the adaptations on DVD, all the Jane related biographies, letters, etc and all the other Austenesque fiction. To me, like any film adaptation, if the film (any film, not just Austen) must stray from the original text for the sake of time and flow– and it works, then I can forgive it. And I do not mean this as a cop out– but film adaptations do bring new blood. It’s hopefully an opportunity to have people read the masterpieces and have open discussion. And like with the many, many, many book adaptations, sequels, and prequels it is fun to sift through the bounty of Jane Austen’s legacy and find those little gems. It is frustrating though when viewers’ and often writers’ ideas are colored by the movie adaptation — and lose or discount what Jane Austen wrote. I agree, the books almost always out do the movie adaptation. Excepting of course, Bridget Jones’ Diary. (Yikes, I’ll wait for the tomato throwing to commence…)

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  15. Pingback: Woman in Love « Mending My Own Pen

  16. I know I am super late to this….which by the way I just discovered this site and have been musing over the Jane Austen world basically on my own and occasionally with my mother. So I am so excited to of found this Austen adoring haven. I completely understand your ideas on Elizabeth’s feelings, however it is possible to hold an attraction while not really liking somebody. And this appears to be the case in the 2005 adaptation. I don’t think every detail needs to be spelled out by an author, rather it is partially the job of the reader to interpret on their own. Honestly, how many girls wouldn’t be slightly touched or effected after a man had just confessed his love for her…..the proposal is a heavy situation and I think Wright’s adaptation was a perfect reaction. While it is true that the 2005 version is not too close to the novel, I found it incredibly refreshing and enjoyed it even more than the 1995 series. Wright’s version felt so much more realistic and relatable, it wasn’t overbearing and i think the smooth acting made up for some of the loose ties to the novel. Even Jane Austen admitted that her story needed some shading and a bit of darkness, which I believe was greatly accomplished in the 2005 film. Knightly’s Elizabeth was beautiful and elegant but yet intensely strong, wonderfully portraying our beloved heroine. As for the first proposal scene….I found it most enchanting and captivating…..perhaps more Bronte than Austen; however I am quite sure Miss Jane Austen would definately approve of this newest revision. :)

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  17. Many people claim that the 1980 adaptation is the closest to the novel. Frankly, I disagree. I just saw the miniseries and I found myself surprised by the number of changes.

    Personally, I’m not one of those who demand that a screen adaptation follows the novel closely or exactly. I consider such demands as impractical and ignorant of the process of film making. If there are people who consider any of the film adaptations to be exactly like the novel, that is THEIR problem. Allow them to wallow in their ignorance. It’s their choice. I know better. Yet, at the same time, I have been able to greatly enjoy at least four of the film and television adaptations – 1940, 1980, 1995 and 2005.

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    • @ladylavinia1932, Interesting that you would mention the 1980 adaptation– as just today I started to re-watch (or rather listen to as background while working in my art studio) and I whole heartedly agree w/your comment and had to add my two cents. That adaptation has various characters saying other characters dialogue at different different parts of the books. Usually in ANY adaptation I can be forgiving if it serves to benefit flow or continuity for time restraints, but it seemed to serve no purpose. Its a total clip and paste job. The interior lighting is overly harsh and the exteriors are fine but come as a shock. I guess it was good enough for 1980. David Rintoul as Darcy to me is VERY believable but Elizabeth Garvey was somewhat lacking, as she did not show any charisma or anything that would make her a stand out to the likes of a Mr. Darcy. (I have to agree with Miss Bingley’s opinion of this Elizabeth, “For my part, I confess I could never see any beauty in her… etc etc etc”)

      I have so enjoyed reading back through this thread.

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