In vain did Elizabeth endeavour to check the rapidity of her mother’s words, or persuade her to describe her felicity in a less audible whisper; for, to her inexpressible vexation, she could perceive that the chief of it was overheard by Mr. Darcy, who sat opposite to them. Her mother only scolded her for being nonsensical.The Narrator on Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 18
My favorite scenes in episode one of the PBS airing last Sunday of the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (1995) were definitely those at the Netherfield Ball. They are also a significant plot accelerator in the novel. So much interaction transpires that delights, horrifies, and further reveals character insights. Here is a rundown on the evening’s events.
The Bennet’s arrive in fine evening attire and are greeted by their hosts the Bingley’s. The occasion includes several red coats which delight Lydia and Kitty.
We learn that Wickham has removed himself from the festivities because of his wish to avoid a certain gentleman (Mr. Darcy). Lizzy is obligued to dance with Mr. Collins and is mortified that he is wholly without any sense of his ridiculous manner.
Mr. Darcy is seen intently tracking Lizzy’s movements about the ball from room to room. He is clearly intrigued by her frank personality, and not quite sure what to make of his attraction to her.
As Lizzy discloses to Charlotte her anger in the absence of her favorite Mr. Wickham because of Mr. Darcy, he approaches them and catches her off guard. She regretfully accepts his invitation to dance.
We then hear the elegant music and see the couples engaged in the dance. Lizzy and Darcy dance silently for a while. Annoyed that she must dance with him, Lizzy can not miss out on this opportunity not to engage Mr. Darcy in a “little bit of conversation” while they dance.
What transpires is one of the most significant dialogues of the film between them. She is peeved and unguarded, he is puzzled, polite and circumspect.
Caroline Bingley attempts to warn Lizzy of Wickham’s low background and infamous manner, but Lizzy will not believe her assertations and challenges her story.
Lizzy and Jane are mortified by their families, “total want of propriety so frequently displayed”, and stand on the sidelines in discomfort of the exhibition.
Sister Mary attempts to delight the party in song, and Mrs. Bennet is glad to see her daughter display her, ahem, talent at the pianoforte. However, her screeching song inspires horses to neigh, and dogs to howl outside. This sends her two elder sisters and Mr. Bennet into despair.
Next, Mr. Collins speaks to Mr. Darcy before they have been formally introduced. Mrs. Bennet’s continues bragging about the certainty of the nuptials of Jane and Mr. Bingley to the other guests before it is indeed certain. The finale humiliation is Lydia and Kitty’s unchecked exuberant antics throughout the ball with the officers. Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst look on in horror at the Bennet clan’s exploits in their home, smug in their earlier evaluation of the families foibles!
My feelings of embarrassment and sorrow after the conclusion of the ball are all in favor of the elder two Bennet daughters, Elizabeth and Jane. We see the scope of their dilemma. They are intelligent, sensible and accomplished young women, whose financial situation of lack of dowries un-empowers them, placing them at the mercy of the connections of their family to attract suitable husbands. Moreover, consider that the very people that they must depend upon to aid them in their pursuit of a match alternately hinder their possibilities by lack of refinement and improper conduct. One feels a cloud of doom descend.
You can find an excellent introduction, episode rundown, casting, behind the scenes and photo gallery at the BBC Pride and Prejudice web site.
Casting, plot and resources can be found at the Masterpiece Classics Pride and Prejudice site
Purchase the new DVD set of Pride and Prejudice and The Jane Austen Book Club together at A&E.com.
Be sure to mark your calendars and set your watches for the second episode of the Masterpiece Classic presentation of Pride and Prejudice(1995), on Sunday, February 17th at 9:00 pm on PBS. We can look forward to the introduction of the affability and condescension of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, further antics by that duffus Mr. Collins, and a surprising ardent revelation by one of Elizabeth’s suitors. Dont’ miss out on all the Regency fun!
Indeed this is one of the most pivotal scenes in the fist third of the novel precisely because the deficiencies of the Bennets are made so abundantly clear for all to see. Unfortunately I find it among the more tortuous to read and watch particularly because of the disapprobation Mrs Bennet’s behaviour brings upon both Jane and Lizzie. While Kitty and Lydia’s lack of propriety, indiscriminate flirtations, and boisterous natures do the family no credit, it is Mrs. Bennet who draws my ire most severely for she is the originator of their intemperate manner. Without a governess the Miss Bennets had only their own senses and the example of their mother for guidance as to how a lady should comport herself. If there is a failing with Kitty it is that she aspires to be Lydia, and if their is a failing with Lydia it is that she has never been taught the values of self control and modesty. These failings I lay at Mrs Bennet’s feet.
Mrs Bennet’s low character is further in evidence at dinner. I can neither read nor watch the scene where Mrs Bennet goes on at length about Jane and Mr Bingley but I wish to silence her on their behalf. That she could be so coarse and unconscious of it, and worse to be so dismissive of Lizzie when the latter attempted to caution her, speaks to a certain selfishness of mind that is also the stock and trade of the youngest Miss Bennet. In reflection, though it may not have contributed to sisterly affection the Miss Bennets would have been far better served if the youngest of them had not been out in society before they were ready. In Lydia’s case I’m sure that the only solution I should find comfortable would be her conversion to Catholicism and thence to a nunnery.