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.