It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if you’re going to write about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen you begin with the phrase: “it’s a truth universally acknowledged….”
I’ve never been a huge Jane-ite, however I’ve watched the 2005 adaptation of P&P with Keira Knightly more times than I can count. (There is some sexy hand action in that movie, amiright?)
And yet, every time that age-old debate came up, Macfadyen vs. Firth, my vote for Macfadyen felt a bit hollow, for I had never actually seen the 1995 BBC adaptation with Colin Firth.
When the shame became too great to bear, I finally resolved to do it: I would watch the entire BBC adaptation, but I would not do it without a glass (or two…) of wine to see me through to the bitter end.
I was surprised to find that, in addition to being won over by Firth’s Darcy, I had completely misunderstood some of P&P’s characters. I don’t know if it was the wine or the wisdom of maturity, but here’s what I discovered:
Mrs. Bennet isn’t a silly nincompoop: she’s a desperate woman in a patriarchal nonsense society.
Everyone’s always acting like Mrs. Bennet is just soooo ridiculous, but have you ever tried to marry off five daughters with barely a dowry to split between them before your husband dies and you have no other option but to cram into your brother’s Cheapside hovel or *shudder* see your daughters become governesses?
Look, I get it. She’s high strung, occasionally drunk, and usually putting her foot in her mouth – but who among us isn’t?
In this patriarchal nonsense society, 5 perfectly nice daughters are worth less than one mediocre son. Sadly, it bears a lot of resemblance to the current patriarchal nonsense society so let’s just say I feel a lot more empathy for the lady who is watching her insensitive jerk of a husband make fun of her for trying to keep a roof over her family’s head after he croaks.
Charlotte Lucas isn’t dying to be married: she just wants to be left alone
So much of P&P is about women seeking marriage, so naturally I assumed Charlotte Lucas’s snaring of Mr. Collins was because she didn’t want to be lonely. Turns out, she just wants a room of her own to do whatever the heck she wants.
Charlotte is presented as a shy, homely spinster with no prospects. Her marriage to Collins horrifies Charlotte’s best friend, our heroine Lizzy. Was Charlotte so desperate, so lonely that she couldn’t stand on principle like Lizzy and reject a secure marriage?
In fact, I realized that Charlotte is an introvert after my own heart: She just wants some independence. Imagine being 27, living with your parents and rambunctious younger siblings, and just wanting some alone time.
Once she marries Collins, she sends him off to the garden or to visit that old windbag Lady Catherine de Bourgh as much as possible so she can have some dang peace and quiet in a room that has been set aside for her own use.
Mr. Bingley isn’t a prize: he’s the human equivalent of a saltine cracker.
He seemed kind of clueless and inoffensive (but rich!) in the 2005 version. At least 2005 Bingley could smolder.
1995 Bingley is about as interesting as the food you eat when you’re having stomach problems. He is overpowered by any condiment you pair him with and is easily broken (by Darcy’s will).
His eyes haunt my nightmares with their earnest, guileless zeal.
OK, maybe that’s a strong word for these revelations but I love discovering new things about characters in romances, and I find it interesting how my interpretation of their actions has changed as I’ve grown older.
Have you ever had your mind blown by a new discovery about a character you thought you had figured out?