The author of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, Jane Austen, originally named the novel ‘First Impressions’. This, however, failed to get published, the details of the novel were altered and the name was changed to ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It was then published sixteen years later in 1883. The novel is about a love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, who have to overcome pride and prejudice before a relationship can develop. Austen uses sparkling wit and beautiful vocabulary to bring smiles to the faces of her readers.
The importance of marriage in the 17th- 18th century is maintained throughout ‘Pride and Prejudice’. If a woman was not married by the age of 25 she was considered a ‘spinster’. To marry for love was often simply a matter of chance. The first priority when deciding to marry was wealth and estate. If you were lucky, you might fall in love with your partner after you were married. I think a part of the reason why this novel became popular was because Elizabeth, the focal character, went against the basic rules of marriage at the time. She rejected the proposals of two wealthy men, much to the disappointment of her mother, Mrs Bennet, because she didn’t love them: ‘You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr Collins, for she vows she will not have him, and if you do not make haste he will change his mind and not have her.’
‘Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her children; and though the man and the match were quite good enough for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr Bingley and Netherfield.’ This shows how little her mother cared if her daughter married a man who she didn’t love. Mrs Bennet’s role was to get her children married off as quickly as possible. This was the widespread attitude to parenting at the time. Charlotte Lucas, who accepts the proposal of Mr Collins directly after he had proposed to Elizabeth, is perhaps there to give an example of how most women would have responded to such a situation.
“Without thinking highly of either men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well- educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.” The title of the book is vastly acknowledged throughout the novel, and using the words ‘pride and prejudice’ seem the most appropriate choice of vocabulary when describing feelings or characters, because it is the base of the plot. Elizabeth later refuses the proposal of Mr. Darcy, who was described as wealthy and handsome, and what most women would consider a perfect match; “…Mr Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of having ten thousand a year.”
She refused him because she was prejudiced against his views of her family and of his attitude; “With a strong prejudice against every thing he might say…” He, on the other hand, was prejudiced against her family; “…of the family obstacles which judgement had always opposed to inclination.” So this is another example of how Elizabeth went against the customary rules of marriage. She turned down an ideal opportunity to get married into huge fortune and an attractive man. It appears that in this case the Bingley sisters are perhaps there as an example to how most women would have reacted to such a situation.
The BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was produced by Sue Birtwhistle, and directed by Simon Langdon. They have always had a strong passion for Austen’s novel, which contributed to the success of the film: “Adapting Pride and Prejudice was certainly no chore for me. I would not have done it were that the case. No, it was a sheer pleasure.” The product was a colourful romantic drama with perfect adaptations of characters and settings. The choice of actors brought the characters to life beautifully. In particular, I found I could relate the Elizabeth in the film to the Elizabeth in the book exactly.
The film allows the audience to take a glimpse of the magnificent countryside and estate, which I feel would have been very similar to the scenery in the time the novel was written. This visual splendour adds to my enjoyment of watching the adaptation, whereas the lack of visual aids in the novel caused a lack of interest in the first half of the book. My interest was not captured until at least half way through the novel, however the adaptation allows the audience to become absorbed in the storyline and characters from the very beginning. This was the main feature of the dramatisation that enhanced my understanding of Jane Austen’s work of fiction.
The language in the book is slightly beyond my level of vocabulary, therefore I found the film helpful to my understanding of the details and emotions of the book. I found I could perceive conversations with more ease when watching the film, as the dialogue is made clearer through the expressions and tone of the actors. The actors respond realistically to the actions and interjections of the characters around them, and also to the surroundings. This is very helpful when trying to understand the dialogue, and one example is the scene in which Elizabeth and the Gardiners enter Pemberley.
We are able to get a feel for the beauty of the building and the grounds, and when the camera shows Elizabeth’s expression of delight and awe, it expresses her feelings well, showing she is responding to her surroundings. This was an expression Austen saw in Elizabeth when she drove through the gates of Pemberley; “Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.” For further demonstration to my point, you can observe the disagreement of all the characters when confronted with a discourteous comment, for example Mrs Bennet’s bad manners.
Jane Austen seems to have taken great care and enthusiasm in creating the character of Elizabeth. Austen’s witty remarks and sarcastic comments always seem typical of Elizabeth’s character. The film helped me to understand her nature and judgements by showing the scene she is forming her opinion upon, and the way she responds to it. The most important of these aspects of the story is the way she counteracts in her relationship with Mr. Darcy. Before his true colours start to shine through, in the movie you can regard the form in which she disapproves of everything he says or does, the way she looks at him distastefully as he talks to her. When he had returned to Meryton, after the incident of his rejection and after he had saved the reputation of her sister, you can watch how she feels uncomfortable with the tension between them. It is helpful to have a better understanding of the central character of the novel.
The additional scenes added to the film fill in the missing gaps, which were otherwise leaving out secret emotions of the characters, particularly the extra scenes with Mr Darcy releasing his frustration produced from his strong, but prejudiced feelings for Elizabeth. For example the famous scene of his unexpected arrival at Pemberley during the visit of Elizabeth and the Gardeners; unlike in the novel, he dives in the lake and meets Elizabeth with wet clothes. This is one of many examples of Mr Darcy shown alone, absorbed in trying to deal with his unrequited love for Elizabeth. I was impressed with the film as I expected a lack of the detailed sentiment, which is prevalent in the novel, so the film went beyond my expectations.
The film also added scenes when letters were being written or narrated. The letters in the book could only be read by the readers when being written or read by Lizzy. The film often showed visualisation of the story told in the letter, for example the long letter written by Mr Darcy to Elizabeth the day after she had refused him.
The film showed the audience the background of the letter by going through the past incidents, which Mr Darcy was referring to, as flashbacks. I found this element of the film helpful, as the letters written from the characters are extremely detailed and use complex vocabulary, which I didn’t understand nearly as well as I did when I could see what the letter was referring to for myself. When both Mr Darcy and Elizabeth have flashbacks and visions of each other in the film, it was understood that the unrequited love Mr Darcy had been feeling for Elizabeth was becoming requited.
Austen’s story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is about Elizabeth. The film, alternatively, is the story of the relationship of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. The book is written from the judgements and opinions of Elizabeth: “Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation”, “Elizabeth was delighted”, “Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion…” In this way, the story in the film was easier to perceive because you are able to observe the story from a birds-eye view rather than from only one angle.
In other words, Jane Austen’s plot represents an enclosed path. The standpoints of other characters are not revealed until the end. This was probably done purposely by the author to leave more suspense for her readers, however I found it harder to keep on track when reading through a limited perspective. The film is an ‘open path’, so you can survey viewpoints from ‘the other side of the path’- (the notions of other characters) all through the story. The film shares the same plot as Jane Austen, it just opens it into more depth. So you have an acquaintance with the plot long before Elizabeth does.
You are able to judge the characters almost immediately in the film, for example the characters of the Bingley sisters. In the book you are not given an opinion of the Bingley sisters until the middle of the story, until Elizabeth begins to express her judgements of their characters; “…Elizabeth still saw superciliousness in their treatment of everybody, hardly excepting even her sister, and could not like them…” however in the film the actors portray the pride and prejudice of their characters right from the beginning. One of Jane Austen’s techniques in her writing is to use satire wit to ‘poke fun’ at her characters.
The film both acknowledges and exaggerates this aspect of the novel. Mr Collins is a character who can be used as an example here. His character is depicted as gushing, irritating and embarrassing: “Mr Collins was not a sensible man”, “…made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility”. The book shows this via the opinion of Elizabeth and dialogue between the family; “This gallantry was not much to the taste of his hearers…” However the film uses visual aids for the viewers to judge his personality for themselves, but guiding you to judge his character as how Elizabeth describes it in the book. Similarly, the character of Mrs Bennet is acknowledged and exaggerated faultlessly in the dramatisation. From the film I established that she is overdramatic and fussy from her first appearance.
The complexions and tensions in relationships are also perceived well in the BBC adaptation, as you can almost feel the awkward silences. The relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet doesn’t hold any love or respect. The film allows you to recognize their relationship by means of their lack of sentiment in their tone and expression when communicating to each other. In the novel, you are unable to grasp this particular form of attitude in the dialogue, making it harder to understand the relationships. As a conclusion, in the book your opinions are based on that of Elizabeth, but the film allows you to create your own opinion. Personally I find this freedom of opinion increases my interest in the plot.
Many people may find that the characters and scenery in the television adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ don’t always live up to expectations. One example could be in the physical appearance of some characters. The novel states Jane is more attractive than Elizabeth: “Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane…” whereas people might find Elizabeth more ‘handsome’ in the film than the actress playing her older sister.
This could be confusing, because the reason the film enhances my understanding of the story is because I can relate to the scenes in the film as I read the book. If the characters don’t give you the correct picture of what you had imagined, the film would only obscure your understanding. However in my opinion such details become insignificant when consolidating the overall effect of the adaptation. I am in no doubt that the 1995 BBC adaptation not only enhances my understanding of the novel but it has also increased my interest in the author.