Busy month this time around (I recently acquired a very distracting kitten) but I decided to tackle Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which happens to be one of my favorite satirical social commentaries, despite also being a romance.
We are first introduced to the overly dramatic Mrs. Bennet, a mother of five daughters who is bent on pimping them out to the wealthiest single men she can find. When a rich Mr. Charles Bingley moves into the neighborhood, she immediately goes to her husband (whose sense of humor makes him one of my favorites) and insists on having him pay the poor soul a visit. He strings her along awhile before finally admitting he’s already done it. We are also introduced to the girls: First, we have Jane, the pretty/sweet/bland one; then Elizabeth, the sensible firecracker who is our heroine; Mary, the awkward bookworm; Kitty, the flirty whiney brat; and finally Lydia, the whiney, bratty flirt.
The Bennets meet Mr. Bingley at the next ball. He’s a good looking young gentleman who has brought along his two sisters, a brother-in-law, and another handsome man named Mr. Darcy, whose primary gossip-worthy feature is that he earns about ₤10,000 a year (which, to be fair, is about $727,470 when converted to modern US dollars). Where all their money comes from, I’ve never really figured out, since we don’t see them doing anything but traveling the country and going to dances and whatnot.
At this particular ball, Mr. Darcy doesn’t mingle beyond his own circle of friends and therefore earns the title of “most disagreeable man in the world.” That’s even before he tells Bingley that he doesn’t like dancing and the girls around here are only mediocre at best (except for Jane Bennet, who Bingley has been dancing with half the night. Well, okay, twice. But in Mrs. Bennet’s mind, they’re practically married already).
The next day, the Bennet ladies get together with their friends the Lucases and complain about how overly proud Mr. Darcy was. To placate her mother, Elizabeth promises never to dance with him. So that’s the end of that. Except that the Bennets encounter the group often at social gatherings and balls. While Jane and Bingley are getting along splendidly (much to Mrs. Bennet’s delight), Darcy is skulking around admiring Elizabeth’s eyes and edging himself into her conversations (though he never actually says anything). Elizabeth is understandably weirded out by this, and manages to get him to exchange a sentence or two before he flees. At one point, Sir William Lucas drags them together again and insists they dance, but Darcy prefers to stare at her from afar and Elizabeth prefers people who talk.
Time passes and the plot thickens as we learn that a militia regiment is stationed at Meryton, only a mile from the Bennet’s home at Longbourn. Kitty and Lydia obsess over officers, and their father laments over how silly they are. (Not sure what else he expected from teenagers, though.)
Mr. Bingley’s sister Caroline writes Jane a letter inviting her over for the day, and Mrs. Bennet sends her over on horseback “because it seems likely to rain, and then you must stay all night.” Jane, of course, catches a cold from riding over in the rain. For Jane’s sake, we are relieved that this is a romcom novel, otherwise she would be dead within the week. Elizabeth, at least, still remembers that most elder sisters in novels have a high mortality rate, and insists on going to see her. Not having learned anything from Jane’s situation, Elizabeth decides to walk the three miles to Netherfield herself.
When she shows up at Bingley’s house, interrupting their breakfast, the women are blandly polite, Mr. Bingley is kind, and Mr. Darcy just stares, contemplating the way that exercise and muddy skirts make her even more attractive. Elizabeth doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and instead sticks around to take care of her sister. When not attending Jane, she joins the rest of the clan in the drawing room, where the Bingley sisters are passive aggressively making fun of everyone in turn. The conversation turns to accomplished women and Darcy sketches his ideal wife. Apparently, all a woman has to do is be completely adept at music, singing, drawing, dancing, speaking all the modern languages, and having a perfect grace about her walk, her address, and the tone of her voice and expressions. I guess when you’re a millionaire, you’re allowed to have unrealistic expectations.
In less than a week, Elizabeth and Jane are able to head home, to the relief of nearly everyone except their mother (whom I suspect of laying awake at night, contemplating ways to put her daughters in near-death situations in order to catch husbands). Not long after they return home, their father informs them that they will be receiving a guest of their own – his cousin, Mr. Collins, who is slated to inherit the land, the house, and everything in it once Mr. Bennet is dead, thanks to some outdated male inheritance rules. Mr. Collins is a pompous and ridiculous clergyman who reveres his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (her chimney alone costs ₤800!), and plans to preemptively apologize for taking over the Bennet fortune by marrying into the family. Over dinner, he shows himself to be a true ladies’ man by explaining his smooth techniques, stating that “though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.” One wonders how this guy is still single. Mr. Bennet thoroughly enjoys the conversation because Mr. Collins is just as absurd as he has hoped his relative would be.
The girls later plan a walk to Meryton to get out of the house and away from Mr. Collins (he joins them anyway), and there they are happy to meet some officers, who introduce them to Mr. George Wickham, a charmingly handsome soldier. They chat for awhile until Darcy and Bingley ride into town. Then there is something of an old west standoff between Darcy and Wickham until Wickham tips his hat and Darcy leaves. No one but Elizabeth notices that the plot has thickened.
The girls attend a party at their aunt and uncle’s house in Meryton and meet up with the officers again. Mr. Wickham keeps trying to talk to Elizabeth but Lydia interrupts him with chatter until she’s distracted by a game of cards. Elizabeth asks him about Darcy, and it turns out they grew up together – Darcy’s father was Wickham’s godfather and left him a living and a church position in his will, which Darcy apparently did not honor upon the man’s death. Elizabeth is astonished, Wickham calls both Darcy and his sister very proud people (I sense a theme here) and, veering off topic a bit, reveals that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is Darcy’s aunt and plans to have her daughter marry Darcy. (I realize marrying your cousin was the thing to do back in the day, but just trying to think about my own cousins in that way makes my skin crawl.)
Elizabeth shares her gossip with Jane, who is determined to think that Darcy can’t be a villain and perhaps there was a misunderstanding. Elizabeth, for her part, predictably takes Wickham’s side. They are distracted from sleuthing, of course, by the news that Bingley is throwing a ball, and to the great displeasure of everyone, Mr. Collins plans to attend. (The Bennet sisters would make terrible criminal investigators, but I would still love to watch a show where they try to solve mysteries.)
At the ball, Elizabeth is talking with her best friend Charlotte Lucas when Darcy drops stealthily in, asks for the next dance, and vanishes as soon as he pulls a yes out of her flustered stuttering. Charlotte tries to cheer her up by saying he might turn out to be an agreeable guy. “That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate!” says Elizabeth. Well, with that attitude, the ensuing dance with Darcy is naturally a bit awkward as she tries to get him into a deep and meaningful conversation (because apparently each dance takes an entire half hour – no wonder dancing with someone twice is considered a huge commitment).
Elizabeth is grilling Darcy on Mr. Wickham when Mr. Lucas interrupts their dance to compliment them on their skills and to remark about what a great couple they make. (What do you bet he’s already mashed their names up in his head – Darzibeth? Elizarcy? I’m sure there’s a standard portmanteau, but I don’t know it.)
Elizabeth meets up later with Jane, whom she has apparently sent on a reconnaissance mission to find out what Bingley knows about Wickham (the answer: nothing useful). The rest of the evening turns disastrous as she fails to stop Mr. Collins from awkwardly introducing himself to Darcy, overhears her mother telling everyone she knows that Bingley and Jane will soon be engaged, watches Mary embarrass the whole family by accompanying her own bad piano playing with some very bad singing, and suffers again as Mr. Collins makes a grand speech about how a rector parish always has many important things to do. They are stuck at the house an extra 15 minutes after the party ends while they wait for their late carriages (Mrs. Bennet is to blame, of course). The silence is awkward, but not as awkward as the long speeches/compliments Mr. Collins makes regarding the hospitality of the hosts.
Elizabeth imagines life can’t get worse, but it does. The next morning, Mr. Collins proposes marriage to her. He has a list of reasons why marrying is advantageous for him, but Elizabeth stops his speech to decline the offer. Her mother is overly dramatic as usual, and her father just finds the whole thing funny. Fortunately he also takes Elizabeth’s side.
Charlotte Lucas makes the mistake of visiting at that point, and is told the news four times over. In the days to come, she presumably ends up having to listen to Mr. Collins’ rants, which somehow turns into his fleeing Longbourn in shame and lodging with her family, which somehow turns into a marriage proposal. For some reason, she accepts.
Elizabeth finds her friendship with Charlotte strained (because she’s convinced her friend can’t be happy with such a man and has told her as much), Mrs. Bennet is upset to think that Charlotte will someday kick her out of her own house, and Mr. Bennet carries on with his morbid humor and tries to console his wife with the thought that she might die first. Meanwhile, Jane gets a letter from Caroline Bingley saying that they have returned to the city and don’t intend to come back for a very long time. She tries to console herself by pressing on with life, saying that Bingley was the nicest guy she ever knew and at least they parted as friends. (No one should be this ridiculously nice. I want to to read about the day that Jane Bennet snaps.)
Mrs. Bennet’s brother and sister-in-law, the Gardiners, come to visit and find themselves subject to all the complaints she has to offer. We learn from the Gardiners that Mr. Darcy’s given name is Fitzwilliam, (which I am immature enough to cackle at – my apologies to the Fitzwilliams of the world) and they return to London, taking Jane with them for a change of scenery.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, goes with Charlotte’s father and sister to visit Charlotte in her new home. While at Charlotte’s house, Elizabeth is invited to dine at Rosings Park, home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady de Bourgh is the perfect companion for Mr. Collins, as she just loves basking in compliments. Her daughter is a very sickly and silent (and Elizabeth remarks to herself that she’ll make an excellent wife for Darcy). Lady de Bourgh interrogates Elizabeth about her family life – scandalized that she never had a governess, that all her sisters are out in society at the same time, and that she has an opinion of her own at her age (Elizabeth is 20, by the way).
Because the world of romcoms is a tiny one, Elizabeth learns that Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam (snort) are coming to visit his aunt. Colonel Fitzwilliam is yet another friendly gentleman and Elizabeth finds herself actually enjoying conversation with him. Naturally, Lady de Bourgh butts into their conversations, becomes the center of the conversation herself, and then returns to her habit of telling other people what to do.
Elizabeth is coerced into playing the piano when Darcy stalks up behind her. The two pick each other apart in the ensuing conversation. Darcy says he’s not good at small talk, and Elizabeth replies that the main reason that she’s not good at the piano because she doesn’t practice. Taking her words to heart, Darcy shows up at the house the next morning and they have an awkward conversation in the sitting room. Charlotte is scandalized at the fact that the two of them were in the same room alone for more than a few minutes, and naturally assumes that Darcy is in love with Elizabeth.
Darcy and Fitzwilliam (pfft) come over frequently after that, even though Darcy remains silent most of the time. (This is unheard of for some reason. Were there really no quiet people in the Regency era?) Elizabeth also keeps running into Darcy in the garden, but merely finds it puzzling, rather than assumes he’s basically stalking her.
In an act of bad timing, Elizabeth finds out from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy was the one who convinced Bingley to leave Jane. Not long after, Darcy bursts into her home, passionately declares his love for her despite her inferiority, and asks her to marry him. Well, that escalated quickly.
She declines, of course, and Darcy takes the rejection the same way every manly rich man ought: he storms out of the house and then writes her a strongly worded letter before he departs the countryside. In the letter, he explains that he didn’t perceive that Jane was really in love with Bingley (because, as we all know, Darcy is an expert when it comes to social interactions) and because he was disgusted by the manners of Elizabeth’s family at the previous ball. Well, okay, I’ll give him that one. He then clarifies that Wickham was the son of his father’s steward, had his way through Cambridge paid, but when the time came, decided not to go into the church business (for the better, I think. Can you imagine Wickham as a clergyman?) and instead hoped to be paid ₤3,000 to pursue a degree in law. When that money ran out, Wickham again expressed an interest in being ordained, but Darcy refused to give him the funds. Wickham threw a fit and convinced Darcy’s 15-year-old sister Georgiana to elope with him, but they were discovered before they went through with it.
Elizabeth realizes she believes every word of the letter, starts feeling pretty awful for Miss Darcy and ashamed of herself, but does take a moment to amuse herself with the thought of how Lady de Bourgh would have reacted to hearing that she was going to be her future niece. She is sorry to leave Charlotte all alone, but not sorry enough to regret heading home. On the way home, she meets up with Jane and her two younger sisters, who lament that the regiment is leaving. The carriage is crowded, since Lydia bought an ugly bonnet (just because it wasn’t as ugly as the others,) and they have to listen to her prattle on about how she’d love to be the first sister married. This will in no way end badly.
Once home, Elizabeth tells Jane about Wickham, and the two decide not to reveal his bad character to the rest of the world since he’ll soon be out of sight and out of mind. Unfortunately, Lydia has friends in high places, and her friend Mrs. Forester invites her to travel with the regiment to Brighton. Elizabeth pleads with her father not to let Lydia go, but he thinks it’ll be best if she gets the flirting out of her system, so off she goes.
The Gardiners meanwhile offer to take Elizabeth to Derbyshire, which just so happens to be the county where our dour lord of Pemberly, Mr. Darcy, resides. Elizabeth thinks to herself, “Surely I may encounter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.” Oh, Elizabeth. How little you underestimate his Bennet Radar. This is a romcom, so naturally during the course of their travels, the Gardiners ask Elizabeth if she’d like to see Pemberly. She is relieved to hear from the locals that Darcy isn’t home, so with no worries of running into him, she agrees to visit Pemberly with her aunt and uncle.
Oh, Elizabeth. Your optimism is refreshing.
Apparently if someone is rich enough, it’s okay to just wander into their house and have the servants show you around, which seems a little weird to me, but whatever. Upon visiting Pemberly, Elizabeth falls in love with the place. It’s lavish but not ostentatious and she daydreams about being mistress of the properties. The housekeeper informs them that Darcy will return with a group of friends the next day, and Elizabeth is relieved at her narrow escape. The woman goes on to praise him as a good-natured master (though honestly, how many of us say terrible things about our employers when word might get back to them?) and Elizabeth and her companions try to make sense of their conflicting accounts of the man. As they are leaving, they bump into Mr. Darcy himself.
There is surprise on both sides, but he quickly regains his composure and politely (yet distractedly) asks after her family before excusing himself. (There is, alas, no mention of his going for a swim.) They press on, but he catches up to them for an actual human conversation. Elizabeth informs him that they weren’t expecting him to show up and that she wasn’t throwing herself in his path, honest. The Gardiners are astonished because they’d heard the legends of his pride but aren’t seeing any evidence of it. (Well, to be fair, he’s on home turf, so of course he’s more comfortable.) Darcy shows up the next morning with Bingley and his sister in tow, and Georgiana is delighted to meet Elizabeth, having heard so much about her.
Elizabeth quickly realizes she no longer hates Darcy, and possibly even *gasp* likes him (though I suspect the size of his house probably has something to do with it). Things would probably have progressed a lot faster, but she receives a distressing letter from Jane, who informs her that Lydia has run off with Wickham. Everyone is surprised by this for some reason. There is hope that the couple have eloped to Gretna Green in Scotland (where 16-year-olds like Lydia can freely marry without the consent of their parents), but there is acknowledgement that they’ve probably gone to London instead, without the intent of getting married (a scandal indeed).
Elizabeth finishes reading the letter at the moment that Darcy appears, his Bennet Radar alarm going off. She has a servant fetch her uncle and tells Darcy everything. He leaves her to her misery and departs, while she returns home as soon as possible to mourn over the loss of family honor with the rest of her relatives. While everyone sits around waiting for news about Lydia, Mr. Bennet basically grounds Kitty for the next ten years. It’s probably not her fault that Lydia ran off, but everyone pretty much agrees that she had it coming.
Eventually they get a letter from Mr. Gardiner. Lydia and Wickham have been found unmarried, but they will get married if Mr. Bennet gives Lydia her ₤5000. Mr. Bennet realizes that it’s a small ransom, and fears that Uncle Gardiner must have already paid them an awful lot. In his cynicism, he estimates that it’s at least cheaper than keeping Lydia around at home. Mrs. Bennet, of course, is ecstatic. I imagine if one’s only purpose in life was to marry off one’s daughters, it would be considered a good day indeed. Elizabeth mainly just regrets having told Mr. Darcy the news now that the two are getting married, primarily because his regard of her family will have diminished yet again (not that it could get much lower) and he’ll never want her now – oh yes, of course now she thinks he might have been a good husband for her after all.
Lydia and Wickham are married and come to greet the family without an ounce of apologetic sentiment. Lydia demands congratulations, and Wickham just acts pleasant and unconcerned. Mrs. Bennet is proud of her daughter and hopes the others will soon be married as well. Elizabeth is disgusted by the whole thing, but has to sit through Lydia’s description of the wedding anyway, only to learn that Darcy was present (Of course).
She presses her aunt for more information, and learns that Darcy was the one who found the pair (of course he was – Bennet Radar, remember?) and discovered that Wickham had actually been fleeing from debt and was hoping to marry a rich lady in another country (Lydia just tagged along with her own assumptions). Darcy then forced them to marry, paid off all the debts, and apparently swore everyone to secrecy concerning his generosity, becoming the hero that Longbourn needed, though probably not the one it deserved.
Lydia and Wickham prepare to depart, and Lydia is, as always, irritatingly bratty as she declares that “married women have never much time for writing. My sisters may write to me. They will have nothing else to do.” Mrs. Bennet is depressed over the loss of her favorite daughter, but still has enough spirit to abuse Mr. Bingley’s name when she hears the man is returning to Netherfield. Even when he is riding up the steps of their house with Mr. Darcy, she curses both of their names. The ensuing dinner conversations are, of course, awkward.
Later, Mr. Bingley comes to visit alone, and Mrs. Bennet manages to clear everyone out of the room except Jane. (Very subtle, Mrs. B.) This repeats for several days at a slow, maddening pace until the man finally proposes to Jane. Mrs. Bennet immediately has a new favorite child (whose husband-to-be earns ₤5000 per year).
One morning they are graced with the unexpected presence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who starts by insulting the size of their property and the position of their windows. Some people really don’t change. Elizabeth takes her on a tour, and is immediately accused of golddigging out of nowhere. Her ladyship explains that Darcy is intended for her daughter and his marrying Elizabeth will bring dishonor on his family. Elizabeth, who is completely confused, declares that she is not engaged to him, but refuses to promise never to be engaged to him.
Several days later, her father receives a letter from Mr. Collins hinting that Elizabeth will likely be married soon. Apparently everyone knows about her engagement to Mr. Darcy except her. While Mr. Bennet finds the whole idea to be a joke, Elizabeth can’t help but twinge at how close to the truth he is.
When she next walks with Mr. Darcy (because these families have trouble not running into each other), Elizabeth confesses that she doesn’t know how to express her gratitude for his super-secret help in the matter. He’s a little bit embarrassed, but confesses his love again and they both lament over how terribly they each behaved on the day of the initial proposal. Then they finally get engaged.
Not even Jane believes Elizabeth when she tells of her engagement, and she has to inform her father of her affections and reveal Darcy’s identity as Batman before he’ll consent to the marriage. For his part, Mr. Bennet is just glad he won’t have to pay Darcy back for what he did for Lydia. What a practical guy. Mrs. Bennet is stunned on the matter until she remembers that Darcy has ₤10,000 a year and she’ll have gotten rid of three out of five daughters. It goes pretty well after that. Other than Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is furious, and the Collinses, who flee their home for awhile to escape her wrath, but things end up happily ever after, for the most part.
After the marriages, the Bingleys move closer to the Darcys and Mr. Bennet pops up for unexpected visits at Pemberly from time to time. Kitty is still grounded, but stays with her rich sisters and works on becoming a decent person. Mary voluntarily stays home. The Wickhams, of course, end up in a penniless and loveless marriage and often beg for cash handouts, which Elizabeth occasionally sends them to keep them quiet. For the most part, though, everyone gets what they deserve.