Last night, I finally finished reading Pride and Prejudice. I am by my own admission a very slow reader, though I try to read at least one chapter a night before falling asleep. The weekend also saw my birthday gift from Jessicca and Marion; a meal followed by a performance of Pride and Prejudice at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham. After such a Pride and Prejudice filled weekend, I felt it only right to well, write about it.
Note, this blog post discusses the plot of Pride and Prejudice and various adaptations.
A Little History
Pride and Prejudice was written between October 1796 and August 1797, under the name First Impressions. Jane Austen’s father in November 1797 wrote to a London bookseller to ask whether he had any interest in seeing the manuscript, this offer was declined.
Between 1811 and 1812, Jane Austen made significant changes to the manuscript, most notably; its name. Jane chose Pride and Prejudice over First Impressions, possibly due to the popularity of Sense and Sensibility, choosing a name that had the same use of alliteration.
In January 1813 the first edition of Pride and Prejudice was published in three volumes by publisher Thomas Edgerton. The first edition was soon sold out and a second edition published in November of the same year, with a third published in 1817.
Since 1813, Pride and Prejudice and indeed her other novels have never been out of print.
In Georgian England, Elizabeth Bennet along with her four sisters live near the village of Meryton in Hertfordshire. When Netherfield Park is let to Mr Bingley, Mrs Bennet, obsessed with getting her five daughters married off, hopes that he will choose one of them to be his wife. Mr Bingley is joined at Netherfield Park by his sister’s Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst and by his friend Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy is perceived by the folk of Meryton and the Bennet family, as being a proud and disagreeable man after he slights Elizabeth by refusing to dance with her at a ball.
The story is based on the ongoing acquaintance of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, her ever-growing dislike and his ever-increasing affection. Following several revelations regarding Darcy’s true character, Elizabeth finds herself falling in love with him. Her sisters meanwhile have their own struggles to overcome. Good natured Jane, faces the prospect of an unhappy life apart from Mr Bingley following Darcy’s interference and Lydia risks ruining her reputation by running away with the infamous Mr Wickham. As with all of Jane Austen’s novels, the women end living happily ever after with the men they love.
Like many great (and not so great) works of literature, Pride and Prejudice has been adapted for both film and stage. Here are a few notable adaptations of Jane Austen’s most famous novel.
BBC Series 1995
Perhaps the most iconic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 BBC series starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet has long graced my DVD bookcase, yes, I have an entire bookcase dedicated to DVDs.
The 1995 adaptation has several noteworthy cast members including Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet, by far my favourite Mrs Bennet. Many will know Alison for her role as Pamela in the BBC Wales series Gavin and Stacey, I had no idea they were one and the same until a few months ago when I re-watched the series and recognised the voice. Julia Sawalha is another famous english actress. Famous for her role as Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous, Jessie Brown in Cranford and postmistress Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford, Julia played Lydia in Pride and Prejudice. Emilia Fox has been a favourite actress of mine ever since I saw her in The Pianist. Playing the shy Georgiana Darcy, Emilia Fox has had roles in several popular television and film works such as; Keeping Mum, Dorian Gray and Silent Witness and Merlin.
Impressively, Pride and Prejudice had a budget of one million pounds per episode, there are six episodes to the series. Twenty-four locations, most of them owned by the National Trust (most famously Lyme Park as Pemberley), along with eight studios were used for filming which lasted for twenty weeks.
Whilst reading the novel, I was surprised to discover the famous “Lake scene”, in which Mr Darcy emerges from a swim in a lake at Pemberley and encounters Elizabeth Bennet, was not actually part of the original story and was in fact written in by the screenwriter Andrew Davies. Due to the popularity of the scene, which turned Colin Firth into a heart-throb, it was written in to both the 2005 film and the ITV series Lost in Austen.
In 2005, a film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was released starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. Like the 1995 series, the film had several notable cast members including Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennet and Brenda Blethyn as Mrs Bennet. Penelope Wilton stared as Mrs Gardiner whilst Lady Cather de Bourg was played by none other than Dame Judy Dench, arguably one of the best performances of the film.
I always find however, that films when compared to television series or books, make too many changes or miss too many things out, which is possibly why I rate the series far higher than the film.
Another saving grace of 2005 film, to me, is the use of Chatsworth House as the exterior for Pemberley. Chatsworth House is an impressive building, that I hope one day to visit, it is also featured in the film The Duchess, which also starred Keira Knightley as Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire.
Lost In Austen
I really do love Lost in Austen. It is a four-part mini series which aired on ITV in 2008, starring Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price, a life-long fan of Jane Austen from present-day London. After finding Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom, Amanda retreats through a hidden door into the world of Pride and Prejudice. Meeting Mr and Mrs Bennet, fantastically played by Hugh Bonneville and Alex Kingston, Amanda (Price of Hammersmith), tries to ensure the novel continues as it should with Amanda taking the place of Elizabeth throughout much of the story.
Lost in Austen deviates from the traditional plot of Pride and Prejudice in several places, Jane Bennet marries Mr Collins, Georgiana Darcy is portrayed as a wild child who has spitefully tainted the reputation of an innocent Mr Wickham, Lydia runs away to Hammersmith with Mr Bingley and Miss Caroline Bingley turns out to be a lesbian. Elizabeth Bennet, a child born of the wrong century (eighteenth rather than twentieth), cuts her hair and settles into the twenty-first century in place of Amanda, gaining an interest in gadgets and technology and a job as a babysitter/house-keeper. In the absence of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Darcy becomes attracted to the “vulgar” Miss Price, though disgusted that she is not a ‘maid’ and refuses to have anything to do with her, before himself witnessing twenty-first century London after which they naturally, live happily ever after, at Pemberley.
By far, my favourite part of Lost in Austen was seeing Alex Kingston (River Song, Doctor Who) play Mrs Bennet, who’s obsession with seeing her daughter’s married, sees her cross paths with Amanda on numerous occasions.
Crescent Theatre Birmingham
After being treated to a lovely meal at the Slug and Lettuce at Brindley Place, we headed off to watch the performance. As the play started, the cast entered the stage singing a regency inspired tune, before the Bennet family gathered together in what was to be their drawing-room. The first half of the play was incredibly funny with a delightful actress playing Mrs Bennet very much in keeping with the character.
The story was very much in keeping with the novel albeit at a cut down level. The second half of the play I felt was a little rushed, though such things are to be expected when there is so little time in which to perform in. Mr and Mrs Collins, were particularly amusing, Mrs Collins being much more outspoken than in the televised adaptations. The only bit of the play which let me down was the character of Georgiana, so entrenched in my mind is Emilia Fox’s portrayal of the demure, elegant Georgiana, that the bubbly and outgoing characterisation of her in the play left me somewhat disappointed. I am perhaps being overly fastidious and rightly so. No, in all fairness, I thoroughly enjoyed the play. The actress that played Elizabeth did so, in such a way as to remind me of Jennifer Ehle who is by far the best Elizabeth Bennet. The play ended as it began, with the cast singing their “dum di di de di’s” which of course has been stuck in my head ever since.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
I actually read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before reading Pride and Prejudice, though I had of course watched the 1995 and 2005 adaptations many a time beforehand. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies follows the plot of the original story with the addition of an outbreak of zombies, or “unmentionables”. Whilst Mrs Bennet preoccupies herself with thoughts of marriage, Mr Bennet has been training Elizabeth and her sisters in the martial arts, turning them into a zombie-killing army. Throughout the story, much zombie killing takes place, Mr Collins takes his own life after Lady Catherine beheads a “stricken” Mrs Collins (she had been stricken secretly prior to their marriage hehe!). Mr Wickham becomes an incontinent quadriplegic following an accident after his elopement to London with Lydia Bennet. Lady Catherine challenges Elizabeth to a battle to the death in the Bennet dojo, which Elizabeth wins though spares the life of Darcy’s aunt, leading to his and Elizabeth’s engagement.
Due to the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, soon to be made into a film starring Natalie Portman, there has been a prequel and a sequel. Dawn of the Dreadfuls depicts the initial outbreak of the unmentionables and the training of the Bennet sister’s into zombie killing warriors. Dreadfully Ever After, based after the Darcy and Elizabeth are married, depicts Elizabeth’s battle to heal a stricken Darcy, by means of a potion known to Lady Catherine, forcing Elizabeth, Kitty and Mr Bennet to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure Darcy’s recovery. I enjoyed Dawn of the Dreadfuls, though Dreadfully Ever After I found to be lacking somewhat and ended up giving up, it did not enthrall me as much as the other two books. I highly recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to someone looking for a fun book to read.
Here are a few of the iconic quotes from Pride and Prejudice and some of my personal favourites:-
- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”
- “My good opinion once lost is lost forever”
- “Nobody can tell what I suffer! — But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied”
- “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”
- “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
- “You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.”
- “My good qualities are under your protection, and you are to exaggerate them as much as possible”
- http://www.janeausten.co.uk/ – Jane Austen Centre, Bath
- http://www.pandptours.co.uk/ – Tours of filming locations from the adaptations of Pride and Prejudice
- http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/whats-on/view-page/item456363/ – National Trust owned properties seen in Jane Austen adaptations