Sunday, 7 October 2012


The Bennets (BBC Pride and Prejudice 1995)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.
This is the widely popular sentence opening the widely popular story of the five Bennet sisters  written by Jane Austen between October 1796 and August 1797. Its original title was FIRST IMPRESSIONS but it was published only in 1813 with the title, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
The opening scene is set in Hertfordshire, a county that nowadays has practically become part of Greater London, as suburban development stretches even further northwards. In the late 18th century, however, it was still well-wooded countryside.
The story opens early in September, when Jane Austen takes us straight into Longbourn House to listen to the Bennets’ conversation after dinner. Mrs Bennet is making plans for husband –hunting on her daughters’ behalf. Five daughters and an estate worth £2,000 a year were not an easy situation to cope with, especially if your husband (Mr Bennet) is not very good at saving. The urgent need for husbands is also due to the fact that the estate of Longbourn is “entailed” – a legal arrangement whereby the property could descend only to a male heir.
We follow the events told by an omnicient third-person narrator from Elizabeth’s point of view. She is 20 and the second daughter, after Jane who is 23. Then there are Mary, 18 or 19, Kitty ,17 and Lydia, 15.
We can summarize the first part of the plot in three key moments, that are namely arrivals,  which animate the ordinary dull life in Hertfordshire.
Arrival 1. The Bingleys & Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy  
Mr Charles Bingley arrives in Hertfordshire with his two elder sisters and his brother in law, Mr Hurst. Especially to Mrs Bennet’s interest, he has his own inheritance of £ 100,000 and an income of between £4,000 and £5,000 a year. He rents Netherfield Park, 3 miles away from Longbourn.
The Bingley family then attends one of the monthly assembly balls at Meryton, bringing with them their friend Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, who turns out to be an even greater matrimonial prize than Mr Bingley. He comes from Derbyshire, is said to be worth £10,000 a year and live in a luxurious residence, Pemberley. Mr Darcy is 28, rather older than Bingley, who is about 23, and he has inherited his fortune five years before, when his father died. He acts with a snob, chilly hauter, refuses to join the dances and behaves in a rather uncivil manner. When asked to dance with Elizabeth by Bingley, he refuses saying that “she is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt him!” Unfortunately Elizabeth overhears the conversation and starts disliking Mr Darcy. Things between Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet, the eldest of the sisters seems to work better: they are attracted to each other and dance together very often at the Meryton monthly assembly.
Jane is invited to visit the Bingley sisters but gets a bad cold while going there, so she is invited to stay on until she recovers. Elizabeth visits her and helps nursing her. The visits confirms her dislike of Darcy.
Then the Bingley give a ball at Netherfield and, there, it is clear that Janet and Charles Bingley are attracted to each other. Mr Darcy is appalled by the vulgar behaviour of Mrs Bennet and her younger daughters.
Arrival 2. A Militia regiment & Mr Wickham
The outwardly charming Lieutenant Wickham soon begins to flirt with Elizabeth and tells her a plausible tale of how Darcy has deprived him of his inheritance due to him for Darcy’s father’s will. The tale enforces Elizabeth dislike of Darcy, who appears to her as proud and selfish.
 Arrival 3. Mr Collins, a distant cousin, the heir of Longbourn Estate
Reverend Mr William Collins, the entailed heir to Longbourn, was 25, his air was grave and stately and his manners were very formal. He wants to introduce himself to the distant relatives and , especially, to find a wife among his cousins. His first choice is beautiful Jane, but since she has already and attachment, he accepts to propose to Elizabeth. There follows the comic scene of his ridiculous proposal which is firmly rejected. He will marry Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte Lucas and will live at Rosings Park, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s residence with her.
Towards the end of the year Miss Bingley and Mr Darcy convince Charles Bingley to return to London and that Jane is not a good choice for a wife. Jane is really disappointed and unhappy. To relieve her from her grief, her aunt and uncle, Mrs and Mr Gardiner invite her to stay in London with them.
Charlotte invites Elizabeth to stay at her new house at Rosings for some time. Elizabeth is not very happy to live in Mr Collin’s house but accepts her friend’s invitation. She is introduced to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and there she will meet Darcy again: he is there with his friend and cousin, colonel Fitzwilliam. Lady Catherine is his aunt and she expects him to marry her daughter.
Here Elizabeth discovers from Colonel Fitzwilliam that Darcy convinced Bingley to leave Meryton and Jane and , of course, she starts hating him. Surprisingly and unexpectedly, instead, Mr Darcy proposes to her! Elizabeth is amazed.

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The Novel of Manners from the widget_box on the right

Watch the proposal scene  in BBC 1995 adaptation

Watch the same scene in the 2005 film adaptation

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