Thursday, July 14, 2016
The darkness at the heart of Pride and Prejudice
Ok, so let's accept that Pride and Prejudice is a romance and that Elizabeth and Darcy are meant for each other and all will be well in the end - but - allow me to be a curmudgeon for a moment and ask: Isn't it a little unseemly that Darcy, so stuffy, so self-absorbed, such a social snob, at the outset, falls at last in love with Elizabeth and then more or less buys his way into her heart. She's blown away by all the wealth she sees when she visits his Derbyshire state, and thinks inevitably, hm, maybe I was wrong to turn him down, maybe he's not such a bad guy. And then we learn a few chapters later that it was Darcy - not the Uncle, Mr. Gardiner - who paid off all of Wickham's debts, enabling W and youngest sister, Lydia, to marry without (or without much) shame. Reminds me a little of that rom-com movie As Good as it Gets in which Jack Nicholson plays a totally nasty and misogynist writer who wins the heart of Helen Hunt's character by essentially paying all of her bills. In both cases, the woman would not have fallen for the guy had he been poor, or even only modestly wealthy. Yes, there are interesting social implications to all of this, especially in the 18th century, when the woman was entirely dependent on her mate for any degree of prestige, success, even survival - a system of patrimony (the Bennet state is "entailed" to Mr. Collins because the Bennet's gave birth to only daughters) that forces even a brilliant young woman like Elizabeth to be dependent on a man, to focus her entire being on mating and marriage (Lydia isn't so wrong to be obsessed with marrying - she's wrong in her choice). Also worth noting is that there's a lot of darkness in this comic romance: the Bennet marriage is loveless and fraught with incompatibility, Lydia is a wreck, Charlotte seems doomed to a life of boredom and misery in her marriage to Collins, and where will Elizabeth and Jane be in 20 years, anyway? Does Darcy really seem like the faithful, loyal type? Is his friend Bingley anything more than a shallow pond? These are unanswerable questions, but the darkness, the horror, that lies at the heart of P&P is easy to miss if you're caught up too much by the clever plot, the dazzling dialogue, the tenuous festivities.