C: On January 28th, 2013, an anonymous “Lady” published a novel called Pride and Prejudice. Two hundred years later, we’re still obsessed.
E: Every devotee has their own introduction to Austen, and this is mine. I first was given the complete works of Jane Austen the Christmas that I was 13; I flipped through it, wasn’t intrigued, and set it down. But I needed something to take on a family vacation, and so I read Pride and Prejudice the following summer on the beach, which was when I joined the ranks of the passionate Janeites.
C: Family vacation? I don’t remember us going on family vacations. Granted, I would have been 3. I remember similarly receiving an omnibus of Austen early in high school, and reading several of the novels one week when I had to stay home with conjunctivitis. In spite of the pink-eye, it was bliss!
E: For character, for comedy, for romance, for real human folly and foible and flaw and transcendence, for the pure glory of her sentences, Jane Austen has no equal in the English language. Every other novelist is simply a pretender to the throne.
C: Austen may tie for the top position with a few other writers in my view, but I will say she does a satisfying romance better than anybody. The plot devices and conventions she invented have fueled the romance industry for two centuries, but what she does that very few imitators (or even adaptations) accomplish is to show humans in all their absurdity — real-seeming people, observed by a narrator who sees every one of their flaws and isn’t above poking at them a little, but also genuinely loves them.
E: And for an insecure teen, what better message is there than knowing people could still see you for yourself after a bad first impression? Or that a heroine could be loved not for her looks but for her wit, her sense of humor and her smarts? Even 200 years later, that’s a pretty revolutionary plot.
C: While Pride and Prejudice often gets cited as the source of a lot of unhealthy relationship ideas (mostly due to the aforementioned imitations and adaptations), it actually contains a couple of really smart messages for women: first, judge a guy by how he treats the people who rely on him, not by what he tells you about himself; and second, don’t try to change a jerk, but consider giving a second chance if he’s demonstrably improved himself. Smart messages for anybody, in fact.
E: Gosh yes. Despite common misunderstanding of the text, there’s actually a lot to learn about good relationships. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth inspire each other to think about their behavior and be better people. And they genuinely fall for the best things about each other, learning to separate out the relationship chaff from the wheat, as it were. Really, I could (and do) re-read Pride and Prejudice continually and still find fresh observations about human nature and relationships.
C: Strongly as we recommend the original novel, however, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t get a lot of glee out of several of the variations and tributes it has inspired in more recent years. So pour a cup of tea, settle down in your coziest chair, and get ready.
E: From the comfort of your computer, we offer a tour of the pop culture world of Pride and Prejudice for the last sixty years!
Pride and Prejudice, 1940
E: As fabulous as Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier may be in general, they’re so grossly miscast in this truly awful cinematic rendition. Points for the American Civil War-era costumes — gorgeous but completely era-inappropriate.
C: Points for anachronism? What system are we using?
E: Yeah, I’m not so certain if it’s points added or deducted, just that the costumes are the best thing about this version even though they’re totally wrong.
C: But in any case, this film is quite unfaithful (Lady Catherine’s rooting for Darcy to marry Elizabeth?!) and filled with goofy, on-the-nose dialogue (“At this moment it’s difficult to believe that you’re so proud.” “At this moment it’s difficult to believe that you’re so prejudiced!”), but it’s kind of fun to watch just for the bizarro factor.
Pride and Prejudice, BBC Miniseries 1980
E: Who thought it would be possible to be worse than the black and white?
C: I thought you liked this one! I actually think Elizabeth Garvie does a rather nice Elizabeth Bennet, though the movie suffers from all the faults of the BBC in the ’80s — soap opera cam, tortoise-like pacing, etc.
E: You did? Ick! David Rintoul plays a very convincing block of wood. Ghastly.
Pride and Prejudice, BBC Miniseries 1995
E: Now this, my friends, is the be-all and end-all of Austen adaptations.
C: No argument with me there. It’s lovely. It’s stylishly filmed. It’s brilliantly acted. I defy anyone not to love Jennifer Ehle and fall for Colin Firth.
E: It introduced the word “smoldering” to our family lexicon.
C: And in an era where people quite regularly watch six or ten episodes of a TV show in a day (reader, you know that if you haven’t, you at least have a friend who bought the latest season of whatever-HBO-show-is-so-cool-right-now and marathoned it), the fact that it’s 5 hours long shouldn’t scare anybody. Who wants less of a good thing?
E: Not me! For comedy, this version can’t be beat: Mrs. Bennet, with all her tremblings and flutterings and spasms and bulging eyes and shrieking, the obsequious civility of Mr. Collins, Lydia’s bratty sighs and shrieks, Kitty’s coughing and whining, and the sneering condescension of Lady Catherine De Bourgh. On the other hand, what’s the problem with finding a good looking Wickham?
C: Ha. That’s an excellent point — he’s the one false note in the piece. He’s a better actor for the part than the pretty boy they got in the Keira Knightley version, but it seems baffling that they couldn’t have found somebody who could act and who a 16-year-old would actually swoon over!
Bridget Jones’s Diary, 1996 (book) and 2001 (film)
C: This is one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud all the way through it. I can’t say I love the chick lit trend Helen Fielding helped launch, but Bridget’s infectious pronoun-free diary style, her blissful or woeful or drunken entries, and her constant attempts to better her life and enthusiasm until it all goes crashing down (again) just makes you root so much for her to win out in spite of herself.
E: And the film? Delicious. Just delicious. Colin Firth riffing on his role as Fitzwilliam Darcy to include stiff legal genius Mark Darcy? I adore it. And Hugh Grant makes the best Wickham ever.
C: You know, that’s true. And he’d just done a series of diffident good fellow films, so it was all the more impressive to see him carry off a charming rake role. What’s also amusing is Gaius Baltar as Bridget’s smug gay friend Tom. It’s fascinating, too, to know that Andrew Davies (adapter of the famous P&P miniseries) was also a writer on this!
E: Really, there’s only one thing to say. “I like you, just as you are.”
Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy, 2003 (the Mormon version)
E: How do you update a story which revolves around the profound disgrace of an almost elopement? How do you convey the utter ruination of premarital sex in a culture where that’s become the norm? You look for subcultures where premarital sex is discouraged or forbidden, of course.
C: Yeah, the translation into a religious subculture is actually a great idea. And the film does have one quirk I remember fondly: the use of quotations from the book as intertitles to carry the plot forward. Overall though, it’s hammily written and doesn’t quite succeed, even if the actors are trying their best with what they’ve got.
Bride and Prejudice, 2004 (Bollywood)
E: Speaking of cultures which still fret over marrying off daughters and forbid premarital sex…
C: Yeah, this was another clever cultural translation, though the film is patchy. There are some hilarious bits, like the song about Mr. Collins, “No Life Without Wife”; the dancing and singing is lively; Aishwarya Rai earns her title of “most beautiful woman in the world” if any one woman could be said to; Said from LOST plays Bingley (“Balraj”); and it’s all very earnest and happy.
E: Generally the dancing is a fun crossover, since formal, choreographed dance plays such a strong role in Austen’s original.
C: Good point. Martin Henderson’s Darcy is terribly stiff and dry, though, and the film has its slow sections. Notable for its rescue of Lydia (“Lakhi”) from any unfortunate consequences, though — perhaps a precursor to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in that respect?
The Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries by Carrie Bebris, 2004-2011
C: I read the first three books in this series, the wonderfully titled Pride and Prescience (2004), Suspense and Sensibility (2005), and North By Northanger (2006). I have to admit I was a sucker for the idea, which seemed so much better than the plethora of sexed-up sequels (sexquels?) which poor Austen didn’t deserve, but which her work inspired anyway. Like it says on the tin, here a married Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam solve mysteries.
E: Turning them into Nick and Nora Charles? Marvelous thought.
C: As it turns out, though, Bebris apparently didn’t think this was enough to be going on with, so she threw in the supernatural, and also cameos by characters from all of Austen’s other novels. The result? Mildly amusing but wacko tales that are impossible to believe in as anything relating to the original.
E: Yes, exactly. Not that either of us have anything against supernatural mysteries when not claiming to be Austen, but eh.
Pride and Prejudice, 2005 (Hollywood)
E: In some ways I think of this version like Hunsford Parsonage seen through Charlotte’s eyes rather than Mr. Collins’ — it’s “rationally softened.” Instead of the marital discord of the book, we get two loving though still mismatched parents. We have a painfully awkward Mr. Collins rather than a troll. And we get a monologue about how Charlotte accepts that Mr. Collins not because she’s “not romantic” but because she’s scared of a spinster’s poverty.
C: Yeah, in a lot of ways this Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starrer views like a slightly inaccurate Cliffs Notes of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with everybody’s motivations and social constraints put into easy, unambiguous dialogue.
E: Like the 1940 version Joe Wright’s flick changes P &P’s time period, though in this case only slightly to give a looser, less formal feel. Pigs wandering through Longbourn, anyone? More problematic is the film’s relocating of Lizzie’s change of heart; here, she falls for Darcy while they’re dancing at Netherfield. Oh, she still thinks he’s a crumb, and still rejects him, but she’s already attracted to him. WRONG! I still like the movie (I especially like Macfadyen), but as an adaptation it deviates sharply from canon in ways I don’t really appreciate.
C: Ugh, I know. I remember when watching the trailer, almost having a heart attack when they showed her come close to kissing him in the first proposal scene!
E: Blasphemy! Readers, you might not believe the number of horrified phone calls and emails this lead to between the two of us.
C: This movie has grown on me the more I’ve seen it, because it’s gorgeously shot, has a great Dario Marianelli score, and because I like a lot of the actors. But Macfadyen’s Darcy is the big problem for me; I like him, and he does well with the role he’s given, but he’s fundamentally mischaracterized. According to this version, there is nothing wrong with Darcy except that he is shy. He has no character arc, none of the original Darcy’s struggle to to conquer his pride and admit his own conceit and rudeness. I can see why a short version of the story would decide to make that cut, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
E: Now, see, I think he does make an effort to correct his reserve and actually show Elizabeth that he likes her. Part of the problem, I think, is that all the adapters are so eager to end their films with the second proposal. One element that we never see in any adaptation is the adorable conversations Darcy and Elizabeth have once they’re engaged, which show him being fun and playful and romantic. Here we don’t even get to see him apologizing for his behavior during the first proposal, one of the best elements of the 1995 miniseries. Instead they’ve substituted a cuddling scene at Pemberley, which improves on the original ending (Mr. Bennet musing over the strangeness of it all) but doesn’t fully satisfy.
C: Not an improvement in my book!
The Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series (2006-07)
C: Pamela Aidan’s trilogy, An Assembly Such as This (2006), Duty and Desire (2006), and These Three Remain (2007), cover the story of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective. Another interesting idea that ultimately doesn’t come to much.
E: These are my favorite of the fan-fic novels I’ve read, although again, I’m not sure that’s saying much.
C: The first book covers his stay at Netherfield and the third his courtship of Elizabeth. The second covers the period between when he leaves for London and when he sees her again, and that is when things get weird. Sandwiched between two faithful-enough-to-be-boring retellings of the plot of P&P, Duty and Desire is a Gothic novel! So bizarre.
E: Really, really weird. A house party, a more class appropriate love interest, human sacrifice, you know the drill.
C: There was one thing I really liked about this series, though, which was its development of a cute romance between a close friend of Darcy’s and Georgiana, which Darcy doesn’t know how to deal with. I have always liked her, so it was neat to see her getting over Wickham and getting more time in the spotlight.
E: The one thing I liked was watching Aidan build Darcy’s case for believing that Elizabeth was anticipating and encouraging his first proposal, using small but plausible bits of the real text. We read about the half an hour they spend silently reading together in Netherfield, the way he misinterprets her comment about taking the time to practice the piano (ah! she understands my shyness!) and a conversation alluded to in the novel where she tells him how much she likes a particular path in Rosings Park. Her intent is to get him to avoid it; he thinks she’s hinting they should keep meeting. That at least was enjoyable.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (2009)
C: If this book were what it claims to be — an actual version of P&P, with the only change being the existence of zombies (or “dreadfuls”) in 1813 England who our main characters defeat with badass prowess — I might have liked it a lot.
E: I don’t know about a lot, but it is a clever enough notion.
C: As it is, Elizabeth completely loses her sense of humor, Darcy says things like “Shut up, Caroline” and makes “balls” jokes, and the good bits are really just one clever joke spun out too long.
E: If Elizabeth isn’t funny, she isn’t Elizabeth. And the balls jokes. I can’t even.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-3, webseries, in progress)
E: Ah, my new obsession, a modern retelling of the story currently unfolding via YouTube.
C: She’s not lying, folks. I haven’t talked to E in the last month without her saying, with a manic gleam in her eye (that I could even hear over the phone), “HAVE YOU CAUGHT UP YET??” So if you’re not watching this web series, I’d suggest you check it out — and beware the mild spoilers below.
E: Yes, and it’s taken you forever to catch up! Ironic since you found it first. The LBD is a webseries (my first!) which purports to be the vlog and school project of 24-year-old communications grad student Lizzie Bennet, aided by her faithful friend Charlotte Lu. We also get tweets and tumblr posts from the various characters (and even some fake companies), updates on “thisismyjam,” and companion vlogs from secondary characters like Lydia, “cousin” Mary, and Charlotte’s little sister Maria Lu. All in all, it’s really quite an undertaking, one which began last April and is scheduled to run through this March.
C: In fact, Lydia in this almost qualifies as a second protagonist, she gets so much screen time.
E: This version features my favorite Jane and Bingley — the latter here revisioned as med student Bing Lee. So often, Bingley is played for cheap laughs, and kind Jane just comes off looking like an unrealistic drip. Not this time.
C: No, there is absolutely no laughing at Bing, who is so mind-meltingly hot that he makes me feel awkward about having named my cat after the character. And Jane is adorable. What fascinates me about this adaptation, though, is the exact opposite of my complaint about P&P 2005 — this series goes really heavy on the characters’ flaws and how they struggle to work through them.
E: That’s the nice thing about doing the story over an actual year, I think, because it really gives the main characters time to reflect on their lives and change their behavior — even if both of us squirmed a bit over some of her whinier rants.
C: Yeah, there were times when it was actually hard to watch. The one thing this version does that’s totally unique is to create a Lizzie Bennet who’s more culpable than Elizabeth in the book. She’s proud and prejudiced, not to mention quite thoughtless at times, and shockingly callous about criticizing other people publicly. Yet somehow, given all that, she’s still likeable!
E: She is, very much so, and she’s got book Elizabeth’s cheerful attitude and intelligence down pat. Neither of us is wholly satisfied with Darcy yet, but he’s improving. Bernie Su and his writing team have made some really smart choices around Lydia and Wickham in telling a comic story while making the characters believable. Actually, just at this moment there’s a lot less comic and whole lot more realism — but you guys should go there and see that for yourselves.
C: So that’s about all the versions we could think of, folks. What have we missed? What would you recommend? How are you celebrating today?