Pride and Prejudice: Episode 2

“We each have an unsocial taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room.”

In which we meet Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham, catch a brief glimpse of Lady Catherine DeBourgh and her daughter Anne, Elizabeth dances and receives her first marriage proposal.

From the start, Mr. Collins is shown to be ridiculous. Brilliantly conveyed by the letter first read by Mr. Bennet then in a voiceover by the man himself, Mr. Collins comes across as vain, pushy, oblivious and obsequious. If we have any lingering doubts about this man, they are put to rest during the first dinner with the family. Mr. Bennet eggs him on and Elizabeth cannot help but laugh at him.

Even worse, one can barely take him into society. He cannot play cards and he cannot dance. He manages to offend nearly everyone he speaks to and those he does not offend, he bores. His rudeness, however, comes to a head when he approaches Darcy at the ball. Darcy is taken aback and barely civil; Elizabeth is mortified.

In direct contrast to Mr. Collins, the dashing Mr. Wickham has joined the regiment and is introduced to the girls. Elizabeth is smitten as soon as she sees him. To make this stranger even more intriguing in her eyes, Darcy obviously hates him and rides away rather than greet him on the street.

As if that weren’t enough to spark her interest, Wickham confides in Elizabeth about his problems with Darcy in the past. This scene is extraordinary and is a wonderful clue about where Elizabeth’s head is at the moment. Not for one moment does she doubt what Wickham is telling her or wonder why he would be so open about his problems on such a short acquaintance. Jane, Caroline and Charlotte all try to reason with her, but Elizabeth is sure that Darcy is a cad and that Wickham has been wronged by the man. Even the fact that Wickham fails to turn up at the ball dissuades her from what she firmly believes is the truth.

Because Wickham is not at the ball, Elizabeth ends up dancing with Darcy and it is simply a joy to watch. Perfectly matched, their conversation is a true insight into these two characters. He is snarky, almost rude; she is goading him at every turn. Yet, they cannot help but keep going at each other. The dance is wonderfully filmed as there are frequent contrasting shots of Bingley and Jane who cannot stop smiling at each other.

It is difficult to understand how Jane and Elizabeth have managed to be as polite and well mannered as they are. The rest of their family are simply hopeless in social situations. Mrs. Bennet is loud and boasting about an event that is far from a sure thing; Mary is completely unaware of her social inadequacies and forces herself into the party at exactly the wrong moment; the younger girls are out of control. Mr. Bennet, although he does get Mary off the piano, manages to insult every other woman in the room. As one by one her family makes a fool of themselves, Elizabeth becomes more ashamed and withdrawn. By the end of the ball, she has placed herself back against a wall and she is almost hiding from the rest of the guests.

Poor Elizabeth’s trials are not over yet. The next morning, Mr. Collins proposes to her in one of the most ridiculous offers of marriage it is possible to make. He wants to marry because he believes that a clergyman should marry; that it will make him happy; and, that Lady Catherine has told him to. Because of the entail, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Mr. Collins would marry one of the girls. He picks the wrong one, however, and she turns him down flat. Completely self-absorbed and unaware, Mr. Collins believes that Elizabeth is just playing hard to get. She assures him that she is not.

The aftermath, however, is another example of the difference between her parents. Mrs. Bennet just wants her girls married; she doesn’t really mind to whom. To her, Elizabeth’s marrying Mr. Collins makes perfect sense. Elizabeth would be assured of a secure home but, even better, she would be the mistress of Longbourn one day. Mr. Bennet does not want his favorite married to such a man and supports Elizabeth’s decision wholeheartedly. The way he does so, however, shows just how much contempt he holds his wife in.

Elizabeth is certainly a young woman who knows her own mind. Infatuated with Wickham and not entirely oblivious to Darcy, she is not going to settle for a fool. She has been embarrassed enough by her family; she will not spend the rest of her life being embarrassed by her husband.

Historical Context:

-- What exactly is an entail and why is it so important? In English common law, an entail was the inheritance of an estate in real property (land). The current owner could not sell it during his lifetime or will it upon his death. When he died, the estate would pass automatically to the owner’s nearest male heir. The primary purpose of an entail was to ensure the line of succession as it excluded women and illegitimate sons.

When the owner fathered legitimate sons, this was not a problem and things carried on swimmingly. But, as in the case of the Bennet family in which there are no sons, Mr. Collins will inherit. He will, however, only inherit the land and the estate. Mr. Bennet is free to leave his money to whomever he wishes.

Herein lies the rub. Many estates, Mr. Bennet’s included, had very little money that was not a direct result of the estate itself, specifically in rents and farming fees. Upon Mr. Bennet’s death, Mr. Collins would be within his rights to throw Mrs. Bennet and the girls out of his house with whatever little money they could scrape together. It is not difficult to understand why Mrs. Bennet is so keen to get the girls married; in fact, it rather begs the question as to why Mr. Bennet is so sanguine about his daughters’ futures.

-- Mr. Wickham, Sr. was Mr. Darcy, Sr.’s steward. A steward was the chief servant of an estate, the second in command to the owner and responsible for the estate when the owner was away. A highly complex position, those who held it were often seen more as a friend than as a servant. Over time, the role changed so that the steward was responsible for the land while the butler was responsible for the house.

-- It is important to understand how important dancing was. At a time when a young woman and a young man were not allowed to spend any time alone together, while they danced was the only time they had to speak to each other without a chaperone listening to every word they said.

-- To a modern viewer, the shock that Mr. Collins generates by approaching Darcy without an introduction is difficult to understand. At the time, one simply did not approach a person to whom one had not been introduced. It was considered the height of bad manners and rudeness. Mr. Collins might (and it’s a big might) have gotten away with it if he were simply passing on a message from Darcy’s aunt. Instead, he is trying to make himself look important to the others at the ball and, as a result, is shut down by Darcy.

Bits & Pieces:

The score for this miniseries, composed by Carl Davis, has become indelibly a part of the cultural DNA. I’m sure for many of us, as soon as we hear those opening bars, we can place which show it comes from.

The basic plot of Pride and Prejudice has been used many, many times since its publication. It has been taken as a whole and it has been taken in parts. Consider a very recent story in which the daughters are all meant to marry well because the father’s estate has been entailed to a distant cousin.

Whist is a card game not unlike bridge. In the early 19th century, it was hugely popular and played at almost any type of gathering.

Favorite Moments:

Elizabeth’s face as Darcy rides away from Wickham when they meet on the street.

Darcy watching through the window as Elizabeth arrives at the ball and his inability to take his eyes off her throughout the night.

The dogs howling while Mary is singing always makes me laugh out loud.

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins. And, I will never see you again if you do.”

Of course, the dance.

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

9 comments:

Juliette said...

I love that moment where Lizzy and Darcy take each other's hands to dance. The newer film did something very sweet with him helping her into a carriage earlier on, but it can't match the drama of this moment.

(I'm sure that's one of the things we love about P&P as well. It goes right back to what love affairs were like when you were 12 and holding hands was the mot exciting thing - because back then that part continued at least until you were engaged! In Austen's bit of society anyway).

sunbunny said...

Excellent explanation of entails! It is bizarre how refined Jane and Elizabeth are in light of the family environment they grew up in. They really had no good influences.

I love Collins' proposal to Elizabeth in which he very clearly lays out his reasons for marrying as if giving a sermon and only then seeks to assure her of the violence of his affections. He's such a hilarious character.

Lizzy believes Wickham because she wants to believe Wickham. There are multiple indications that his version of the truth is at least questionable, but she is so disposed to like anyone who shares her opinion of Darcy she overlooks these hints without a second thought.

a.m. said...

One of my favorite moments in this episode is when Mr. Collins tells Mrs. Bennet of his general plan and hints at being interested in Jane. She then gently lets him know that Jane is nearly spoken for and he scans the other girls to pick his second choice...the absurdity of it all cracks me up every time. I also get the sense that Mrs. Bennet is okay with Mr. Collins marrying Elizabeth because she really doesn't like her second daughter all that much, but I could be projecting a little.

It wasn't until I re-watched this episode and reread the book recently that I realized just how much Elizabeth encourages Wickham as he lies about Darcy. She is very open with this stranger because she is so biased against Darcy and (as we know) this gets her into trouble down the road...

Great review, as always! I can't wait to discuss my recent theory about Mr. Collins after the next episode.

sunbunny said...

a.m. - I don't think Mrs. Bennet is discerning enough to see what a bad catch Collins is. That said, I agree that Elizabeth is definitely her least favorite.

johanne said...

I love that you've decided to review P&P! I've seen the BBC series countless times since my mother bought it 10 years ago, and I love it!
As far as I'm concerned, this is the "real" story, and the 2005 movie is an historical forgery! ;)

One of my favorite moments in this episode is the look on Mary's face when Collins asks Lizzy for the first two dances - for a moment there it looks as if he might ask her (Mary), and she looks so dissapointed when he doesn't.
I'm guessing she would not have turned down the proposal :P

a.m. said...

sunbunny, you're probably right. I'm not sure Mrs. Bennet realized just what a horrible husband Mr. Collins was going to be...

Johanne, I agree about Mary and think that Mr. Collins was probably her best shot at marriage and he didn't even look her way:( I always feel sorry for Mary...at least until she starts to preach about women and their virtues...

Billie Doux said...

The entire ball is just wonderful, beginning to end. The Darcy/Elizabeth dance is the height of romance novel sparkage -- it's delicious. The way the entire family embarrasses Elizabeth is just so beautifully written and performed; it makes me cringe every time I watch it. And Mr. Collins's proposal is so ridiculous. What an exceptional character. He is so pompous and dislikeable and yet, so totally convinced of his own desirability and perfection.

Wonderful review!

CrazyCris said...

Great review Chris! I particularly enjoyed the historical notes, helps to put things in context! ;o)

I have wondered before how Jane and Elizabeth could be so different from the rest of the family... Genetically blessed with extra interest from the father and the Gardiners perhaps?

Pity Collins never thought to ask Mary (or the mother to guide him towards her), she's the only sister who would have had him... and been delighted!

And the Elizabeth/Darcy dance is definitely one of the highlights of any version of this story!!!

shruti said...

Bless you historical notes! It makes me like the dancing even more knowing it is almost like being on a date :)

Thanks for giving me a brilliant reason to re-watch the series...