“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.
-- 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.
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.