Pride & Prejudice, Book by Jane Austen; Screenplay by Deborah Moggach; A Response to Literature by Genevieve Jeanine Hersek
As the script opens, we enter a world of wealth and luxury in the midst of a vast manse, Netherfield Park, in Hertfordshire. Upon closer examination of the name “Netherfield,” one discovers a deeper sense of what the author was trying to say. According to Merriam-Webster, “nether” means “lower in position” or “situated down or below.” “Field” is an area of open land – typically bound by hedges; fenced. And “Park” is also an enclosed area of land, usually used for enjoyment or devoted to a specified purpose; or something halted. What we know of the county of “Hertfordshire” is that its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon “heort ford” meaning “hart/deer crossing” (of a watercourse). The first British martyrdom, of St. Alban took place in Hertfordshire c293. In fact, his martyr’s cross, a yellow saltire on a blue background is reflected in the flag and coat of arms of Hertfordshire. (The yellow background represents the county and features the stag or hart.) Hertfordshire was the area assigned to a fortress during Edward the Elder’s rule. Nobility and aristocracy owned much of Hertfordshire. In a nutshell, Hertfordshire means a fortress of great courage, swagger & swank.
Interestingly though, what we discover when we string all of these symbols together, if one is so inclined to make such inferences, is that although this mansion belongs to &/or is being used by the aristocracy, ironically they are somehow being characterized as existing on some level in a “lower position” or “situated below” someone or something else. It could simply mean the position they currently hold is in a depressed valley of life’s verisimilitudes, going through a bleak season, or their position at this point in time is physically, emotionally, spiritually or in some other aspect lower than where they are destined to be. It is very likely it may simply hint to the position the occupants hold as beneath or in submission to more powerful influences – be it individuals, societal traditions or pressures. At this point we can only make an educated guess and watch the story unfold. Additionally, they are in some aspect fenced in, enclosed, & are in some measure constrained, being contained, or halted. Whatever the case, the idea strengthens the element of suspense, which fortifies and provides greater complexity to the conflict.
As Netherfield is being cleaned by bustling servants who are preparing the manse for its new occupants, a wealthy man “in want of a wife” arrives and exits a coach driven by four horses. Just then, the man’s identity is obscured by a white sheet that is “pulled from a spinet.” The coach assists in establishing his social class. During that time period, someone of a lower class position would either ride horseback, drive their own carriage, or would be fortunate to have one or two horses at their disposal. Hence, a coach driven by four horses is an extravagance and indicates wealth. Upon reading this, I asked myself: Why is he in this place to find a spouse? Why is his identity obscured? Why a white sheet? Why did the screenwriter specify the sheet is being “pulled from” something? And particularly, why is the sheet pulled from a spinet? The man’s obscured identity does extend our suspense. The white sheet foreshadows and symbolizes both marriage and a surrender of something crucial – perhaps some part of himself in order to marry, because we have been told he is “in want of a wife”. To “pull” is “to apply force to something, to cause or tend to cause motion toward the source of the force.” Or “to remove something from a fixed position; to extract.” So a marriage or the subject/s of a marriage are being pulled from some sort of fixed position – whether that be physical, emotional, intellectual, societal, other, or a combination thereof. Now the symbolic device, the spinet, as of yet remains a mystery.
Spinet derives from the Italian spinetta, which in 17th-century Italian was a word used generally for all quilled instruments. The major aspect of the spinet is its design. A spinet is a type of harpsichord with strings set at about a 30-degree angle to the keyboard. The strings are in arranged pairs. The jacks, which pluck the strings are also in arranged pairs. The two jacks in each gap face in opposite directions, and each plucks a string adjacent to a gap. In this device, the keys pull upward on rods and levers, which in turn engage the action. So, when we put all of these elements together, we find the identity of the mystery man who is “in want of a wife” is obscured from our view by a white sheet, a symbol of marriage & surrender, being pulled from a spinet, a device made up of arranged pairs. Yet through all of these foreshadowed adjacencies, arranged pairs and indirect engagements, we eventually discover Mr. Darcy’s Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh has in fact arranged her nephew, Mr. Darcy to be married to her own daughter. Therefore, Mr. Darcy is being constrained by his Aunt and society’s influences. Darcy is then faced with the dilemma of how to gather the great courage it will take to surrender his pride & prejudice in order to stand up against all societal & his own wrong opinions, and social norms that would keep him bound in a loveless union, but one that is acceptable to others. He is faced with the predicament of being able to disregard societal pressures and choose for himself his own wife – even if that wife is someone who is unapproved by others, or someone who is outside of his own social class or position, or as he originally puts it, someone he initially says he: “loves most ardently against his better judgment, against his family’s expectations, in spite of the inferiority of her birth, his rank and circumstance.”
I view the entire screenplay as a giant spinet with all the characters, conflicts & plot twists being the strings, jacks & levers functioning in unison. The heroes are arranged in pairs, as are the secondary characters who are united during the course of the story: The Bennets, The Gardiners, Jane & Charles Bingley, Lydia & Wickham. The other inner mechanisms of levers & jacks include: the Intellectual Characters, Charlotte Lucas & Mrs. Gardiner who wisely advise Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s beloved sister, Jane who serves as the Emotional Character. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would definitely be a pounding jack as the script’s Authority Figure; and surprisingly Elizabeth’s impetuous sister, Lydia turns out to be the opposite pounding jack, as the story’s Solution Character. As it is Lydia who reveals the true loving character of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth when she confides in her that it was Mr. Darcy who searched out and found Lydia with Wickham and performed the selfless act of paying for their wedding, Wickham’s commission, and settled all his debts, as well as kept the entire situation private in order to save the Bennet family’s good name.
The luxurious image of the mysterious man’s arrival in the special world of Netherfield is juxtaposed with the more humble, ordinary world of Miss Bennet. From the script we only know our antagonist, Elizabeth Bennet is “good-humored, attractive, and clearly nobody’s fool.” As she is introduced to us in the open air outside her family’s countrified house called “Longhorn” we see she enjoys the outdoors, reading, and walking. If we dissect the name “Longhorn” we’re better able to grasp the climate of Miss Bennet’s mindset. “Long” is defined among other things as being “considerable in duration of time or distance; extending; and experienced as passing slowly, because of difficulty or tedium; being against great odds; forward-looking; extending far, broad; having an ample supply or endowment of something; lasting a long time; thorough, and intense.” And “bourn” is derived from Old English burna (bhreu – Indo-European roots) meaning a small stream; a brook. Also Old French bodne, bourne, borne & Latin bodina, places it of Celtic origin meaning “a boundary marker; a limit; a destination; a goal.” “Borne”, the past tense of “to bear” means “to hold up; remain firm under something; support; to produce; to bring forth.” If we consider these definitions in conjunction with each other we may surmise that Miss Bennet, her family, and societal traditions may have held up and remained firm under considerable pressure for apparently a long time. More specifically, to find her walking alone leads one to surmise perhaps it is only she who has remained firm in her resolve in some aspect of her life. To a pessimist, or perhaps a realist, frankly, finding our antagonist, continually pensive on the rope swing and handling the rope in her hands as she does & around her neck tells me she’s borne about all she can bear. As an optimist, as I tend to be, the “Longbourne” scene directly following the “Netherfield” scene of the mysterious man seeking his wife, provides hope that the long duration of tedium, difficulty, loneliness, and longing for the right life partner for both of them is potentially about to reach its end.
Furthermore, the adjacency of the solitary image of Miss Bennet walking alone at Longbourne, places her alongside Mr. Darcy’s arrival, distinguishing them as co-heroes whose lives are about to change in some profound way. At first blush, the juxtaposition of the Netherfield and Longbourn scenes appear to be simply a mystery man arriving home, and a woman walking outside enjoying the day. We don’t yet know who the man is. He is simply a man. In the subsequent scenes it is only Mr. Bingley who is mentioned. Mr. Darcy is merely his friend. Yet upon further examination, the scenes are chock full of hints and symbolism, providing clues to his identity via personality traits, character, and social class distinction, foreshadowing the destiny of their relationship and unfolding mysteries.
When we meet Miss Bennet, she is walking through a field of tall meadow grass. While she’s walking, she’s reading a novel, First Impressions. The action specified by the Screenwriter and the Director’s loyalty to that vision and beyond, serves the character very well as we see Miss Bennet’s freedom of action & behavior as she enjoys the outdoors and literature so much she cannot put her book down. Childlike & free, she jumps up onto a wall, and walks the duck plank to cross the small moat encircling her family’s fairly time worn 17th century house. Instantly I was stricken yet again with several questions: Why does the writer specify the house has a moat? A moat is a deep ditch that surrounds a castle, building, or town to provide it with a first line of defense. As Miss Benett crosses over the small moat, it symbolizes her interior mindset. She crosses the moat while reading the novel, First Impressions, which foreshadows the fact that defensive guards may be up as she and her mystery man gather their first impressions of each other. Furthermore, to be reading First Impressions simultaneously as she walks a plank is noteworthy; as plank-walking is historically the practice of the forced killing of captives, making them walk off a wooden plank extended over the side of a ship to their deaths. Similar to the white sheet being used as a symbol of surrender in the previous Netherfield scene, for her to be voluntarily walking the plank is a mirror image of such surrender, but to me it is a very serious sign that she is at her end. She is now resigning herself to either death or being alone. Yet, with this resignation, unbeknownst to her, the universe is about to bring forth the desires of her heart. And then some.
With this story’s primary theme being Individual vs. Society, and the primary motif being Love Conquers All, it is easy to speculate about what is on Jane Austen’s mind. It must have been quite repugnant to Ms. Austen that during this era, the longer a woman was single it appeared to society that she was probably undesirable or unsuitable to marry. Furthermore, at that time in history women could not inherit property or houses. So for Miss Bennet to still be unmarried and without potential suitors (at only) twenty years old in that time period was serious cause for concern. Consequently, families of girls wished for them to marry early and well. The Bennet family is no different, except for the fact that they have five girls, hence cause for their unresolved state of fear about their future homelessness.
To compound the conflict, the Bennet’s cousin, the sycophant Mr. Collins, who is to inherit the Bennet’s entire Longhorn Estate arrives at their house seeking not only a wife among the Bennet girls, but also to look at their property and furnishings he is about to pull out from under them, leaving them all homeless and penniless. Reinforcing the conflict, Mr. Collins, a vicar, looks only at the two eldest beauties whom he has absolutely nothing in common with as potential wives for himself, and completely ignores the more serious, pedantic, piano-playing, Bible-scholar daughter, Mary who would be the most appropriate selection as a suitable vicar’s wife.
This concept of security is one of the principle themes of the film and falls under the umbrella of Individual vs. Society. Financial security is directly addressed by Mrs. Bennet who mentions it several times in conjunction with her nervous condition. It is clearly the reason she is continually trying to help her daughters’ matrimonial process along. Both of the younger Bennet girls also speak quite openly about finances. A conversation between Elizabeth and her best friend, Charlotte Lucas centers around Charlotte’s fear she will be “a spinster” and how that prospect frightens her. Soon after, it is out of that fear that she is prompted to marry Mr. Collins in a loveless but more financially secure union. Even the aristocratic men and women are all concerned, quite suspicious, and even meddling in each other’s lives over the ubiquitous topic of financial security.
Mr. Darcy & Miss Bennet, and Jane & Charles are clearly all falling in love & in their own worlds, yet false accusations creep into their minds with continual attempts to divide our heroes by most of the secondary characters. Because there are five Bennet girls and their mother is nervous & pushy to see them married off, everyone incorrectly assumes the girls are all seeking “advantageous marriages” for themselves. This is evidenced via: The gossip of Colonel Fitzwilliams about Jane being unsuitable for Charles Bingley; the lies Wickham tells Elizabeth about Darcy; the insistence by Lady Catherine de Bourgh that Darcy marry her daughter. No sect of Society is overlooked by bold Ms. Austen, even the vicar, Mr. Collins is a grasping, greedy beast. The secondary characters’ concerns primarily swirl around a financial focal point: Who is gonna get what, how much, and when?
It is interesting to note, that if a person with little means desires to marry someone who happens to have greater financial security, it is viewed as the person with little means is seeking an advantageous marriage for herself/himself. However, when a person with significant means marries another person with significant means, without love at the forefront, but rather in order to stay within their own social class, that union is not viewed as being an “advantageous marriage.” Even though the advantage in the latter case is to keep the money and bloodlines within that social class. Technically, both could be considered “advantageous.” Although it is only when a person is outside one’s social class that his/her motives are questioned. And all the questioning is done without any consideration of a person’s potential for future financial success.
In the case of Miss Bennet, I feel the action throughout the script lends itself to understanding her character through more than merely her words. We may speculate that where she spends her time says a lot about who she is and where her heart rests. The manner in which she stands up for herself to others; her refusal to compromise; her dogged belief that she will either marry her soul-mate or remain alone; her bold attempts to engage Mr. Darcy in conversation, asking him if he likes to dance; and her continually standing up to him, all show a great deal about her courage, confidence, candor, and thoroughly modern mind-set. They also speak volumes about her trust in his feelings for her. Her insistence to walk all the way through mud and rain to Netherfield in order to check on her beloved sister, Jane while she is ill indicates her sincerity of heart and lack of vanity. Her subtly, yet firmly and politely standing up to Caroline Bingley as she attempts to publicly mock her sister, Mary indicates her compassion. Miss Bennet’s warning her parents about her young sister, Lydia’s outrageous flirtatiousness indicates she has foresight & wisdom. Her standing up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and keeping Darcy’s engagement to her a secret proves her wisdom, discretion, constancy & fierce loyalty. For our feminine protagonist to be given all of these bold character traits during that time period, Jane Austen is, to me, one of the world’s finest feminist authors of all time.
Likewise, Mr. Darcy’s character is also displayed through his actions even more than his words. Out of respect for himself and Miss Bennet, Darcy’s reserved manner toward other women who throw themselves at him, provide us with a clue about his character. His great selection of Charles Bingley as his best friend, is another clue. Darcy’s initially warning his friend Charles against marrying shy Jane Bennet due to his misguided belief she was somehow not as interested in him and the union would be an “advantageous marriage” versus one of genuine love, does show Darcy is a very loyal, honest friend. The fact that Darcy visits his Aunt, Elizabeth & the Bennet family, and he invites Elizabeth’s Aunt & Uncle to stay, fish, and dine with him at his estate; the fact that he buys his sister, Georgiana a piano forte; and counts Elizabeth’s concern when she visits her ill sister at Netherfield as a credit to her, no matter that she is covered in mud, and her hair & clothes are a scruffy, all of these among many other things show he is a sensitive, non-vain, caring, kind, gracious, hospitable, generous man who sees past the superficial.
Though the two were raised worlds apart, Mr. Darcy & Miss Bennet are shockingly similar. Together they gracefully withstand and even grow closer through a myriad of obstacles: separation over time and distance, societal & familial pressures; conquering personal issues of pride & prejudice; ongoing flirtations by others; as well as continual attempts to discredit, bold-face lie about, and divide them. They withstand it all. And Darcy eventually chooses the one who is his equal on all levels even though by society’s standards she is disregarded as lower than he. Yet by Miss Bennet’s opinion, such a prejudiced view brought about by the apparatus of class distinction is disdainful, and therefore reins as the true low position. Both Mr. Darcy & Miss Bennet desire to be in a loving marriage with their soul-mate, but all of their issues of pride and prejudice had to first be overcome before the two could be happily joined in marriage; thereby providing satisfying, symbiotic symmetry within the conflicts of our two heroes.
It is noteworthy that Miss Bennet’s surrender of her own pride & prejudice encompasses areas farther reaching than just social class struggle. She holds biases against Mr. Darcy, the rich, and men in general, for that matter. Elizabeth’s scathing prejudices are made abundantly clear at the onset of the ball when she speaks of men: “They are far too easy to judge,” they’re “humorless poppy cocks, in my limited experience,” & “painted peacocks.” However, upon encountering Mr. Darcy for the first time, she completely eats all those words.
The Point of No Return occurs when he notices her and catches her eye in the midst of all the other women. She is also quite taken aback and “stares at him with a kind of surprised shock.” There is a sense that something has been awakened in both of them. Although Darcy quickly averts his eyes away from Miss Bennet, seeming to be completely bored & disinterested in her. Following this brief encounter with Darcy she inquires about him to her friend, Charlotte Lucas as: “the person with the disagreeable expression.” She even calls him a “Poor soul.” It is clear that Miss Bennet is quite puzzled by Darcy’s behavior, as it seems he is somehow being held back from fully enjoying & expressing himself. She remains confused, because although he is showing her attention, he seems to not want or be able to get to know her better on a one-on-one basis by dancing or engaging in extended conversation and leaves her walking around the event alone instead of being with her. Still she makes the best of it by joyfully dancing and enjoying conversation others. Her biases are particularly engrained when her pride is wounded upon overhearing Mr. Darcy tell Mr. Bingley that Jane is “the only handsome girl in the room” and that Elizabeth is “perfectly tolerable” “but not handsome enough to tempt me.” This seemingly initial rejection of her brings us back to the novel she was reading in the opening scene, First Impressions. Throughout the entire script, Darcy mystifies Miss Bennet. She truly has no solid idea about Mr. Darcy’s feelings until he voices them to her. These unexpected emotions seem to be equally puzzling to both parties. Though these repressions of feelings and spurts of intensity during their limited communication create an effective sensual tension that grows increasingly satisfying throughout the script.
When we consider the character development of our heroes, Miss Bennet & Mr. Darcy, we find a fascinating mystery that is ordinarily overlooked. A clue to the mystery may be found in the gift Darcy gives to his sister, Georgiana. It is a pianoforte, in all its glory. Intriguingly, it is also a pianoforte Miss Bennet is asked to play when she is a dinner guest at the Rosings Estate of Mr. Darcy’s Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And another clue about this mystery is the fact that Miss Bennet does stand up for herself quite assertively during the dinner conversation when grilled by Lady Catherine about her upbringing. Subsequently, Elizabeth is gracious and does play the pianoforte when urged by Lady Catherine & the Collins’, but only after several protests confessing that she “does not play well.” Though after her rather dreadful debut, we come to find that Elizabeth was honest and objective about her abilities, she does not play the pianoforte well. But still the question begs, why a pianoforte?
Upon researching it, the pianoforte was invented by the famous harpsichord maker, Bartolomeo Cristofori of Florence, Italy. I was amazed it was originally referred to as a “fortepiano,” which in Italian means “loud to soft.” It was Jane Austen who boldly changed the name of the instrument to “piano forte” meaning “soft to loud”. And because Jane referred to it by that name in her writings, the name stuck. To this day it is still referred to by most as a pianoforte. But there’s more to this puzzle. Why did Ms. Austen alter the instrument’s name in the first place? And given the clue that no details are included that do not move the plot forward, there must be some reason that 1.) Darcy gives his sister a pianoforte, and 2.) Elizabeth is asked to play it at Rosings. Both women in this man’s life have something to do with a pianoforte, but why that particular gift? A pianoforte is more elaborate and harder to build than its predecessors, the harpsichord or spinet. It was also the most state of the art instrument of its kind during that time period, and hence, very expensive. It was the instrument of royalty, so it is fitting that Elizabeth Bennet is awkward playing it, because it serves to solidify the fact that she is not a royal, or a member of the aristocracy, and hence, she is out of her league on some level in these circles. After much contemplation, it occurred to me, the pianoforte is the symbol of the spinet from the opening of the film returning! But this time in a different, modern, progressive, more elaborate form. I realized the pianoforte’s arrival here in lieu of its predecessor, the spinet is a symbol that outdated traditions have changed.
Throughout the story, Elizabeth Bennet’s quite a modern feminist for her time period. Because of her gentle, almost imperceptible encouragement toward Mr. Darcy, he is able to blossom, but not out of any obligation toward societal norms or outmoded traditions, nor at the compromise or expense of being trod upon in regard to her own position, but for who he is as a being, and what he wants from life. It’s different, and far more elaborate than we thought. Because the mystery man’s identity is no longer obscured by a white sheet – the symbol of surrendering to a loveless arranged marriage forced upon him by antiquated societal thinking. It is revealed at this moment that it was not Mr. Bingley in the script’s opening who is the gentleman “in want of a wife,” it is Mr. Darcy. It is Darcy who has made the pianoforte purchase for his young sister, Georgiana. It is fitting he provides his sister, who embodies the next generation, with a symbol that represents a change in mindset to that generation. It is Mr. Darcy who stands beside his chosen bride, Miss Bennet, as she charmingly stumbles through her humble song. This time it is not society’s archaic traditions, or a wealthy, forceful Aunt, but it is Mr. Darcy & Miss Bennet who are calling all the shots. When I realized this, it was as if the entire plot was suddenly embossed! Ms. Austen knew exactly what she was doing. Her delicate quill upon her pages was a hardcore act of Civil Disobedience. She is adamant this change would begin right here! Through her heroes’ & secondary characters’ being confronted with and defeating their own pride & prejudices, Mr. Darcy & Miss Bennet would now be heard. And their freedom of choice for people to love whoever they choose to love would now be made known. That’s why Jane Austen changed the name of the instrument forever. It’s a new world, hence a new instrument is needed to reflect that transformation. This time there won’t be any antiquated spinet resurrected. The name could no longer be called “fortepiano” (loud to soft) to shut the girls up. Ms. Austen knew the instrument “fortepiano” (loud to soft) had to be transformed to “pianoforte” (soft to loud) to create a voluminous crescendo that still resounds, in order to reflect Miss Bennet & Mr. Darcy’s love that transcends all material, worldly elements and social class, the purest love that addresses the spirit & the soul.
Genevieve Jeanine Therese Hersek, February 2014