A balance between what is revealed and what remains concealed
February 1, 2017 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Looking for Mr. Darcy: The Role of the Viewer in Creating a Cultural Icon. Mr. Darcy's two proposals to Elizabeth Bennet are put under the microscope as Henriette-Juliane Seeliger examines how three screen adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice negotiate (or trample over) one of Austen's well-deployed narrative techniques: the information gap created by a narrator's unreliability.
posted by mixedmetaphors (33 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating! I've seen all three adaptations and definitely prefer Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, but now thanks to this article, I know why! (Other than "because he is the most attractive of the three, duh.")

The 1980 version is cringe-inducingly bad, by the way...it looks like it was filmed in someone's basement. And David Rintoul's performance is just painful.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:59 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Really great essay!

I think the problem for me with the Moggach adaptation is that he made everything so adolescent and gothic - the rain, the chase to Rosings, the passionate enunciations and justifications, the indecorous wet clothing, the bodies presented so raw and angsty. It destroyed the sense of elegance and restraint that the novel values. The 'between two vices, lies virtue,' or moderation in all things, the 'sophrosyne' of Austen's value system is absent. Darcy can jump into the lake in the penultimate episode of Davies' version, when his emotional attachment to the outcomes of Elizabeth's feelings about him is a narrative necessity. From there the camera lingers on his face, transformed by their active looking at each other.

The other part of the 1995 version that I enjoy is how much the fruit, the piano, the tasteful surroundings help us gaze on Darcy as a moderate, elegant man, despite [what is necessary] knowing that he is capable of passion and emotional depth.

Sigh. Firth Darcy.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2017 [10 favorites]


Ooooh I love stuff like this!! Thanks for posting!

If only the Knightley Lizzie and the Firth Darcy could magically be in the same movie...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:01 AM on February 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


I can't wait to read this!

I used to teach Persuasion, and my students never really "got" Free Indirect Discourse until I had them read it and then watch the movie. Filmed adaptations cannot fully capture Free Indirect Discourse, because things that are so sly and subtle in the written form have to become blatant and over the top in order to register onscreen. Free Indirect Discourse can tell you about how a person's character has developed over decades in the space of a sentence, but fllm can't possibly capture that. Students weren't fully aware of how much Austen's narrator was shaping their understanding of the characters and the tensions until the narrator was gone, and with her a lot of our ability to understand who each character really was.

One of my favorite things about Darcy, actually, is that he is such a puzzle-- is he just a snob? Is he a misogynist? Is he socially awkward? Is he right (imagine marrying into a family of rabid Trump supporters as an analogue for how he feels about Elizabeth's family, for instance)? One thing I unexpectedly enjoyed about the 2005 version was that "shy weirdo who is still in shock and mourning his dead parents and so far sucks at taking over their responsibilities" was one I had never considered before.

Every adaptation picks an interpretation, but the book lets you try them all on. Free Indirect Discourse 4 lyfe.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:11 AM on February 1, 2017 [28 favorites]


So ... 1980 Darcy acts too cold, 2005 Darcy acts too heated, 1995 Darcy acts just right?
posted by kyrademon at 9:17 AM on February 1, 2017 [8 favorites]


I will also add: the 2005 P&P seems really off when you watch it as an Austen adaptation. But it makes PERFECT sense if you watch it as "Pride and Prejudice: Bronte Edition". Half-dressed people wandering the windswept moors, fights in the driving rain, resigned but defiant feminist rants-- it has all the classics.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:55 AM on February 1, 2017 [18 favorites]


"shy weirdo who is still in shock and mourning his dead parents and so far sucks at taking over their responsibilities"

Darcy is Batman?
posted by Naberius at 10:11 AM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]


Darcy is Batman?

Suddenly longing for Regency Batman reboot where Bruce watches in horror as his impressionable young ward is seduced by a conscienceless gamester and fraud
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:27 AM on February 1, 2017 [17 favorites]


If only the Knightley Lizzie and the Firth Darcy could magically be in the same movie...

You have insulted me in every possible way, and can now have nothing further to say.
posted by greenish at 10:40 AM on February 1, 2017 [36 favorites]


I find it interesting that on Tumblr, the younger members love the 2005 version. It gets memed to death. I have always preferred the 1995 version with it's subtle drama and great characterizations; I mean, Mrs. Bennett and Lady Catherine De Bourgh's portrayals are so much more satirical as well as the congealing smarminess of the oily Mr. Collins. The only thing I ever watch the 2005 version for is the glorious settings, interior and exterior. Of course, that is what you get with a much more expansive budget.
posted by nikitabot at 10:52 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


You have insulted me in every possible way, and can now have nothing further to say.

I now wish to write a novel where Catherine de Bourgh and Lucille Bluth team up to insult people (including one another) in tandem. (Subsequent spin-off: Buster Bluth and Ann de Bourgh get married.)

"Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say, that from his earliest hour he was destined for his cousin?"
"I don't understand the question and I won't respond to it."

The only thing I ever watch the 2005 version for is the glorious settings, interior and exterior.

That's why it looks so great on Tumblr! The gifs of high-def sweeping cinema look better than 1998 BBC budget, unfortunately.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:57 AM on February 1, 2017 [15 favorites]


a fiendish thingy, I had the same thought when I watched thought when I watched the 2005 version! I loved it but it felt like watching a Bronte movie, not Austin. Thank you for this post, mixed metaphors. It was really insightful. I love picking apart texts (& movies) and analyzing what makes them tick.
posted by branravenraven at 10:59 AM on February 1, 2017


Also, I get a kick out of the setting in the 2005 version when Elizabeth is wandering around Darcy's house, looking at nude sculptures. Implying some sort of awakening into 'womanhood' for a 19th century genteel girl? Anyhow, Elizabeth exploring a space that Darcy inhabits and creates was a part of the book that they did well (I thought) in the 2005 movie. What does the reader learn about the unsaid parts of Darcy from his house? His sister? And is Elizabeth's sudden change of mind about him because she sees how truly rich he is? I'm not serious about that last question...
posted by branravenraven at 11:07 AM on February 1, 2017


Anyhow, Elizabeth exploring a space that Darcy inhabits and creates was a part of the book that they did well (I thought) in the 2005 movie.

See, I kind of disagree, because book-Elizabeth barely looks at the furnishings, and spends most of her time looking out windows. As temptingly sumptuous as the visuals are in the adaptations, the book indicates that Elizabeth cares very little about the furnishings themselves— the only thing she cares about is that they look more solid than ostentatious—

“The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of its proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendour, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.”

There is one part where the housekeeper is trying to show off all the fancy stuff, and Elizabeth is 100% uninterested: “Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more [details about Mr. Darcy giving money to the poor]. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subjects of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain.”

The thing Elizabeth really admires are the grounds— which can seem like an admiration of wealth, but the field of landscape design at that point in history was this HUUUUGE contentious subject— the way you felt about landscapes (and the way your landscapes were designed/maintained) was viewed as indicative of your moral sense and viewpoint of the balance between civilization and nature, so admiring someone’s “extensive grounds” wasn’t purely a financial consideration. It was a way of actually getting to know someone. (This concept continues in Britlit in the 20th century— bad rich people clutter landscapes with vanity projects and things that look “unnatural”. “Good” people let the natural beauty of the landscape shine for what it is, often at great cost.)

Anyway, looking at fancy statues looks best onscreen, but the scene in the book focuses on three things that stun Elizabeth—
-the grounds, and the fact that the house is built in a way that soothing nature vistas are always visible from every room
-a loyal servant who has loved Darcy since he was a wee laddie saying that he’s kind and generous and loving
-the realization that Darcy would do anything for his baby sister, in spite of her misadventures with Wickham. This is key because he’s the one who was all “my good opinion once lost is lost forever!!!!”, but it indicates that his sister is still held in his good opinion. Since Elizabeth knows the backstory, it makes her reconsider her view of him as a stodgy prating moralist.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:50 AM on February 1, 2017 [31 favorites]


I now wish to write a novel where Catherine de Bourgh and Lucille Bluth team up to insult people (including one another) in tandem. (Subsequent spin-off: Buster Bluth and Ann de Bourgh get married.)

I may need to create a sockpuppet account just so I can favorite this again.
posted by Mchelly at 12:03 PM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have a family member who loves to wax pedantic on Jane Austen, who turns the conversation to Jane Austen as often as possible. It has absolutely taken all the pleasure out. I just needed to share that.
posted by theora55 at 12:46 PM on February 1, 2017


Is the 2005 P&P the one where the props master apparently got told 'chocolate for breakfast' with the result that one character was nibbling on a chocolate bar, instead of sipping a cup of drinking chocolate?
posted by tavella at 1:14 PM on February 1, 2017


Mrs. Mosley got me hooked, seriously hooked, on the 1995 version. That will always reign supreme with me. But the 2005 does so many things right that it is a close second place.

As for the 2005 tacked on ending: Honestly, after Donald Sutherland's sublime final scene and line, they could have had a final scene involving fucking transformers, for all I cared.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:57 PM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]


This is a lit nerd orgy and I'm here just fogging the windows.

[Frantically googles free indirect discourse]
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:07 PM on February 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


So ... 1980 Darcy acts too cold, 2005 Darcy acts too heated, 1995 Darcy acts just right?

In the 2020 version Mr. Darcy will make his first appearance in the story doing a tango with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel.
posted by No-sword at 5:43 PM on February 1, 2017


Great. Now you all got me watching the series (1995 of course, for it is best, although I am not that aware of the other versions) again, and I have to be in bed! Next think I know I'll be crying out "Bingley flag" whenever he shows up, just like we did back in college..

I found the essay pretty interesting, and I definitely remember as both reader and later viewer (of 1995) that I did put my own ideals of a man into the character of Darcy (when I was younger). But I don't think that it is possible to do so entirely- turns out that immediate openness, amiability, and directness are admirable things too, and it's hard to imagine those even in the character of Darcy as he appears at the end.

(Not that I don't still have, um, fondness for Mr. Darcy- but it's much more of a memory than a current fascination).
posted by nat at 5:50 PM on February 1, 2017


This essay is right on. There's a lot to enjoy in the 2005 version, but its Darcy is a drip.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:37 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


I miss The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. My favorite Darcy, right there. Lizzie too for that matter. And Lydia!
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:19 PM on February 1, 2017


Indeed Lizzie Bennet Diaries Lydia was the best Lydia.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:45 PM on February 1, 2017


I agree with a fiendish thingy, et al. The 2005 Pride & Prejudice is Austen through the lens of the Bronte sisters. It's all storm and moors and dark passions barely kept in check under empire waistlines. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't Austen in and of herself.

Oddly, I think I actually prefer the changes the Lizzie Bennet Diaries made to the story - I understand why Austen's original landed Lydia and Wickham all but beyond the pale together, but I never quite liked it.

I wish someone would revisit Northanger Abbey as a movie. I adore that novel, and most people don't seem to have read it! It also features my favorite of Austen's heroes; Mr. Tilney is a delight, and I would walk with him in the wilds dissecting the landscape as non-artistic for hours.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:42 PM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


Honestly I don't get how this doesn't work for the McFadyen haters.
posted by benadryl at 11:38 PM on February 1, 2017


In a derail that I can only boast is related because ah, film, text, critic, books we studied at school Pride and Prejudice 1995/ swoonery: Crispin Bonham Carter (the besotted-by-Jane, Mr Bingley) is now a Lit teacher.

Imagine the ways in which text/ reader positioning/ reception/production lit theory come alive in his classes!


On topic: An element of this essay I especially enjoyed was the easy and expressive way Seeliger united decades of lit theory (done so skilfully and succinctly, nice!) with textual details across several expressions of Austen's representational strategies - eg the indirect speech, the highly obscuring and controlling narratorial gaze, narrative gaps and silences, the romance genre's conventions vis hero/heroine presentation etc. So very well done. I'm going to use parts of this essay for my first years to foreground the idea that academic writing can be lively and entertaining as well as rigorous and thorough.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:40 PM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


Northanger Abbey's my favorite too! I love all the books, but for me there's nothing in any of them as delicious as the episode of the scary locked cabinet in the night-time.

Anyhow, can we at least all agree that Cher Horowitz is the best Emma?
posted by Mchelly at 4:04 AM on February 2, 2017 [5 favorites]


A Fiendish Thingy, I agree with you, and I think you missed my meaning. Wouldn't it be fair to say that Elizabeth's positive observation of Darcy's taste, etc., at Pemberley would be a way of discovering his personality through the way he has furnished house? Though of course it was done differently in the 2005 movie than the book, but you detailed the differences quite well. And I do think that the way that the 2005 movie depicts Pemberley naturally contrasts the gaudiness and ostentatiousness of Rosings to the elegance of Pemberley. Exotic birds and gilt versus Neoclassical sculpture. You know, like you said: Bad rich people versus 'Good' rich people. We don't have Elizabeth's inner mind here, as in the book, but I think it is possible to infer that she notices the differences from her attention to her surroundings. And meeting his sister, like I wrote. I thought the more fascinating aspect of this, both in the move and book was the indirect communication about Darcy's personality.
Also, I wasn't serious about Elizabeth marrying Darcy for his wealth. I was being more tongue-in-cheek, which is why I said I wasn't being serious about, god forbid, Elizabeth marrying Darcy for his wealth. I was trying to reference Elizabeth later jokeing with Jane, when Jane asks, "Will you tell me how long you have loved him," and she replies, "It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley."

I suppose I made a classic blunder -not starting a land war in Asia, as Vizzini of Princess Bride advises against, but making vaguely detailed observation about Pride and Prejudice in a space filled with fans.
posted by branravenraven at 10:22 AM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]


It may be because I saw it first, but I definitely prefer the 2005 version to the 1995 version. The film is just so beautifully shot, with its long tracking shots through the balls and its impeccable cinematography. I can under the suggestion that it is more Bronte than Austen, but that doesn't bother me. The 1995 version, for me, is just too long and too cold. Neither Jennifer Ehle nor Colin Firth really convince me that they feel much of anything at all. YMMV, of course.

Also, is this where I put in a plug for the completely excellent Bride and Prejudice, featuring the breathtaking Aishwarya Rai as Lizzie?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:09 AM on February 2, 2017 [2 favorites]


Anyhow, can we at least all agree that Cher Horowitz is the best Emma?

I will concede most endearing, but one of the interesting things about Emma is that Austen tried to make her unlikeable and I'd love to see a movie or series which ran with that interpretation of her.

Wouldn't it be fair to say that Elizabeth's positive observation of Darcy's taste, etc., at Pemberley would be a way of discovering his personality through the way he has furnished house?

I think that's very accurate, and that one of the things which sets Austen apart is the degree to which almost everything is done indirectly in most of her books, even when the characters themselves are direct. It's a specific aesthetic (I can understand why someone would prefer something different) and I think is tied into the fact she's writing satire but for modern readers we tend to miss that. My enjoyment of her doubled when I realized how sarcastically the narrator could be interpreted. The number of people who take Pride and Prejudice at it's word - look at all the people who use "a truth universally known" to refer to things they believe to be true! - is immense because of how subtle Austen is in her satire and irony.

And I think that explains the differences between the 1995 and 2005 versions. The 1995 one is heavily ironic and restrained in line with Austen's mode for that book in particular (you can take more liberties with, say, Sense and Sensibility because it's about the contrast between the two, whereas Pride and Prejudice is explicitly about people misunderstanding each other), but the 2005 is earnest and emotional. People drawn to one more than the other will have marked preferences for understandable reasons.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:18 PM on February 2, 2017 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen the 1940 Hollywood version with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. I know great liberties were taken with the script and the setting (hoop skirts!) but it was made with classically trained actors. I wish the author had included it in her article.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:26 PM on February 2, 2017


It's been a long time since I watched it, but I seem to recall that while I wasn't overly fond of the 2005 one, it did do a better job with Mrs. Bennett than most. It's always been a frustration of mine that so many present her as foolish and embarrassing... and that's certainly true from Elizabeth's point of view. But they miss the fact that she is in fact right, that her daughters will have to marry decently or look forward to lives of poverty and dependence, and that while Mr. Bennett is far more charming and fun, he's also weak and self-indulgent.

The scene in the book where Mr. Bennett admits as much to Elizabeth, complete with the acknowledgement that he will in fact fail to back up his strictures against Wickham (which is confirmed in the wrapup, and effectively contrasted with Elizabeth and Darcy's own firm stance) is rarely given proper justice. And the scene where he's pretending he won't set up social opportunities with Bingley and his household -- it's always played for laughs and how silly his wife is, but she's absolutely right to be angry at him for apparently not being willing. Since his family is not allowed by the social mores of the day to do it on their own.
posted by tavella at 1:53 PM on February 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


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