Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Second Time Around: Pride and Prejudice

Though it was published way, way back in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is still one of today's most popular books. It's sold more than 20 million copies around the world, and not just because so many English teachers assign it as homework (which is what happened to me). Even though the story was written by an English miss who lived and died on the page nearly 200 years ago, the story resonates strongly with American readers and book lovers around the world....even when it's pushed into England of the twenty-first century.

The Original

 Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, and one of the best-loved characters ever penned. She is a product of her times, and as such expected to conduct herself accordingly in all manners of education, morality and marriage. She is the daughter of a country gentleman in a small town outside London, much like the author Jane Austen herself. The excitement begins when an eligible young bachelor moves into nearby Netherfield. He is quickly popular in the neighborhood, unlike his uptight friend Mr. Darcy. Bingley's eye falls on Elizabeth's sister Jane. Darcy doesn't approve of Jane, and makes some nasty comments within Elizabeth's hearing.

She is forced to abide his company when her sister, caught in a rainstorm, falls ill and must stay at Netherfield or several days. Elizabeth arrives at the estate to care for Jane, and frequently finds herself in Mr. Darcy's company. Elizabeth also meets Mr. Wickham, who was a ward of Mr. Darcy's father. He tells her that he was treated poorly at Darcy's hands. This makes Elizabeth dislike Darcy even more, a feeling that's fueled by her growing attraction to Wickham.

When Bingley leaves Netherfield and Elizabeth later learns that Darcy played a part in it, she's even angrier. They bump into each other again in the spring, and Darcy is so overcome to see her again he immediately proposes marriage. Elizabeth tells him off in no uncertain terms. Later, she receives a letter from Darcy that quite reasonably explains all of his actions, including his ill treatment of Wickham. When she sees him again months later at his family home Pemberley, Elizabeth realizes that she's actually quite attracted to Darcy after all. When Darcy (eventually, after everyone else gets their happy ending) sees Elizabeth again, he proposes again and she accepts. 

Pride and Prejudice is a generous novel, and there are many more events that take place within its pages. I cannot hope to capture the flavor of Austen's poetic writing, because I'm not 200 years old. Unlike many readers, I'm not the biggest Austen fan. Honestly, I much prefer the much more comedic re-telling of the tale.

The Modern Version

Helen Fielding wrote her version of Pride and Prejudice in 1996. This time, it was re-titled as Bridget Jones's Diary and put in modern times...but still set in and around London. The heroine, Bridget, is a little older than Elizabeth Bennet, but that's because the age of your average "spinster" has changed in the past two centuries.

Bridget is a thoroughly modern heroine who smokes, drinks and supports herself through work, but like Elizabeth Bennet she's constrained by society's expectations that she ought to marry and have children.

She just doesn't expect to do it with Mark Darcy, a successful and very smug lawyer -- just like the Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. When Bridget and Mark meet, he insults her by making it obvious he doesn't want to schedule a date with her, much in the same way Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth at a country gathering.

There is a big difference in narration between the two books. Bridget's story is told through Bridget's eyes, while Elizabeth's story is narrated by a third party. Wickham appears in the new book in the form of Daniel Cleaver, an incredibly handsome and outgoing character who charms Bridget right away. Like Wickham, however, he has only bad things to say about Mark -- and this makes Bridget dislike him even more.

Eventually, of course, the misunderstandings are cleared up and Darcy admits to liking Elizabeth -- sorry, I mean Bridget. The film version of the book is very true to the text, though some of the parallels between the two books are emphasized for the movie.The modern version of the story is completely delightful in print and in film, and it re-introduces a popular story very well. I'm sure Jane Austen, who wrote about a novel she liked in Northanger Abbey, would approve of Bridget Jones's Diary.

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1 comment:

  1. Pride and Prejudice is my favourite novel of all time. I have read it annually since I was about 17. The best thing about Bridget Jones's Diary is that Colin Firth played Darcy in the film!