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Why I don’t like the end of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice adaptation

There are actually many things that I dislike about the 1940 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, but the final resolution of Darcy and Elizabeth’s courtship is one of the things that really, really bugs me about it. Basically, instead of following the novel (and I admit to being a purist when it comes to novel adaptations) the screenwriter threw out everything after Lady Catherine pays her unexpected visit on Elizabeth. Instead of Lady Catherine leaving Longbourn in high dudgeon, she pauses and tells her waiting nephew that Elizabeth is in love with him and essentially gives her blessing to the match.

My problems with this are:

  1. It completely negates Darcy’s sacrifice in marrying Elizabeth
  2. It turns Darcy from a manly man who is willing to take an emotional risk in proposing to a woman who previously refused him into a weak child who uses his aunt in a complicated scheme of “ask her if she likes me”
  3. I kind of like Lady Catherine the way she is in the book

On the sacrifice note, yes it is nice to think that everything will work out wonderfully for Darcy and Elizabeth but that isn’t the story. The story is about two people who overcome obstacles in the course of finding true love and who have to make difficult choices and live with consequences. One of Darcy’s consequences is an estrangement from his aunt, personally I think that Darcy does love his aunt and probably was not happy to be estranged from her, but he loved Elizabeth more and as a husband he could not tolerate Lady Catherine’s abuse of his wife. It is an example of Elizabeth’s maturity that she persuades her husband to mend the breach even though she was the one who was insulted and is the one with less affection for Lady Catherine.

On the second point, I’m just not in favor of something that turns Darcy into a wimp, especially a wimp who hides behind his aunt and lets said aunt be mean to the woman he loves so he can find out if she might like him back. That whole thing is just not cool. Darcy is a grown-up man, he may not be perfect and he may not be able to read Elizabeth’s mind and he might have been spurred into action by hearing about his beloved’s response to his aunt’s interference, but he did not ask his aunt to interfere or come up with any sort of plan that involved his aunt interfering. I personally believe that had his aunt not interfered, he and Elizabeth would have still gotten together eventually, it just would have taken longer.

Finally, yes I do like Lady Catherine’s character as described in the book. I personally think that we need to remember that she is seen from Elizabeth’s point of view and introduced at a time when Elizabeth is prone to think poorly of all of Darcy’s relations. The woman certainly has her faults, but I also see the possibility that she also has some good points that Elizabeth has chosen to overlook or misconstrue.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. ‘I kind of like Lady Catherine the way she is in the book’Can I say IAWTC? Very much. 😀 If not as a person (I think I would probably really really hate her–unless she was particularly nice to me. Actually she reminds me of my grandmother, and I liked her, but then she was particularly nice to me.) then as a very entertaining character.

    While I’m highly uncomfortable with the repeated use of ‘manly’ man, and the way that narrative infuses our fandom with gender stereotypes and gendered expectations of the characters, I do think that acting like that would make him not very respectable as a person. In general the whole thing in romance stories where one of the sides makes the other suffer to get proof of their love is very… uhm… dysfunctional, and probably would lose me in a jiffy if it happened in real life. It's a trope, and luckily one that JA didn't use, and has no place in P&P.

  2. Ditto on Lady Catherine! It’s particularly a pity, since I thoroughly enjoyed the actress up to that point – but the woobification at the end kind of ruined everything that came before.

    Just as bad, of course, is the effect on Darcy. Though he’s not what I think of as a “manly man” – for the same reasons as Hele, probably – he is most assuredly his own person, and that kind of behaviour is neither consistent with his extremely self-sufficient personality *or* his morals.

    Very dysfunctional, I agree – though I doubt luck has much to do with Austen’s treatment of romance. I could see something like that in one of her more disastrous couples – Sir Walter Elliot courting Elizabeth Stevenson, say.

  3. I think my idea of what constitutes a “manly man” is a little different than how it comes across. I wrote this post not long after a conversation with a friend where we were using the term to mean men who behave like mature and responsible adults. If it makes you feel any better, I would also disapprove just as much if Darcy got his uncle to inflict emotional torture on the woman he loves or if Elizabeth pulled this sort of stunt with Darcy.

    As for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I haven’t read that one yet but it does sound like fun.

  4. I read "manly man" as meaning "not a boy". The same way a woman shouldn’t behave like a girl. Granted, in some fanfics he seems to be 12 years old. 😉

    Very good points, Melissa!

    I always wonder why people assume that Darcy didn't like his aunt. It seems from the novel that he at least esteemed her (it’s the very person with whom he spends every Easter). He spoke about her with respect even after she had paid Lizzy the visit. Darcy called her interference unjustified, but certainly not ridiculous. It's only her abusive letter that turns him off. Incidentally, he's more critical about his own mother than his aunt, and yet fanfiction somehow stereotypes the mother into a wonderful, loving person.

    I agree that it is a great sacrifice on his part. Somehow people assume that all of his family would be welcoming to Lizzy, while Lady Catherine is an oddity. The novel gives a contrary impression. Not even Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a congratulatory letter. It seems that LC is an important person, a representative of the entire family painted by Austen so that we could understand how things stand, and as long as she's not welcoming to Lizzy no one is. After all it’s Darcy who has to make the first move into reconciliation.

    I don’t think that LC is Austen’s excuse to bring E&D together. On the contrary, we know that he’d return anyway, and keep pursuing Lizzy. Darcy says that trying to make her love him was his purpose, and he certainly wouldn’t think that two meetings (one very brief, and none in private) were enough. He’s the obstinate guy after all, and he _said_ he’d return. Moreover, he knows very well that he courted her at Pemberley, for her family to see. He’d be a scoundrel to abandon her now without hearing from her that she’s not interested, especially after she gave him so much encouragement while in Derbyshire. And, Darcy is a manly man indeed! Not a scared boy who’d rather be unhappy his entire life than gather the courage to ask the question, even if he didn’t hope for a positive answer.

    LC’s interference is something else. It’s a moral of the story. Elizabeth knows that what LC represents is what’s the most difficult for Darcy to give up, and it’s the final trial after Darcy’s reform. Yes, he was nice to the Gardiners, and he helped with Lydia, but will he withstand his own family in this marriage? Or the society for that matter? After all he must know that to many he’ll be a laughing stock. People would assume that he was taken in by a country chick. Even he had assumed so much before Hunsford proposal. Austen gives us an answer by having him make a stand before he marries or even proposes.

    Moreover, she has to explain how the alleged engagement between Darcy and Anne came about, and has to show that the unwanted interference of authority brings a contrary effect. That’s the fair moral according to Darcy, quite the opposite to the 1940 movie.

  5. Good point about Colonel Fitzwilliam not sending a congratulatory letter. Personally, I wonder if his slip about Darcy’s assistance to Bingley wasn’t more of a “slip” — as much as I would like him to be happy for his cousin I think it is possible that he was trying to break up that little romance, for Darcy’s own good of course.

    As for Darcy’s mother, I think it is important to remember that she and Lady Catherine were presumably quite close. I take the unpopular view that when Lady Catherine says that she and her sister planned Darcy and Anne DeBourgh’s engagement in their cradles that that is exactly what they did and both were enthusiastic about the match. Arranged marriages were not legally enforceable and were going out of fashion in Jane Austen’s day. Darcy would have no reason pay attention to his aunt and mother’s wish unless it was also his wish.

    Thanks for the response!

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