Several Jane Austen-lovers I know have expressed disdain for the 2005 Focus Features film version of Pride & Prejudice. When I ask them why, they point their fingers squarely at the pig. The ambling of an enormous male pig through the Bennets’ domestic space is an absurdly unrealistic scenario in the life of a gentleman, some claim, as Mr. Bennet never would have installed his livestock so close to his house. I suspect, however, that most people do not object to the film on the grounds of weak historicity. Rather, they recognize in the giant pink grunter an offense against a literary masterpiece. I don’t blame them. Nonetheless, that pig is central to the film’s vision. The pig and the many other animals, fowl, muddy stockyards, rain showers and diverse natural elements collectively convey the film’s interpretation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a deterministic story of the “survival of the fittest” in both the physiological and social sense.
The visual choreography of Wright’s Pride & Prejudice presents the viewer with a panorama of integrated and ironically competing motifs that underscore the symbolic parallelism between biological and social survivability. For example, in the opening scene, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet appears not only as a child of nature in a Romantic love story but also as the “dominant female” among the young women competing for marital and socioeconomic survival. Her dark, chocolate-brown hair and dark eyes connote strength, by contrast with the light-haired, light-eyed Jane Bennet. The camera emphasizes Elizabeth’s large eyes and thick brows, pouty lips and white teeth. Whereas Jane has a softer, more curvy physique and wears pale colors, Elizabeth has a tight, athletic build and wears mostly deep, rich colors.1 In the opening scene, Elizabeth wears a dark brown dress, which reinforces her affinity with the earth and with her father, who wears a vest of the same color; she is the strongest and most intelligent of his offspring (the other women in the family mostly wear light-colored clothes). At the first ball, she wears a similarly earthy forest-green dress. On walks, at dances, and throughout the film, she strides with emphatic step and taut energy as if she could spring into a leap or sprint at any moment. Our heroine, however, also appears to possess the self-control to direct her organic vitality with the same deliberateness with which she makes relational decisions.
At the beginning of the film, we follow the protagonist on her energetic walk home as a literate but natural creature (reading a book, but closing it as she engages with her surroundings) in harmony with the sunbeams, insect at her shoulder, cattle, geese and tall trees—all living things that reflect varying degrees of order.2 The Bennets’ domesticity imposes some structure on these elements while respecting their natures—the cattle walk and the ducks swim in single-file and the trees stand in an evenly spaced row—suggesting that a healthy society should do the same with human beings. A laborer scatters feed to the geese, not unlike Mr. Bennet’s role as provider for his five daughters.3 The camera pulls back to a wide-angle shot of the house as framed by two large trees, with a straight, cross-shaped dirt path leading toward the house and in either direction to its sides. This image suggests that the Bennets inhabit their landscape as a part of cultivated nature; they are civilized Christians who have farmed their wildness into ordered productivity.
Just as the Bennet farm maintains some cultivated wildness, the film suggests that women must do the same in order to prosper. The frequent correlation of female characters with birds visually demarcates the nature of their repression or self-expression and corresponding level of fitness. The camera frames Lady Catherine and Anne as caged birds who are too repressed to realize their potential. When Elizabeth visits Rosings, she peers into a cage at a nonsensically chortling parrot, and then Lady Catherine (with stiffly up-swept hair like a well-groomed parrot) squawks about her hypothetical musical ability and commands Elizabeth to the piano with the support of Mr. Collins; she then prattles while Elizabeth plays.4 Charlotte represents a parrot-in-training; she wears an absurd outcrop of feathers atop her head that flutter impotently as she joins Lady Catherine in the drawing room. As Charlotte’s pregnancy is cut from the film, one might suggest that Charlotte and Anne de Bourgh are depicted as infertile women, so rendered by their hyper-circumscription. Elizabeth rejects the caged-bird life of the elegant but immobile de Bourghs.5
While Lady Catherine, Charlotte and Anne are associated with resignedly caged birds, Caroline Bingley, Kitty, and Lydia behave like flashy birds striving to draw a mate. Each has been released from its cage to strut about the room; each hopes to make its escape with a mate’s help. Caroline primps and parades herself in enclosed interior spaces, with her bright-red hair carefully coifed, her breasts puffed up like a bird’s, and her elegant gowns displayed like plumage. She tips her head superciliously this way and that, not unlike a smug but ultimately imprisoned parrot. Miss Bingley’s red hair suggests her ambiguous position in the natural selection process; she is neither a powerful brunette like Elizabeth nor a vulnerable blonde like Jane Bennet (who almost loses her mate), but she (like Georgiana Darcy, another character circumscribed in interiors) is single at the novel’s end. Characters such as Anne and Lydia clearly exemplify that women, like birds, can be too controlled or too wild for their own good.
Mrs. Bennet and all of her daughters are geese to some degree. Domesticated geese are more expressive, physically mobile, pack-oriented and potentially aggressive than parrots; they also connote an earthier, more agrarian naturalism than the stylized artificiality of the posing parrot. Clusters of geese are frequently shown roaming about near the Bennet house, and in a clearly comparative scene when Elizabeth has refused Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet goes shrilly shouting after her while the geese simultaneously chase after each other, screeching along with Mrs. Bennet.6 Mrs. Bennet is witless and reactionary, but she conveys more life than the caged-bird women. Lady Catherine should be glad that she has failed to prevent Elizabeth from joining her family tree, as the bloodline of one branch will continue despite her immediate family’s relative barrenness (she birthed one, sickly child unlikely to produce progeny). Though moving with greater elegance and in her own direction, the fledgling Elizabeth often mimics her mother goose, holding her arms with the elbows bent back like wings, moving swiftly along the ground in a near-run. She twirls and blows on a self-referentially white feather (likely a goose feather) while dressed in white and preparing for the Netherfield ball, as if in anticipation of her launch into self-realization and her adult role in society. As she grows in strength and self-knowledge, Elizabeth becomes a powerful bird ready to take flight as she stands atop a cliff with her cape flowing out behind her like extended wings. The passionate piano music swells and cascades downward, swells and cascades like the alternate rising and descending of a bird in perfect flight.
Whereas fowl function as a distinctly female-identified motif, swine serve as a male-identified motif. Elizabeth’s familial models of manhood in the story do not represent her ultimate choice of a mate. The entitled pig who swaggers through the household seems to represent Mr. Bennet himself; the camera emphasizes the pig’s large, swinging genitalia and then cuts to Mrs. Bennet’s coy, knowing smile as she looks downward at it. The casting, hair and makeup portray a significant age difference between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet; he chose his wife for her physical attractiveness, and he and she proved to be excellent breeders. She bore him five children, and she and all five of them survived. Although Mr. Bennet made a sound selection of wife from a purely physiological perspective, however, his choice was socially and emotionally unwise; Austen’s critique goes further by suggesting that his choice of lust over esteem reflects his moral weakness. He cannot relate to or experience real intimacy with Mrs. Bennet because they realize no deeper connection than that of the body. Indeed, in the film, she seems more like his ruddy-faced housekeeper than the once beautiful gentlewoman who had enchanted him into matrimony in his youth. The only moment in which they seem happy as a couple is appropriately in the bedroom, as the camera sweeps by near the end.
By contrast to the virile, well-supplied Mr. Bennet, Mr. Collins seems destined to be no more than a second-rate stud. In the scene of his proposal to Elizabeth at breakfast, a giant ham sits imposingly on the table before Elizabeth as she contemplates with horror a life with Mr. Collins. She refuses to assume the role of a consumable herself and won’t touch the ham. Mr. Collins is the cured ham, a curate (“cure-ate”), dried-up, treated and preserved (Jones). Out of pride and desperation, he settles for Charlotte as his mate and she settles for him; both are portrayed as physically short and ugly, dull in spirits and lacking in youthfulness. They will not be nearly as successful as breeders, compared to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Charlotte and Mr. Collins are neither physically attracted nor psychically bonded and are therefore lower on the evolutionary scale as underscored by their short stature (“his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary” ).
Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth and Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy, on the other hand, are each other’s ideal physical counterpoint, a reflection, ultimately, of their personal, moral and social compatibility. They both have thick, dark hair and chunky bangs, almost mirroring each other in several scenes; they both mostly wear dark colors; and they both walk with a similarly emphatic stride of purposeful, confident vitality. They both belong in a landscape teeming with life and expressive weather. Elizabeth is the thriving tree crowning the open landscape with its lone independence as she hikes toward Netherfield; the tree is slightly groomed, as if to emblematize her identity as a virtuous and ultimately decorous woman who nonetheless insists on asserting her wild, autonomous will. She hikes around and muddies her petticoat, spins in her swing through rain and drip-dry, runs in the rain without concern for her dress. She dominates the weather and expresses herself through it rather than being controlled by it. Darcy comes to her through the rain to make his first declaration outdoors under a dramatic architectural shelter (in contrast to the indoor proposal in the novel). The couple’s bodies, faces and hair are dripping wet with fertility; after their angry exchange, their pouting lips yearn for each other despite their words of criticism and rejection. A pull beyond their rational natures compels but cannot overwhelm them.
As the couple’s relationship intensifies, a cat-and-mouse conquest of sorts ensues, accentuating the correlation between their corporeal and social dynamics. During Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley with the Gardiners, she spies on Darcy reuniting with his sister, and then attempts to run away once he discovers her. He chases after her and catches up with unrealistic quickness; after their awkward explanations, she rejects his offer to escort her back to the inn and then softens her rejection by adding that she’s “very fond of walking.” “Yes, . . . yes, I know,” he responds earnestly, resonating with and respecting her passion for movement in nature. After she says goodbye and moves swiftly away from him, the camera zooms to a close-up of his tense hand flexing and releasing (a repetition of an earlier close-up as Elizabeth leaves Netherfield) as if to channel the pent-up sexual energy of their mutual attraction. They both arrive at the pub with impossible speed; he anticipates her and introduces himself to the Gardiners while she leaps into hiding behind a drapery. These scenes vary from the novel in language, setting and plot elements, but they offer interpretive insight into the kinship of characters who share a vibrancy of personality and physique. Moreover, Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s attraction and withdrawal, running and chasing, negotiation of equal dominance and submission is a mating ritual. Its closure is fittingly represented in their walk toward each other through the fog in the dawn of their engagement. They are a pair of spirited, well-matched horses who walk, run, chase and toss their heads before settling in to nuzzle, thereby signifying their transition from the role of individual survivors to that of procreators.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s negotiation of physical desire and simultaneous social and moral restraint—as manifested by their “almost kiss” in the rain—represents their ability to place relational ties above animal drives. Other characters’ weaknesses and associations underscore the transcendent dynamism of this central relationship as well as the importance of human pedigree, suggesting that social considerations must take precedence over purely biological ones. For example, Lydia and Wickham put their physical lusts before all other considerations, and ironically, their survival is compromised as a result. They convey no chemistry in the film, and the novel likewise alludes to habitual separations between them that would lessen their reproductive potential. Neither character is distinctly associated with animal imagery. Although Lydia exhibits more physical development than Elizabeth, and even though both she and Wickham display sexual energy, because they choose a purely animal relationship, they are placed below animals in the symbolic hierarchy, suggesting that their union will not ultimately thrive in society. Wickham’s lasciviousness, for instance, violates his own self-interest, despite his efforts to win over the Bennet family. Mr. Bennet sees through him, remarking sarcastically, “‘He . . . makes love to us all’” (330), as if to parody Wickham’s inability to resist the Darwinian instinct to spread his seed.7 While even Mr. Collins gains entry into the animal kingdom as a ham (and dried ham at least has table value as a consumable, suggesting that he and Charlotte will produce something worthy of marginal social recognition8), whatever Lydia and Wickham breed will be worthless as generated by inferior stock. They don’t count in the stud book. Perhaps Wick-ham is also a ham, but one not worthy even to be consumed—he cannot be cured (Jones).
Elizabeth and Darcy will thrive physically, socially, economically and emotionally. Not everyone gets into the genteel studbook of the social elites. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship was built on lust, but because the couple procreated within the legitimacy of marriage, they were physically prosperous as progenitors of “little pigs.” By contrast, Jane and Bingley’s relationship emanates from a decorous mutual esteem; their dependence on the intervention of Elizabeth and Darcy (the more dynamic characters) reinforces the precarious state of their relationship until they are married. Their vulnerability is reflected in the paler colors of Jane and Bingley’s skin and hair. The bumbling Bingley declares to Jane that “I have been the most unmitigated and comprehensive ass”; an ass is considered physically smaller and mentally inferior compared to a horse; an ass must be led.9 Jane and Bingley lack the zest and self-assertion to pursue their desires themselves, suggesting the tenuousness of their physical and emotional bond. Their combined social status and principled (albeit muted) attraction, however, bode fairly well for a prosperous married life. In Stubbs’ eighteenth-century paintings of the upper classes with their championship pigs and horses, all have strict pedigrees (Jones).
Above all, the Focus Features film emphasizes the critical importance of physical health and passion to the thriving of couples and their offspring. The caged birds (the de Bourghs) are unfulfilled, and the caged bird-trainee and cured ham (Charlotte and Mr. Collins) are likely to produce little. Elizabeth is the offspring of a robust goose and pig, both whole, living creatures able to pursue their desires. Mrs. Bennet appears as an assertive part of an earthy landscape, unnecessarily vulgar but not insanely silly as she is frequently portrayed. One of the last scenes suggests some harmony between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as the camera pans the household and gives us a glimpse of the couple talking with amused affection in their bed; they look pleased with each other and discuss Jane and Bingley’s anticipated happiness and affluence with satisfaction. The novel does not convey such an optimistic view of the Bennet marriage; however, from a Darwinian perspective, they have done well in the “survival of the fittest.” As the film’s Mr. Bennet and the novel’s narrator point out, the parents get Lydia married off with little expense or inconvenience to themselves; in addition, their two eldest daughters marry healthy, wealthy men. (The film’s Mrs. Bennet is given the opportunity to defend her role directly to Elizabeth as the right to seek the survival of her five female progeny.) By contrast, Jane and Bingley are circumspectly “in love” and lack the drive of physical passion; they entirely depend upon a stronger woman and man for their relationship’s realization. Clearly, the relationship that will be most prosperous—in the novel and the film—is that between Elizabeth and Darcy.
To what degree would Jane Austen affirm this deterministic interpretation of her best-loved novel? She certainly valued the importance of physical health and attraction for a couple’s prosperity and particularly for a woman’s well-being, according to her novels and letters. Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Catherine Morland, and Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are all portrayed as robust; Fanny Price and Anne Elliot gain in strength as their love gains its object. Moreover, Austen portrayed women’s health as an essential good in itself, not specifically for reproductive convenience but for their own thriving; she objected to women being exploited as breeding animals. Austen bemoans a woman’s repeated pregnancy in her letters, referring with compassionate sarcasm to the “poor Woman! how can she be honestly breeding again?” (1 October 1808), and remarks of other pregnant acquaintances, “Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty.—I am very sorry for her.—Mrs Clement too is in that way again. I am quite tired of so many Children” (23 March 1817). For a couple that has just had their eighteenth child, she prescribes “the simple regimen of separate rooms” (21 February 1817). Austen knew a number of women who died in childbirth, and she clearly believed that a woman’s wellness and potentially, her life itself, should not be sacrificed to breeding.
The novels reinforce this conviction of a woman’s inherent value irrespective of her reproductive potential. Few families with numerous children are portrayed, and in most cases, there are “superfluous” children who suggest that the family merit has been diluted in their production. Catherine Morland is herself a bit diluted intellectually, and only one of her numerous siblings, James, is singled out for a minor role in a subplot. Similarly, in Mansfield Park, Fanny has only one brother and one sister who receive particularized narrative attention, and neither proves intriguing. Dick Musgrove needed to die off for everyone’s convenience, and so on. In Pride and Prejudice, the quantity of five daughters is more than once characterized as burdensome, and only Elizabeth and Jane show merit. The Gardiners appear significant only in scenes in which they exist apart from their children, either as a couple or as individuals. Although an aristocratic elegance seems implied by the birthing of few offspring (two Darcy children, one de Bourgh child, two Woodhouse daughters), and although some of those aristocrats can also be portrayed as superfluous (such as three of the four Bertram children—disappointing “bad kids” who serve as foils to Fanny), nonetheless a genetic precariousness invites the infiltration of bourgeois strength into such families via dynamic characters like the genteel athlete, Elizabeth Bennet, and the hardy sailor, Captain Wentworth. Keira Knightley’s strong but slender Elizabeth, like her novelistic counterpart, would likely produce no more than three children, all of whom would prosper worthily.
In addition to preserving their autonomous physical wellness through limited procreation, Austen heroines must also choose men who will provide socioeconomic status and security as worthy of the studbooks as their physical potency. These women must “know their place” and preserve it; thus, Aunt Gardiner steers Elizabeth away from Wickham, and Mr. Knightley inculcates Emma with a proper appreciation for class distinctions that enables her to release Harriet to Robert Martin and embrace Mr. Knightley for herself. In Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth’s spontaneous laugh at her first sight of Pemberley in the film is apropos and resonates with her quip in the novel that her love for Darcy originated “from [her] first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley” (373).
Although Austen and the film she inspired share a vision of the male and female protagonists’ bio-social fitness, the most significant distinction between the novel Pride and Prejudice and the film version is that the novel manifests a much stronger moral center which emanates from its underlying Christian rather than Darwinian worldview. Austen’s most principled characters are the ones who are portrayed as “fittest” in the largest sense; virtue is rewarded and vice punished in tangible ways that show the interconnectedness of moral with physiological, social and personal fulfillment. The novelist promulgates a balanced view that couples should possess both physical chemistry and moral sensibility. The devout Anglican seems to speak through Elizabeth’s thoughts when she ponders Lydia and Wickham’s relationship: “how little of permanent happiness could belong to a couple who were only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue, she could easily conjecture” (312). Wright’s interpretation, however, diminishes the moral sensibility that the novel locates in Elizabeth. Whereas the novel’s Elizabeth is a dutiful daughter who struggles to act with patient forbearance toward her mother and never speaks disrespectfully to her, the film’s Elizabeth speaks with open disrespect toward her on several occasions. This sassy interpretation of her was a serious error. It nullifies Darcy’s exemption of Elizabeth and Jane from his scathing critique of the Bennet family’s impropriety, and it undermines their supposed superiority of character by rendering Elizabeth as abusive toward her mother as her father is (perhaps worse, since her remarks seem more bitingly sarcastic in their delivery than her father’s more gentle gibing). Similarly, Elizabeth’s inciting of Jane to “Smile, smile at Mr. Bingley, smile” in the film aligns her with Charlotte’s deterministic focus on getting a man, thus contradicting Elizabeth’s defense of Jane’s self-respecting modesty in both novel and film.
Austen wants more for her heroines than bodily pleasure, hardy offspring and social significance. She wants them to thrive in every sense, to obtain emotional balance, intimacy and mutuality of companionship, spiritual depth and commitment to a life of faith in action. Perhaps the reason the novel is more “light & bright & sparkling” than the film (to borrow from Austen’s humorously self-critical description), aside from its much more musical language of literary genius (which the film occasionally butchers) is simply that the novel portrays such an idealistic goal as attainable for her “fittest” characters.10 Pride and Prejudice, like Austen’s other novels, presents its heroine as “fittest” by virtue of her Christian virtues; the heroine’s physical, emotional and even economic prosperity all correlate with her redemptive qualities. I like the film—it is visually and musically soulful. Nonetheless, a heroine who openly insults her mother and urges her sister to catch a man’s attention is not a true Austen heroine, not the “fittest.”11
Despite the critical distinction between the Christian vision of the 1813 novel and the Darwinian vision of the 2005 Focus Features film, both works portray the supposedly “fittest” characters (by differing definitions) as closely affiliated and logically united by the end. More significantly, both novel and film portray Elizabeth Bennet as the exception in getting the man who has it all (looks, wealth, strong principles and devotion to making a companionate life with the woman he loves). Only Jane comes anywhere close, and Bingley is dearly bought and nearly lost by his own weak malleability as an “ass.” The vast majority of female characters do not fare nearly so well. In this respect, the film captures a significant insight into the social world Austen portrays. The farmy visual association between domesticity and mud, weather, labor and an offending male pig who swings his parts with self-importance reflects the film’s suggestion that the Bennets and all of the characters are part of a patriarchal social landscape.
In this geography, all human beings are of the soil, bound to earth and part of a natural order, but there is also a hierarchy of strong and weak and an overarching pattern of male entitlement. The caged-bird Charlotte makes the practical choice of Collins and justifies herself to Elizabeth on the grounds that she has “no money and no prospects” and is “frightened” (a more extreme scenario than the novel’s narrator implies); she also avers that he will provide her with “a comfortable home and protection,” thus ensuring her survival. She declares to Elizabeth, “Don’t you dare judge me,” asserting that self-preservation is a justifiable motivation in the highly competitive marriage marketplace in which women have few and mostly unpleasant options for their means of subsistence. Charlotte chooses security without passion, in contrast to Lydia, who chooses passion without security; neither relationship will thrive and both are presented as divergently tragic.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s marital bliss at the film’s end (for the American audience) is appropriately staged on an outdoor deck where the characters sit together overlooking a beautiful landscape; they will succeed because they bridge the physical realm of passion and the social realm of decorum. The cheesy repetition of “Mrs. Darcy” followed by kisses is significant for its emphasis on the strongest female character’s social role as a wife, one who will propagate the Darcy pedigree. This ending, however, also manifests the emotional support, affirmation, affection and happiness the heroine has gained through her choice of mate. The film’s approach offers an effective cinematic representation of society’s pressures on women: their vulnerability, circumscription and precarious competition in the marriage market for mostly marginal prizes. It presents us with an effective critique of a deeply deterministic social jungle. Austen seems to want her deserving women and men to prosper in that jungle by being happy as well as healthy, wealthy and wise. Director Joe Wright remarks, Pride & Prejudice “is my first film with a happy ending. Before, I naively thought they were a cop-out, but now I've come to believe that happy endings and wish fulfillment are an incredibly important part of our cultural life” (Hoggard). Yet Elizabeth attains that happiness only by pursuing it with tenacious effort, like her mother, like a running goose. In her own way, she assertively goes after the man she wants, daring him to love and pursue her with passionate integrity. That the extremes of passion and self-repression are both dangerous models of survival and that couples need both attraction and principled action within a socially acceptable sphere are not disputed. But the film does suggest that in Austen’s era, even and especially a woman might have had to “become a pig” in order to achieve proprietorship over her space, relationships and ultimate destiny. To flourish physically, socially and psychologically, she had to revel in the soil and strategize like a competing animal without fully becoming one.
1. Exceptions to this habit include the white gown she wears at the Netherfield ball, where she looks for Wickham; her dress and the flowers in her hair connote the bride-to-be (she seeks the wrong partner at first, but then engages in a mesmeric dance with Darcy as if the two are alone in the world). Similarly, the striped, white dress she sports when visiting Pemberley foreshadows her domestic life there.
2. The motif of light and darkness is an intriguing one in the film; the preponderance of dusky twilit scenes functions metaphorically to portray characters’ dearth of enlightenment, to underscore a character’s manipulativeness, or to foreshadow bad news. Mr. Bennet lacks the wisdom and insight on which he prides himself, as suggested by the ironic shadowy semi-darkness of his library at Longbourn. In contrast to the Bennet, Collins and de Bourgh households, Darcy’s house is lighter and more airy, filled with white statues and other uplifting art and décor. The gradual introduction of light, increasing throughout the film, parallels Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s growing enlightenment about themselves, each other, and the depth of their love. Even Mr. Bennet’s library grows brighter after Darcy solicits his paternal blessing on their union. Light imagery reinforces the deterministic journey to the thriving bio-social alliance of the two protagonists. Despite the prevalence of darkness, the film begins and ends in sunrise, as if to emphasize the rising to full growth of Elizabeth as an individual and ultimately, as a mate and dominant procreator of a naturally selected species of Darcys.
3. He is also depicted as a plant-lover, carrying an orchid early in the film and shown caring for plants, implying his displaced desire to be an effective care-giver and to cultivate something into the beauty of its full potential (as he has failed to do with his daughters). In a related pattern, Mr. Collins carries a small flower at the ball as he searches for Elizabeth; he later presents her with another small flower in his unsuccessful marriage proposal; she refuses to receive both the flower and his proposal. Mr. Collins seems vulnerable and isolated like the offering he bears, unlikely to put down deep roots.
4. This portrayal suggests a literary allusion to the repetitive, babbling parrot in Chopin’s The Awakening.
5. This scene also clearly evokes Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, in which the heroine’s aunt:
A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage,
Accounting that to leap from perch to perch
Was act and joy enough for any bird.
Dear heaven, how silly are the things that live
In thickets, and eat berries!
A wild bird scarcely fledged, was brought to her cage,
And she was there to meet me. Very kind. (1.304-11)
6. Lydia also screeches in several scenes; the fact that Elizabeth is of the same species as Mrs. Bennet and Lydia implies the precariousness of female liberation: one must possess a strong sense of both self and self-control.
7. Thanks to the students in my honors class, “The World of Despair and Hope,” at Palm Beach Atlantic University, who shared their reactions to the film with me, some of which I have incorporated. This point was contributed by Lindsey Yoder.
8. Dr. Susan Jones’ idea. She also referred me to the following information: “According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ‘To eat Dunmow bacon’ meant ‘to live in conjugal unity,’ without even wishing the marriage knot to be less firmly tied. The allusion is to a custom said to have been instituted by Juga, a noble lady, in 1111, and restored by Robert de Fitzwalter in 1244. It was that any person going to Dunmow, in Essex, and humbly kneeling on two sharp stones at the church door, might claim a gammon of bacon if he could swear that for twelve months and a day he had never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried. Between 1244 and 1772 eight claimants were awarded the flitch” (365-66).
9. Bingley’s confident assertion that he is an ass evokes Shakespeare’s Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing.
10. This description comes from a letter to Cassandra, in which Austen offers a satirical commentary on Pride and Prejudice in a tone of parodic self-deprecation: “The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling; —it wants shade; —it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter—of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense—about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte—or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile.—I doubt your quite agreeing with me here—I know your starched Notions” (4 February 1813).
11. Austen’s novels were all published before the advent of the theories of Victorians Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin, but the Focus Features film was clearly influenced by Spencer’s conception of social determinism and his belief that the social world, like the biological world, acted according to evolutionary principles (he coined the term “survival of the fittest”). Spencer’s materialist framework would reject the relevance of Christian virtue to human beings’ survivability. Though Austen’s epistolary comments comically advocate abstinence, the hint of Malthusianism in her remarks is directed at the gentry, not the poor, and is motivated by concern for women. It is intriguing that despite the differences between Austen’s Christian vision and the film’s Darwinian vision, the two narrative perspectives merge in their shared feminist social critique.
Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1995.
_____. The Novels of Jane Austen. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1933-66.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. Oxford: OUP, 1993.
Evans, Ivor, ed. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Centenary Edition, Revised. NY: Harper, 1981.
Hoggard, Liz. “Meet the Puppet Master.” The Observer 11 Sept. 2005. 15 May 2007 http://film.guardian.co.uk/interview/interviewpages/0,,1567158,00.html
Jones, Susan. Personal interview. 28 Feb. 2007.
Pride & Prejudice. Dir. Joe Wright. With Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen. DVD. Focus Features, 2005.