6 Reasons We Can’t Quit Meddling with Pride and Prejudice

6 Reasons We Can’t Quit Meddling with Pride and Prejudice

Thank you so much to everyone who suggested a title in my last post. I am so thrilled with the amazing response! I’ve got a couple of favorites, and as soon as I’m sure of one, I’ll let you know. 🙂

Emma
She looks devious to me.

Now, as I’m about to release a book and am always writing another one, I’ve got book plots on the brain. I actually love Persuasion as much as Pride and Prejudice, and Emma was the first Austen book I ever read. My grandfather gave me a hardback collector’s edition when I was twelve. Needless to say, he didn’t know what he was starting.

I’ve had readers ask me if I will ever write a variation of another book, and I find myself a bit stumped. I can see variation options in Emma, but I have to admit that my favorite kind of variations, the ones I keep reading over and over again and recommend freely, are the ones that change the plot and/or circumstances, but leave the main characters intact. I don’t care as much if peripheral characters are changed, especially if that is an integral part of the story, but I like D & E to still resemble their canon selves – for the most part. I am fully aware that this is just my opinion, and like E herself, as my view of the world changes, so does my view of the characters, so even that can’t really be counted on for consistency. (As I write this, I realize one of my favorites has a rather different E, but as the alternate universe she lives in is so different, it fit. So you see, I am completely unreliable in my opinions.)

ann elliott
Maybe you wouldn’t be crying if you’d had some backbone, Ann.

 

The problem with Emma is that most of the options I see for variations involve changing her character, which is rather persnickety, and changing Emma herself would be too much of a change for me. In Persuasion, the obvious change plot-wise would undermine the point of the book. Say she doesn’t listen to her family and they get together sooner, and there’s much less angst and worry. If that were the case, where would the story be? Young, wealthy woman marries penniless sailor. Tale as old as time. Compelling, but it’s been done.

 

So that leads me to why I think P & P is the story that gets made over more than any other. It simply has the most opportunity. My reasons for believing this are thus:

E bennet
This is a girl you want to be friends with. You could see yourself being like her. She could play you in a movie. You don’t want to constantly hit her over the head with the nearest heavy object like Mrs. Peacock in the library with a candlestick.

 

 

  1. Elizabeth is a loveable and fun heroine. Fanny Price is dull in comparison, Emma Woodhouse is meddlesome, and Ann Elliot is a bit of a pushover. (Not going into NA or S&S as it’s been too long since I last read them.) Women are the primary audience, and we like to relate to and/or like our heroines.
  2. Rich, handsome man goes after penniless, pretty-but-not-gorgeous woman is a timeless theme. What’s not to love?
  3. Darcy is so little described in the book that there is plenty of room for embellishment, imagination, and, of course, making him suffer. Which means we have the bare bones for a great romantic hero, but there is room to make him what we want. And we do – quite freely.
  4. Large cast. There are plenty of people in the story that can easily be expanded on and changed up, and plenty of places to add additional characters seamlessly that the possibilities are endless.

mrs. bennet5. Everyone can relate to embarrassing family members. The Bennets, Collins, Lady Catherine; we’ve all been there and have cringed while hoping the floor would open up and swallow us whole. Relatability – it’s timeless.

 

6. Coincidences! There are so many of these in the book that we know Austen did it on purpose, but there are also so many that if we fidget with just one, we can drastically alter the story, making it deliciously adaptable and incredibly tempting. Here a just a few.

  • Elizabeth overhearing Darcy’s comment. This changes everything!
  • It raining and Jane getting sick at Netherfield. She could have arrived dry, spent the night in the storm, and gone home the next morning.
  • Elizabeth happens to be present when Darcy and Wickham encounter each other for the first time. Coincidence?
  • Wickham joins the militia (weird) and just happens to be stationed in Meryton where Darcy just happens to be visiting a friend and they just happened to have had a very ugly confrontation that summer.
  • The militia comes at the same time as the Netherfield guests and Mr. Collins. When it rains, it pours.
  • Mr. Bingley has business and goes to town right after the ball. What if he hadn’t had any business in town? Or what if it hadn’t rained the whole week before? Would he have gone before and then been back for the ball and never left Jane?
  • Sir William Lucas stops D & E in the middle of their dance at Netherfield and imparts dangerous information. Not anyone else’s dance, or her dance with someone else. Theirs.
  • Mr. Collins is rector to Darcy’s aunt and they are both visiting the same small town at the same time! What a coincidence!
  • Elizabeth and Darcy are then both visiting the same aunt/cousin in the same place at the same time. Shocker.
  • Col. Fitzwilliam tells her what Darcy did with Bingley and Jane the same day Darcy proposes. Horrid timing. And of course the colonel never thinks she could know the lady abandoned, even though he knows E and D know each other from the time he spent in Hertfordshire with Bingley. E bennet B&W
  • The meeting at Pemberley. This is the most suspect of all, and yet, probably my favorite in the book. Ten minutes either way and they might have missed each other completely!
  • Jane’s letter telling of Lydia’s elopement arrives when it does, not a few days later or earlier, and Darcy happens to (randomly) be visiting her just as E reads said letter. How convenient.

Please don’t think any of this means I enjoy the story any less or that I am mocking it in any way. I assure you, I am not. I love the book and all its idiosyncrasies, and perhaps even more for its happenstances and coincidences.

It is because of these very things, these characters, situations, and opportunities that P & P is the most adapted book of Austen’s novels. At least, that’s my opinion.

What’s yours?

Do you have anything to add to the list? Have I missed a compelling reason or a convenient coincidence? Tell me all about it.

 

21 Responses to 6 Reasons We Can’t Quit Meddling with Pride and Prejudice

  1. I am reading THE PURSUIT OF MARY BENNET, and I like it so far. I DO NOT like how Kitty treats Mary, even though Kitty and Lydia have been parted by the latter’s marriage to Wickham. I had hoped that Kitty would have benefitted by Lydia’s disappearance…but no.

  2. Great post Elizabeth. Yes it is amazing just how many variations there are. I am so grateful to the wonderful authors as I have many books about Darcy and Elizabeth some of which I read and re-read numerous times. I can’t think of any other coincidences alas (this is why I’m a reader and not a writer. ?

  3. Another coincidence is that Mrs. Gardiner was from Lambton, which gave them a reason to even be in the area of Pemberley when they had to shorten their trip. Since she was from the area and still seemed to have friends there, why didn’t she know about Mr. Darcy and Wickham? With all of the coincidences, why didn’t this play into the story? I remember reading someone’s JAFF where Mrs. Gardiner DID know and, of course, it completely changed the course of D&E’s relationship.

    • Yes! I have often wondered about the same thing. If she has family and friends in the area, enough to want to visit, surely Wickham had left a blazing trail of debt and profligacy behind him. Why didn’t she know about it???

    • If you remember in P&P, it says Mrs. G only knew the Darcy family by reputation, had only lived there “some years”, had some acquaintances in common with Wickham, but had only recently learned that some of her acquaintances still lived in Lambton. I believe Austen meant to imply that while Mrs. G had fond memories of her time there, she hadn’t kept up any correspondence. Considering the expense of postage and that it was paid by the recipient, I’d imagine that correspondence was generally limited to close friends and family.

      • Ah, you make a good point. Give them a reason to go to Lambton, but not allow Mrs. G to have enough information to change the story JA wanted to tell.

  4. I will, of course, have to disagree. I am in a very small minority, who sees plots galore in Persuasion. Taking out one seemingly small element in P changes it drastically while leaving the characters intact. Even a ham-handed, she-defies-the-family change opens possibilities that shift Austen’s second chance at happiness theme, give you a broader view of Frederick Wentworth and what his life with Anne might be.

    Coincidence are rife in P as well. Anyone who lives in a small town knows that coincidences are a daily occurances and P is essentially the story of small town life.

    P&P has many authors writing new paths for Lizzie and Darcy. I’ll stick with the relative quiet of the Persuasion hedgerow.

    • I’ve always seen Emma and P&P as more small-town stories and Persuasion almost as a cautionary tale – of several things – over-extending, surrendering your own judgment, trusting the wrong person, vanity. I do love the story. I think it’s Austen’s best work. Maybe that’s why I don’t see as much opportunity in it – it’s perfect as it is. 🙂

      This is likely my limited imagination and I’m sure there are authors who’ve done wonders with it.

  5. I’ve always loved the coincidences as well, but maybe for a different reason than most people. Truth is, many of the important events in my own life can be put down to coincidence, fate or whatever else you might call it. Also, there weren’t nearly as many people in England then as now, and the world of the gentry was vastly smaller even than the population base. So, while there were undoubtedly many coincidences involved, the probability was much, much higher in the Georgian world than it would be in ours. I love your list of reasons to love meddling with P&P, but there is one more reason that I love it above Austen’s other novels. In P&P, we really get to see the growth and change of the protagonists. I love Col. Brandon and Mr. Knightley, but by the time you see them in S&S and Emma, they are already mature men who have been through their trials that molded them into the awesome heroes they are. In P&P, Darcy is a good 7-8 years younger and you get to see hints of his refining time. The same is the case with Elizabeth. She’s lovable and fun, yet very flawed in the beginning, and you get to see her pass through some of the more defining moments in her becoming the person she’s capable of being. Even now, what woman doesn’t change drastically during the ages 19-21 (which E must fall in based on the canon of the book). Love the post!

    • Yes! I love that about it, too. Col Brandon is one of my favorite heroes, but you are right that he is already “complete” when we meet him. Same goes for Knightley. It’s nice to see the defining moment in someone’s life. I was just reading in another story (The Last Man on AHA if you want to read) and she said that she had to be loved into reason. I thought that was great line and is very true for many of us. A major relationship can really change you at that age. I was 21 when I met my own husband, and I can say that it was certainly the case for me. 🙂

  6. I love the coincidences in P&P and agree that there was definite intention there. While I love P&P, it is not my favorite of her novels. S&S has some of those coincidences as well and has lots of room for meddling. The Dashwood’s being at the cottage in time for Willoughby’s annual sojourn, the fact that Lucy Steele just HAPPENS to be the distant cousin of someone at Barton and HAPPENS to be the “fiance” of one of the Dashwood’s beloveds. Out of all of the orphaned wards in England, Willoughby picks Brandon’s and they just HAPPEN to be interested in the same girl (Marianne). There are others but you get my point. LOL I’ve always thought that Brandon should have wound up with Elinor. It wouldn’t be an exciting, dramatic, pairing but it could be a strong (and passionate?) one with great depth of love and feeling on both sides. Of course that doesn’t take care of Marianne or Edward (who absolutely would never fit) but I would think an author who knows what they were doing could tie it up. Emma, of course, is my very favorite, but again I agree with you, it would be difficult to meddle with much.

    • I agree, Stephanie, S&S does have room to meddle. Coincidences are fun to play around with, and it certainly has several. If you think about it too much, it can be hard to believe. But somehow, in the historical “small world” context, it works.

  7. You have a really good list of coincidences…many I did not pick up on. I always wondered how two people [Darcy and Bingley] so different in personality even got together. I suppose we are like that… two halves make the whole. We round out and complete each other in friendships. So their meeting and then becoming friends is my take…that starts the ball rolling. The fact Darcy decided to help him become a gentleman, especially with his connections to trade and the trouble that will be for him as he wades into society was certainly out of character. But then, we had to get Darcy to Hertfordshire in order for him to meet Elizabeth.

    Then, what possessed Bingley to even consider Hertfordshire? And it is amazing he rented without counsel or even examining the house and the land. Yeah, he does need a keeper. Next, they arrived just before the Assembly so Darcy’s path crosses that of Elizabeth. Let’s not forget that Charlotte invited E to Huntsford because they were friends. Had they not been such close friends E certainly wouldn’t have visited Collins at the Parsonage. Something had to get her to Kent at Easter.

    Excellent post, I like seeing the many intersections of events that create the whole picture. I love it. In a lot of movies they depict coincidences…like in the movie You’ve Got Mail they did a montage showing the H&h crossing paths numerous times before they knew each other.

    • I’ve always wondered about Darcy and Bingley’s friendship and how it all started. Maybe I’ll write about that…

      I LOVE ‘You’ve Got Mail’! Such a fun film and I love the concept. Maybe we like all the coincidences in film and literature because we like the idea of fate?

  8. I love this story as well as all the ‘coincidences’.. Can’t think of any others off hand, but as you have said, it does leave it open to do so much to Darcy and Elizabeth and change the story’s direction on the way to an HEA.. Thanks for this

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