Top 10 Goofs in Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Top 10 Goofs in Pride and Prejudice (1940)

It’s official. Due to popular demand, the “Top 10 Goofs” and “Trivia Challenge” posts will be an ongoing series. The first two films I covered in this series were the 1995 and 2005 adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I’ll do several more before shifting gears to other Austen novels.

When I decided to focus on the Pride and Prejudice 1940 adaptation with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier for this round, I confess that I expected the research to prove annoying. I have always struggled to get past the 1830s costumes in a Napoleonic era society. I struggled with the ages of the actors, the style of the acting and drastic changes in the plot. I began the research phase of this post looking only to find fault. After repeated viewings, however, I gained an appreciation for the unique charms of this adaptation. I like this film more now than I did when I set out to document its flaws.

In selecting the goofs, I eliminated intentional production decisions, such as the Victorian costumes, due to their being a conscious choice, while including similar observations that seem likely to be the product of oversight or inadequate research. A few items that I initially planned on citing as goofs were ultimately slated as “trivia,” and will be included in my next post. So here we go – the top ten goofs as I rated them.

10. Caroline’s secret correspondent. As far as we know, Caroline Bingley never bonded with anyone in Meryton beyond Jane Bennet, yet she receives a letter in London from an unnamed person specifically giving her all the gossip on the Bennet family’s disgrace. I have difficulty suspending my disbelief sufficient to allow her a single friend in Meryton.

9. Dance like it’s 1854. Wickham has asked Elizabeth to dance the next and they are chatting while waiting for the current dance to conclude. When the music begins, he turns and exclaims, “Ah, Polka Mazurka.” The composer of that title, Johann Strauss II, wasn’t born until 1825 and he didn’t compose it until 1854. Oops.

8. The ultimate Americanism. Traffic in the film flows on the right. In England, they drive and ride on the left side of the road, and have since Roman times. This way, if oncoming traffic was hostile, the sword arm was positioned on the right for defensive purposes. Considering that so many of the leads in the film were British, it’s astonishing that this detail was missed.

7. Mr. Bennet’s pipe. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters are arriving at Longbourn from Meryton, Mr. Bennet sees them coming and puts away his pipe. Seconds later, when Mrs. Bennet walks into his study, he’s smoking it again in a classic continuity mistake. 

6.)  That’s “Miss Bennet” to you, sir. In declaring which of the Bennet daughters he wishes to wed, Mr. Collins first selects “Miss Jane.” As the eldest unmarried daughter, she is correctly referred to as “Miss Bennet.”

5.) No minor goof. In the confrontation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth, Lady C claims to be the trustee of her sister’s estate, able to “strip Mr. Darcy of every shilling he has.” Elizabeth Bennet would have never been fooled by such a blatant falsehood since women’s property was forfeited to their husband on marriage and Darcy was of age and his father’s legitimate heir. His maternal aunt would never have been named a trustee of his father’s fortune in that world.

4.) When the last dance isn’t the last dance. The rules of etiquette and propriety of the Regency era were clearly defined and taught to the upper classes from childhood. It is inherent to Elizabeth’s character that she understands and complies with those expectations. If a woman declines to dance when asked, it is considered a declaration of her ineligibility to dance with other partners for the rest of the evening. In this scene, Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy and immediately accepts a dance with Wickham and doesn’t even blush. Austen’s Elizabeth would never behave so scandalously.

3.) The Reel heel. Elizabeth isn’t the only one gifted at the art of insult in this adaptation. When Bingley invites the neighborhood for a garden party and ball at Netherfield, Darcy is attentive to Elizabeth and requests to begin their acquaintance anew. When Jane and Bingley come upon them, they beckon the couple indoors for a Highland Reel, Darcy holds out his arm to Elizabeth and invites, “Shall we?” On their way, he overhears Mrs. Bennet boasting about Jane and Bingley and they encounter silly Lydia, drunk Kitty and the ever-present contingent of officers. At this point, he makes it clear that he’s only offering to escort Elizabeth into the room where there are plenty of men who will be happy to dance with her. The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” occurs when Collins shows up singing his ode to Lady Catherine and Darcy walks away without a word, or even a bow, leaving Elizabeth feeling the sting of his rejection so soon after his overture to make a fresh start. This degree of rudeness is excessive and completely out of character for Austen’s Mr. Darcy.

2.) Hide and Seek: Since we’re talking about out of character Darcy moments, one of the defining virtues of his character is that of being a scrupulously honest man, famously saying, “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.” In another scene at Bingley’s garden party, Mr. Collins is trying to catch up with Elizabeth, who is doing her best to avoid him. Darcy, observing the chase, begins to follow Elizabeth. Collins asks him if he has seen Elizabeth. Darcy, looking over Collins’ shoulder directly at Elizabeth–who is shaking her head–replies that no, he hasn’t seen her and misdirects him towards the lake. Is Darcy telling a lie a goof? I think so, as it undermines his excuse for being so forthright during his disastrous first proposal, and what we know of his character. What do you think?

1.) The envelope, please. This goof is difficult to believe it happened at all, considering that three decades will pass before the invention of gummed envelopes in 1845. But here we see Mrs. Bennet gleefully steaming an envelope that she believes contains a proposal to Jane from Mr. Bingley.

I’m curious as to how many of our readers have seen this film, general impressions you may have of it, and how many of the goofs you noticed. If you haven’t seen it but would like to, it costs $2.99 USD on YouTube or Amazon Prime to stream it. It may be available on other platforms as well. As always, if there is a goof I didn’t include, please mention it in the comments and expand the list.

My next post will be the Trivia Challenge for this adaptation. You’re going to LOVE it!


33 Responses to Top 10 Goofs in Pride and Prejudice (1940)

  1. At the garden party when Mr Darcy encounters Mr Collins, he does not lie about seeing Miss Bennet because the actual question was “has Miss Bennet passed with way” Mr Darcy replies “No she has not” which is true, as she is hiding behind a bush, behind Mr Collins, who us facing Mr Darcy as he asks the question, clearly facing the direction behind Mr Darcy’s back. I loved this scene, because of the clever way he answered with out lying. Mr Collins did not ask him if he had seen Miss Bennet, only if she had passed this wsy.

  2. #5. Whatever in Elizabeth’s behavior gave you the impression that she was fooled by Lady Catherine’s statement? It is totally in her movie’s character that she simply refuses to stoop down to make any comment towards such falsehoods.

    • You are absolutely correct regarding Elizabeth’s character, and I love that you questioned its inclusion in this list. The reason I included it as a goof is that it isn’t merely an implausible lie that Austen did not include in the plot. Based on the primogeniture laws of that day it would be an impossibility for a maternal aunt to be the trustee of the Darcy heir who was of legal age when his father passed away. It is a historical inaccuracy that no screenwriter would have included if they had even bothered a cursory check of the inheritance laws of the era the film is supposed to represent.

  3. First Austen based movie I ever saw. Knew nothing of the story– didn’t even know there was a book and knew nothing of the author. It is a pretty movie with great actors. It isn’t Austen but few , if any of the movies are Austen. Even the ones that say they show her life aren’t really about her.
    I haven’t seen this movie in ages. An issue of JASNA’s journal Persuasions back in the 1990’s had a short filler piece about this movie. According to that, the studio had the costumes on hand for something like Gone with the Wind and used them to save money . Besides, the director liked the look of Mrs. Bennet sailing down the street with her five daughters coming behind her like a flotilla of sail or ducklings.

    • Thanks for your comments. I’ll be posting the trivia list on Monday and will actually be touching on a few of these points. You have an excellent memory!

  4. The 1940 was loaded with goofs which many I was aware of, and perhaps several more. BUT … this film was my first intro to Jane Austen and it will forever hold a special place. I loved the music and one of the opening scenes at the Assembly Ball where Miss Bingley talks about the waltz is one of my favorites because they are playing Drink to me Only with thine eyes which is one of my favorites from that era. Thanks for featuring this version. PS I hope you have started on book 3. I can’t wait to read the next installment.

    • LOL – it’s one of my favorites too. I found myself singing along to the music when it was being played. It’s a song with a fascinating history along with a sweet melody and ultra-romantic lyrics. As for book 3, yes, I’m working on it, although the summer months are never my most productive when it comes to writing. I should be digging into it again now that the nights are cool.

    • Oh… I forgot… did you notice when Mr. Bennet introduced his daughters to Mr. Collins he called them out of order. Also when they went in to dinner… they went in… again, out of order. In canon Lydia chided Jane that she would go lower now that Lydia was a married woman.

  5. I’ve seen this film twice, once quite recently. I picked up on one or two of the ones you picked out. I hated it the first time I saw it a long time ago. This time I watched it as a standalone film than as anything to do with P&P. and I enjoyed it much more. Great post.

  6. I have this version on DVD and never really looked for goofs: knowing how the actors were too old and the costumes all wrong and the script changed to begin with! I would not watch just to count mistakes but find your list interesting.

    • I hear echoes of my own opinion in what you say, Sheila. Had it not been for writing this post, I would never have done so either. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. I’m so happy that you have decided to make this an ongoing series as I really enjoy them. This was the very first adaptation of P&P that I ever watched. I remember loving how all the Bennet sisters were paired up by the end and being surprised that wasn’t the case in the novel. It’s surprising how many goofs I never noticed but now that you point them out, many seem so obvious.

    • If I had watched it a 20 years ago, I would have missed many of the goofs that popped out at me. I also remembered from my childhood viewing that all the sisters had found someone and was likewise surprised when I read P&P the first time. Thanks for commenting!

  8. There were several decades between my first viewing of the 1940 version and when I saw it about four months ago. Didn’t catch the goofs, enjoyed it but with reservations knowing that it wasn’t accurate. I’ll have to watch it again with an eagle eye this time for further goofs. Thank you for a fun post, Diana. 🙂

    • I found that several viewings close together was an interesting experience. Things that I didn’t notice on the first round popped out on subsequent views. There are certainly more goofs if you’re looking for them. I had a list of about 20 that I pruned down.

  9. I’ve seen this version a couple times (it plays fairly often on TCM) and I agree it has grown on me over the years. Still, I’d never consider it an adaptation of Austen’s treasured novel. P&P may have inspired the movie, but it veers too far off the original story in so many directions! (A carriage race? Really?!?) My biggest beef is Olivier’s portrayal of Darcy; he captured none of the aspects of Darcy’s character that make him a romantic and heroic lead. Looking forward to your trivia challenge, Diana!

    • LOL – that ridiculous carriage race was on my short list of goofs for this post but was cut in the end. It’s an interesting argument that they changed the story and characters so much that nothing but the bones remain to qualify it as an adaptation.

  10. That was great, Diana! I love, “Dance like it’s 1854.” That’s funny. I do think making Darcy outright lie to someone like that is a goof. I can’t believe they didn’t notice the driving on the other side of the road thing. Maybe they did and decided to ignore it? I have seen that film. In my opinion, it’s a good adaptation until about 60% of the way through. Then, they speed up the story and hurry the ending. I think that about most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice that I’ve seen, though. Also, what did you think of those dresses?

    • Awesome post! As an added benefit, people who read your post may well do better on the upcoming Trivia Challenge than those who don’t. Thanks for sharing this, Regina.

  11. I’ve only seen this version once and that was enough. The ages of the actors was the first thing to put me off as well as the costumes. But the variations to the original story were the worst part.
    I’m amazed that I actually noticed some of the things you mentioned even in only one viewing. Well done for persevering enough to notice all these Diana.

    • Thank you, Glynis – I see we are of like minds on the things that were off-putting. The first time I saw this was when I was a little girl and it was showing in a “vintage films” theater. I think I fell asleep.

Comments are precious!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.