Now, before you start reading I have to say I Love, Love, Love Jane Austen, and Pride & Prejudice in particular, but let me tell you a story…..
Just the other day, a male relative and I were discussing our love of reading. You can imagine my horror when he told me, proudly, that he had never read any of Jane Austen’s novels. I told him I loved her writings, especially Pride & Prejudice, and felt inspired by her. So much so I now have my own blog and a new book out, (Mr. Darcy’s Struggle, available on Amazon). He declared ‘they would not hold his interest as the characters were too wishy washy for a man.’ His comment set me thinking: are the characters weak? Could some of them be omitted? If so, would it detract from the story at all? There are certainly several characters that we are given leave to dislike as Jane would say. But if I was reading it for the first time, how would I see them?
Let’s start with Caroline Bingley. We all love to hate and ridicule her. Her spiteful comments only endear the recipient to us more. Besides, Miss Austen needed an antagonist in the Darcy camp, and Caroline is perfect placed to be this character. In turn, this is the same reason we have Wickham in Elizabeth’s camp.
Now we all laugh at the shallow and ambitious Mrs Bennet, constantly trying to push her daughters onto any man of marriageable age with a reasonable income. Love is definitely not a consideration. But in today’s society she would just be a pushy mum, yet isn’t that a trait of any mother, pushing their children to help them secure and settled their future?
Then there is the pompous and domineering Lady Catherine de burgh, who reminds me of an old school ma’am, bossy and dictatorial; let’s be honest, outside the parsonage and her daughter, Anne, she has no effect, with the two main players ignoring her rants completely.
Now we all laugh at the shallow and ambitious Mrs. Bennet, constantly trying to push her daughters onto any man of marriageable age, and with a reasonable income. Love is definitely not a consideration in her eyes. In today’s society, she would be labelled a pushy mum. But isn’t that a trait of any mother, pushing and encouraging their children ever forward, to help them secure a settled future?
Then there is the pompous and domineering Lady Catherine de burgh, who reminds me of an old school ma’am. She’s bossy, dictatorial and oblivious to the wishes of others. Let’s be honest, outside the parsonage and her daughter, Anne, she has no effect. Indeed the two main players, Darcy and Elizabeth, ignoring her rants completely.
Now to Mr. Collins, the fawning subservient, who is in awe of wealth and power whilst secretly desiring it for himself. He thinks nothing of deserting his flock and patroness as soon as he hears of Darcy’s engagement to Elizabeth. Is he laying the foundations in anticipation of his move to Hertfordshire after the demise of poor old, ineffectual Mr. Bennet? I think so. And let’s not forget Charlotte Lucas, who is not such an innocent. We see her seizes the opportunity to secure Mr. Collins affections, only a day after he has proposed to her best friend. She swoops in under the guise of his rescuer, and entices him with her plainness and boring personality, just how Lady Catherine described the perfect wife for her rector. Yes, to call Charlotte Lucas self-serving would be an understatement.
Mr. Bennet is, as I have said previously, an ineffectual parent and neglectful husband. How he fathered five children I can only imagine. Oh, I have no doubt he loves his wife and children, but he only gets involved in their lives when he absolutely has too. Having said that, some of his lines are crucial to the plot of the book. They also go a long way to making him a loveable character. Whichever way you look at him, he does keep our heroine single and, therefore, available for Mr. Darcy. For that reason alone, I like him.
Now Lydia is the troublesome child we all want to put on the naughty step, or even over out knee for a well-deserved spanking. My frustration at her lack of common sense and consideration is boundless. Her mother has over-indulged her to the detriment of her other children, even when she is the most ridiculous flirt. In most Regency middle/upper class homes, Lydia would have still been in the school room. I can only surmise that Mrs. Bennet was enjoying her life vicariously through Lydia’s wild behavior.
Which brings me back to Wickham; is he all bad? Or was he the victim of old Mr. Darcy’s meddling? As a boy, he was welcomed into the grand house, sent to expensive schools with the elite, and then promised a fine living. Why would he not think he was entitled to the same considerations as Darcy? Perhaps it would have been kinder to leave him with his working class equals, instead of giving him idea’s above his station.
Then we come to four very likable characters that are crucial to the plot, but don’t have any real substance. Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner only seem to run a bed & breakfast for the Bennet sisters to stay at when in town. But they are needed to take Elizabeth to Derbyshire so she can bump into Darcy, where she sees his gentler side. The handsome Col. Fitzwilliam, who is a decorated soldier, yet appears to dance attendance at the whim of Darcy. He is the one who unwittingly shares Darcy’s confidence about Bingley with Elizabeth, which in turn makes her angry for when Darcy comes to propose at the parsonage. And finally there is the unfortunate Charles Bingley. He is the reason Darcy is in Hertfordshire in the first place. Yes, he is handsome, rich and possesses a cheery personality, but oh my goodness what a damp squib!! Throughout the whole book, I wanted to say to him ‘grow a backbone Charles, fight for the woman you love.’ Even at the end, as he goes off to propose to Jane, he still checks he has Darcy approval, tsk tsk.
Louisa Hurst and her husband are nothing more than window dressing, characters of no substance or worth. If you removed them from the book, there would be very little you would have to change. Louisa’s only role is to be Caroline’s accomplice in malicious chatter. Enough said. Poor Mary, the middle Bennet sister is also surplus to requirements. She can’t sing, is only passable on the piano and sermonizes to all and sundry. Her only hope of a match, in my eyes, would have been the cretinous Mr. Collins. Sadly, Miss Lucas stole that possible opportunity from her.
Jane is all sweetness and light, and yes a very likable character. She brings us the first hint of a love story, because that is what it is, a love story. She is also Elizabeth’s confidante. This is how we, the reader, learn of Elizabeth’s innermost thoughts and emotional turmoil. But my previous comment about having no backbone also applies to Jane. In polite society, you were expected to return a call within two, or three days at the most. Waiting three weeks was definitely a snub, and Jane knew it.
So that leaves us Darcy and Elizabeth. She is the playful minx who has the hint of a tomboy about her, while still maintaining the persona of a respectable gentlewoman. I think this is part of the attraction for Darcy. No simpering, wet flannel for him! And Darcy, ok I admit I have a crush on him, but I’m a sucker for a bad boy turned good. But let’s face it; he has a lot on his proverbial plate. A huge estate and town house to run, investments to check and oversee, villager to employ, keeping an aunt’s estate on the straight and narrow, constantly bailing out Wickham, as well as raising a sister AND enjoying a busy social life. No wonder he’s a bit grumpy; the poor guy exhausted!! But thankfully Elizabeth is going to rescue him from himself. She now returns his feelings and agrees to marry him. Yay, finally the happy ever after we all love.
Do you think Jane Austen knew a Caroline Bingley, George Wickham or even a Darcy? Some of the set-downs feel quite personal, as if she had seen them acted out in real life. Or maybe she was the recipient of such spiteful barbs, and that’s why she added them to her novels. Perhaps they were added in retaliation, that the perpetrator might know she felt the sting of their words? Who knows?
Well, even after dissecting all the main characters, I find I still love it. I never get tired of watching, reading or listening to it. I’m probably almost word perfect with the dialogue, but isn’t that part of the territory for a Jane Austen fan?