Why I like Pride and Prejudice
The other night at our church potluck dinner, I explained to the young woman next to me why I was drinking regular coffee at that hour.
“I want to be alert when I get home tonight, so I can watch Pride and Prejudice on PBS.
She expressed surprise: “Oh, I thought Jane Austen was only a girl thing. You mean that men like her, too?”
So, for the next few minutes before the annual meeting started, I told her why I like both the six-hour version and the newer film starring Keira Knightly.
I’ll start with the obvious. Both the women playing Elizabeth Bennett are beautiful, with expressive faces, and the Jane in the shorter film is also equally gorgeous.
My enjoyment of these movies goes beyond that, however. I’ll try to be brief.
Both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley evoke my admiration. Not just that they dress well and carry themselves with grace and dignity (though some of the poses Darcy strikes seem a bit too much). Each rides like an expert horseman, contrast to Wickham, who can barely stay in the saddle). They are honorable men, who abhor falsehood, dissimulation, and every shade of wrongdoing. Bingley doesn’t seem to have the capacity for thinking or speaking evil, and exudes constant optimism. While Darcy’s gloominess reflects a darker perspective on life, he shows himself to be utterly true to what he thinks is right.
As for the dialog, Jane Austen’s English is peerless for purity, precision, and provocative wit. I am ashamed not to have read more than fifty pages of the novel, but that was enough to enlist me as one of her fervent admirers as a stylist.
But we still haven’t gotten to why I have been more than willing to watch the longer version of P&P twice in the past two months, and the shorter one for the second time this week (Dori and I went to view it when it first came out.)
What draws me to this story? Isn’t it just a high-brow chick flick?
Well, it may be that, but I think I am fascinated by the main theme, which is, of course, true love. More than that, I revel in Austen’s firm endorsement of marriage. Apart from the conventional reasons given by various characters, including the clergy – financial security for impecunious women, lawful sex, the propagation of the race, avoidance of shame and disgrace – P&P highlights the role of real love between man and wife.
And just what is “real love”? It’s certainly not the lust which brings Lydia into the clutches of a worthless rake like Wickham, a thoroughly debased cad with thoughts only for his own pleasure and promotion. Nor does it consist only the mutual appreciation for handsome good looks to which both the older sisters and their beaux freely admit.
No, it’s deeper. Without trying to be profound or moralistic, I locate Austen’s definition of true love somewhere in the realm of admiration for virtue and character. Jane and Bingley are both too good for anyone but each other, in their charitable attitude towards everyone and effusive expression of appreciation and affection.
Lizzie and Darcy, both pensive types with a strong negative lens on life, cannot fall in love so quickly and easily. Her prejudice and his pride (a fault to which she also admits; nor he is devoid of class prejudice, either) prevent them at first from discerning the other’s true worth.
In time, however, their eyes are opened, and they begin to love a person completely committed to honesty and integrity. In addition, Darcy sees how much Lizzie loves her goofy family members, and she is overwhelmed by his kindness and generosity, both observed and learned from his devoted housekeeper.
Another feature of the film(s) seems most Christian to me: The main characters who are portrayed as complex – Mr. Bennett, Darcy, and Lizzie – admit to having been wrong. This self-knowledge and frank confession of fault break the logjam and allow for reconciliation and reunion.
In a day when romantic love has been reduced to overactive hormones, indulged without restraint, P&P’s characters, with their courtesy, deference, and self-restraint evoke an era when baseness and coarseness had not penetrated as far into all levels of society as it has now.
I’m not a move critic, but I do think that the entertainment media have done much to glorify every sort of vice and demean the paramount place of marriage in society. P&P recognizes the vital role that marriage must play, and presents a vision of what might make for a truly happy union.
A buddy of mine and I were talking about P&P the other day in Starbucks. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the unraveling economy, an election coming up, and the ravages of relativism in the academy, just how much of our attention does a love story deserve?
The more I think about it, the more I believe that the sanctity of marriage, its central role in almost everyone’s life, and the picture it is meant to convey of the relationship of Christ and his church make the P&P films well worth our time, and fully worthy of our enjoyment.
 Hereinafter referred to as P&P.