In the 1995 BBC adaptation of Austen’s novel, screenwriter Andrew Davies creates a Pride and Prejudice which upholds and celebrates the patriarchal institution of marriage. Davies pares down the multiple sub-plots which are representative of realistic female experiences and chooses, instead, to ignore Austen’s feminist intent. To the entirely female perspective of the novel, Davies adds a male narrative point of view as well as a male gaze and overt sexuality effectively to deny female subjectivity in the film.
The paper also argues that popular culture has betrayed Austen’s intent by suppressing her subtle subversion of the marriage plot. Pride and Prejudice, which chronicles the courtship and eventual marriage of Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy, involves the education of both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, who must overcome their false impressions before they can respect and love one another. The novel’s opening line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (51; ch.
1), alerts the reader from the outset that the plot centres around marriage. In the next sentence, Austen sets the stage for her ingenious disruption of the marriage plot by establishing the male rather than the female as the object of exchange: “However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters” (51; ch. 1).
Austen creates an intensely personal environment where the plot focuses on the relationships between the female characters within the domestic sphere as well as on the developing romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Major differences exist between Austen’s novel and the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in regard to point of view, the male gaze and overt sexuality. In this women’s picture, aimed at a predominantly female audience, the “look” of the camera more frequently follows the narrative from the heroine’s perspective so that the spectator sees what the heroine sees.
Although much of the BBC adaptation of is filmed from Elizabeth viewpoint, the camera’s gaze frequently switches to bring a male point of view and male experience to the forefront. While there are significant differences between Austen’s novel and the BBC adaptation in terms of its narrative point of view, the novel and the film employ the looks exchanged between characters in a similar fashion to accentuate Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth. In both versions Elizabeth first falls under Darcy’s scrutiny at the Meryton assembly when he insults her by declaring that she is not attractive enough to render her acceptable as a dance partner.
Upon overhearing his disdain, Elizabeth promptly gets up from her chair and removes herself from his critical notice. After this initial encounter, Austen’s narrative describes how Elizabeth quickly becomes an object of great interest to Mr. Darcy: Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. . . . Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing. (70; ch. 6)
As the novel progresses, Elizabeth becomes increasingly cognizant of Mr. Darcy’s gaze. While visiting the Collins’ at Hunsford, Elizabeth once again encounters Mr. Darcy. While Elizabeth is seated at the piano conversing with Colonel Fitzwilliam during an evening spent at Rosings Park, Darcy “stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance” (206; ch. 31). Charlotte Collins suspects that Mr. Darcy is in love with Elizabeth and sets out to prove that her intuition is correct: She watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success.
He certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind. (214; ch. 32) In the BBC adaptation, however, Darcy’s gaze is far less ambiguous than it appears in Austen’s novel. The film has the advantage of being able to create a visual representation of the narrative, making it much more explicit to the spectator that Darcy’s constant observation of Elizabeth results from his desire rather than from his disdain of her.
The screenplay offers the spectator a privileged position which allows him/her more knowledge than Elizabeth for, while Elizabeth naively suspects that there must be something horribly wrong with her to attract Mr. Darcy’s attention, the spectator understands that Darcy’s smouldering glances are the result of frustrated desire which he cannot conquer. In scene after scene, Darcy continues to fix his gaze on Elizabeth, watching from the window as Jane and Elizabeth depart in the carriage from Netherfield and scrutinising Elizabeth as she dances with Mr. Collins at the Netherfield ball.
At times, Elizabeth seems completely unaware that she is being watched by Mr. Darcy while at others her awareness of his gaze makes her exceedingly uncomfortable. In the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the interaction and conversations between Darcy and Elizabeth are most often filmed from such perspective that Darcy and Elizabeth rarely appear together in the same frame until the very end of the film. Although Elizabeth occasionally steals glances at Darcy when he is unaware, she does not return his regard until almost the conclusion of the film during a scene in which she and the Gardiners dine at Pemberly and Mr.
Darcy smiles benevolently on her as she stands by his sister Georgiana at the piano. After his company has left, Darcy recollects with pleasure the eye contact he enjoyed sharing with Elizabeth earlier in the evening. Even when Elizabeth and Darcy are left alone to walk together, Elizabeth continues to avert her eyes from Darcy’s countenance. Despite the fact that she initiates the conversation which results in Darcy renewing his earlier proposal of marriage, she cannot meet his gaze.
The film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice ends as soon as Elizabeth and Darcy are united in marriage and it is not until the final scene when Elizabeth and Darcy are leaving the church that Elizabeth can finally look into his eyes as they share a kiss to seal their union. The sexuality evident in the most recent incarnation of Pride and Prejudice on film represents a distinct departure from Austen’s novel. Unlike Austen, Andrew Davies introduces sexuality into Pride and Prejudice in his recent television adaptation, contending, “There is a lot of pent-up sexuality in Austen’s work and I have let it out” (quoted in Amis 34).
In the film, male sexuality and desire are evident as the heroine falls under scrutiny of the male gaze. Several additions to Austen’s novel have been made in the section of the screenplay which recounts Elizabeth and Jane’s stay at Netherfield while Jane is recuperating from her illness. In one scene, Elizabeth, unfamiliar with the house at Netherfield, accidentally enters the wrong room and encounters Darcy playing billiards. As she turns to leave the room, he shoots her a brooding look and then, in a symbolic gesture, forcefully knocks a billiard ball into the pocket.
A short time later, the spectator observes Mr. Darcy finishing a bath and then proceeding to look down from his window at Elizabeth romping in the yard with a dog. These cinematic images, instead of furthering the narrative, seem to have been included in the film adaptation primarily to establish Darcy as a sexual subject and set up Elizabeth as the object of his desire. Darcy vents his frustration in the physical activity of a fencing match during another portion of the filmic text invented for the screenplay.
This scene demonstrates Darcy’s virility, and closes with a close-up of Darcy, glistening with perspiration from his “masculine” exertion, presumably referring to his love for Elizabeth as he proclaims to himself, “I shall conquer this. ” Similarly, when Darcy makes an early return to Pemberly while Elizabeth is there on a tour, the camera focuses on Darcy striding back to his estate on horseback and then dismounting, undressing and diving into a pond on his property. Although in the novel Mr.
Darcy does arrive unexpectedly at Pemberly to find Elizabeth there with the Gardiners, the film enhances the sexual tension between the two characters by embellishing an astonished and embarrassed Elizabeth’s encounter with a wet, partially clad Darcy. Although the screenplay positions Darcy as a sexual subject, female sexuality is virtually non-existent in the film except for a passive female desire characterised by waiting, frustration and misunderstanding. Despite the many differences between Austen’s novel and the screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, both versions portray female desire as essentially passive.
The BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice reflects this feminist backlash characteristic of late twentieth century culture. By employing male point of view and the male gaze to transform Elizabeth Bennet into an object of Darcy’s sexual desire, the filmmakers have created a traditional ‘Hollywood’ picture. Although the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is. indeed, a “women’s picture,” it strays from Austen’s feminist intent. Although Austen ends her novel with the marriage of Elizabeth Bennet, she, nevertheless, skilfully empowers her heroine within the confines of the marriage plot.
Despite the constraints imposed on her gender by the society of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Jane Austen manages to some degree subvert the patriarchal ideology of the time period in which she lived. In addition, through her portrayals of unsatisfactory marriages and her references to the economic necessities which often left women with no options other than marriage, Austen creates distance between the reader and the heroine to prevent over-identification.
By successfully inverting the male/subject and female/object roles at the conclusion of the novel, Austen convinces the reader “that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice” (385; ch. 59). Conclusively, a comparison of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to the television dramatization of her novel illustrates how popular culture has betrayed Austen’s intent by suppressing her subtle subversion of the marriage plot.
Although Austen never openly challenges the institution of marriage itself, she manages to be subversive by focusing the reader’s attention on the heroine’s personal growth and autonomy within marriage. Works Cited Amis, Martin. “Jane’s World. ” The New Yorker 8 (Jan. 1996): 31-35. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Tony Tanner. New York:Penguin, 1985. Pride and Prejudice. Dir. Simon Langton. Screenplay by Andrew Davies. Perf. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. BBC/A&E, 1995.