The second installment of Pride and Prejudice aired on PBS carries some of my favorite scenes in the whole miniseries. The ‘wet shirt’ episode, the favorite of many, is naturally one of them. Thousands have already talked about it, but allow me to add one small voice here. I find the surprise and embarrassing encounter of Elizabeth with the dripping wet Darcy to be an ingenious creation by Andrew Davies, an imaginary addition easily forgiven by many Jane Austen purists, I suppose. My reason for adoring this scene can be summed up in one word: vulnerability.
Both are caught unprepared and their vulnerability makes them equal. The inhibition of Elizabeth’s fondness of the place and her bewilderment of Darcy’s character based on the housekeeper’s compliments are well matched by Darcy’s eagerness to make a good impression but alas, while being caught in the most uncouth manner. Both clumsily and comically try to regain composure and maintain some form of civility. In the spontaneity of the moment, pride is laid aside and prejudice banished. And Darcy, stripped of his usual formal attire, presents his dripping and humble self in the most unguarded manner. Colin Firth has so vividly shown us that genuine and dishevelled appearances can be utterly appealing.
Another favorite scene of mine comes shortly after this chance encounter. As Elizabeth is driven away in the open carriage, she looks back at Darcy in a distance, wearing the fulfilled and satisfied smile on her face, while the camera, from her point of view, captures the handsomely poised Darcy seeing her off, his tall and slender physique growing smaller and smaller in the distance as the carriage is being pulled slowly away…how much tenderness can a camera shot elicit?
But before this beautiful departure at Pemberley, there is the duel of words. The scene I like most in this Part 2 of Pride and Prejudice is probably the first marriage proposal in Hunsford parsonage. Darcy’s words have but achieved one function: confirming every single prejudice Elizabeth might have held towards him. Through Elizabeth, Jane Austen has eloquently delivered her social commentary on the female predicament of her time. While love can be the most attractive reason for marriage for idealistic Lizzy, her better, rational self challenges the form, the motive, and the consequence of love. Would she be satisfied with the kind of love that is condescending, unequally bestowed, that is based on feelings ‘despite of’ and not admiration ‘because of’? Austen has articulated her critique on marrying for financial gains, even for the common good of securing the future of one’s whole family. A condescending relationship, despite the appearance of fondness and love, does not warrant the sacrifice of one’s dignity and value. Elizabeth has demonstrated clearly she has a choice, and she exercises her freedom to reject despite of the lure of wealth, status, and security. Just this scene is reason enough for me to admire Jane Austen.
Arti’s three posts on Pride and Prejudice (1995) have been combined into one article and published on the Jane Austen Centre Online Magazine. To read that and other interesting articles about Jane and the Regency Period, click here.