Like any self-respecting bookworm and psuedo-Anglophile, I have read Pride and Prejudice. And, like any fan of Pride and Prejudice, I have seen (and basically memorized the entire script of) the incredible BBC miniseries adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
I was not a big fan of the 2005 film. This is primarily because I despise Keira Knightley. My mother, after seeing the 2005 film, commented that this version probably more adequately displays the moderate social class of the Bennett family. The 2005 film is also less bright and.... well, beautiful.
A huge part of the beauty in the 1995 miniseries is Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Beyond being a talented actor, this man is seriously easy on the eyes. So easy on the eyes, in fact, that Helen Fielding's hit book Bridget Jones's Diary (a book I embarrassingly love and read every year on January 1st) features pages and pages devoted to drooling over Firth as Darcy.
When I was much younger, I once wandered into my family's living room. My mother was sitting in "her seat" -- a rocking chair near the television. There was almost certainly a throw around her shoulders and a cat on her lap. This was the oddly picturesque setting of my childhood. Stepping into my childhood home occasionally gives visitors an uneasy feeling of displacement, because it's suddenly difficult to peg what decade it is or exactly what kind of people we are. Once I was talking to a boyfriend on the phone and said, "Oh, who's at the door? ....Oh, never mind. It's just the milkman." (Seriously, it was the milkman.) This caused my ex to fall over himself laughing, asking "Where do you live? In England in the 1920s?" Shortly after that, he broke up with me.
This particular night, before I had been dumped by anyone, my mother was watching an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice -- either the BBC miniseries or an earlier adaptation. I couldn't easily follow along with the movie, so I half-watched and half read a book. The book could have been either a Sweet Valley High or a fantasy novel about a beautiful girl who could also cast spells, either of which would have made me feel fat.
Nearing the end of the movie, when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and she accepts, I found myself incredibly irritated and nonplussed.
"What?" I asked. "She's marrying him? Why is she looking so happy about it? Didn't she like, hate him?"
"Well, she did," my mother said shortly, obviously annoyed that I was interrupting the climax of the movie.
"What?" I repeated again, just in case my mother hadn't registered my confusion. "But.... I'm sorry, is this not the same guy who was super snobby and refused to dance with her?"
My mother sighed. "He gets better. If you had paid attention, you would know that," my mother responded, her eyes fixed intently on the flickering screen before us.
I silently asked my mother, "Really, Mom? Really? He changed THAT much?" while boring a hole in the back of her head with my self-righteous, indignant eyes. I imagined that my intense silence was deafening. In reality, my mother was blissfully unaware of me seething behind her, and she sighed contentedly while petting the cat.
As I grew up, I continued to read young adult novels that made me feel fat. I also began to read Jane Austen novels, which also made me feel fat. (Making me feel fat didn't take a lot in those days.)
After reading the book and watching the BBC miniseries countless times, I too began to understand Darcy as someone who Gets Better. Beyond that, I began to view him as the Most Romantic Man in the World. How I swooned for him. How I wished that someday someone above my social status -- someone who gets both milk and eggs delivered, for example -- would inappropriately fall in love with me, be a passive-aggressive dick about it, and then take me to live with him in a mansion filled with oil-portraits of himself.
Later in my life, I was eating dinner with my friend Michael. He was gently explaining to me that I should accept that other people come from families that seem "strange" to me, because my family seems f***ing insane to outsiders.
"No it doesn't," I said, taking an enormous bite of a brie-and-walnut appetizer. He looked levelly at me.
"You have large portraits, done in pastels, of both you and your little sister framed in your living room. And neither of you are smiling in them. You're just staring, like it's the damn olden days."
"But those were done by a street artist in Quebec," I protested.
He stared at me. "You read the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes aloud to each other while curled up under mountains of blankets. I don't know why a living room needs so many blankets" -- I have to give him this. It is 90 degrees in Syracuse today, and I have two blankets in my living room. Four if you count the one I use as a futon-cover or the one I use as a tablecloth. And I live alone. The remaining blankets I put in storage, thinking to myself, "two is probably fine for the living room in June." -- "AND," Michael continued, gearing up for his big finish, "you guys quote Pride and Prejudice to each other all. the. time."
I stared at him. "That's not WEIRD," I said, baffled. "Asking what your high-school aged child got on a test is weird. I mean, how do these parents even know when their kids HAD a test? Besides, Pride and Prejudice is amazing."
"No it's not," he said immediately. "It's terrible. Mr Darcy is an emotionally abusive psychopath who lures Elizabeth in with his money."
I was aghast. I had never heard such an indictment on Mr. Darcy before! Sure, I had similar sentiments before when catching the tail end of Pride and Prejudice with my mom -- but I was young and feeling fat all the time. Surely I didn't know anything.
But now... every time I think about Pride and Prejudice...
I can't help but wonder.... is Fitzwilliam Darcy a psychopath? Is my secret desire to end up with someone who initially refuses to dance with me because I'm too ugly somehow problematic? Heaven forbid. . . .