Pride and Prejudice Anniversary: Elizabeth Bennet and Nature in the novel and Wright’s 2005 adaptation

On this day, 28 of January, 208 years ago Jane Austen published for the first time her well-known novel Pride and Prejudice. Nowadays, you can find numerous adaptations, movies, series and even novels. I personally dislike romance, I tried reading a modern adaptation of this book, Bridget Jone’s Diary, I never finished it. I was a little bit worried something similar could occur to me with Jane Austen’s novels, but I was wrong. My mum had insisted I give a chance to the movie adaptation Pride and Prejudice (2005) and I liked it. I decided to read the book, I loved it, Jane Austen is my exception of romantic novels. Back then, I would have never imagined myself sitting on a Jane Austen course at the university. Of course, I wrote about the gothic and Austen, but that is another story.

Today, at the book anniversary, I want to share some reflections on the popular book adaptation from 2005, directed by Joe Wright, which you can watch on Netflix. I am going to focus on the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, it seems to me that nature is relevant to understanding her character and the movie reflects that very well.

There is a lake surrounded by trees and some colourful flowers. Then it starts to rain and thunder can be heard. Those scenes are very relevant in the Pride and Prejudice adaptation with the same name, directed by Joe Wright.

Despite Jane Austen’s book does not give nature a lot of protagonism in the story´s development, it is clear that landscapes play an important role in understanding the book’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet. For example, she did not mind walking in the dirty weather by herself, so early in the morning to see how Jane was in Netherfield (38), her walk-in those conditions shows her passion and love for her sister. The film Pride and Prejudice (2005) seems to explore deeper Elizabeth’s relationship with nature, suggesting that landscapes reflect Elizabeth’s emotions and that they also emphasise the heroine’s idea that true feelings and love are more important than appearances. It is the visible resource to characterize the book’s heroine by showing her relationship with the wildness of nature.

The film starts with a sunny and green country landscape where Elizabeth is happily walking as she finishes reading a book. This opening scene, opposite to the book where Mrs and Mr Bennett are talking about the Bingleys arrival, gives the expectations an immediate description of the protagonist’s enjoyments as she is happy while she reads, walks and enjoys the landscape. In the novel, Elizabeth’s pleasures, reading, laughing, walking, are presented to the reader as the story goes on. Whereas, in the film, they seem to be remarked by the character’s relationship with landscapes.

Pride and Prejudice (2005). Directed by Joe Wright.
Available on Netflix.

Even so, in the first ball where she meets Darcy, in the film adaptation she, Darcy and Mr Bingley talk about books and landscapes. Bingley mentions that he prefers being outside to reading, Elizabeth replies:

“I wish I could read more but every time there is something to do” (8:40 min).

A similar dialogue is present in the book when Jane is ill at Netherfield, and Mr Darcy, the Bingleys and Hurts are in the drawing-room, Miss Bingley says:

“Miss Eliza Bennet…is a great reader, and has no pleasure in anything else” to what Elizabeth replies: “I deserve neither such praise, not such censure…I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things” (Austen, p. 43).

Pride and Prejudice adaptation (2005) despite presenting the dialogue and situation different from the book, seems to give justice to Elizabeth´s character by showing how she expresses herself in landscapes: she reads, walks and laughs.

This idea of the movie to characterize Elizabeth with landscapes is more evident as it goes on. As it was mentioned, Elizabeth walking to see her sister represents her affection for Jane, and this is remarked in the film as in that scene, as Elizabeth is seen so small in contrast to the vastness of the landscape, being nature as big as her love for Jane. When she arrives at Netherfield, she has her hair shabby, her bright eyes are as passionate as the wild landscape is previously shown. In addition, a big contrast is made with Miss Bingley, who has just been sitting there, very neat. Later on, in another scene at Netherfield, Miss Bingley will suggest her to walk through the room not outside (min 21:28). The outside, the landscape is Elizabeth’s natural environment and comfort zone, not as there inside the room. Elizabeth finds comfort and warmth in nature.

The first time she talks with Wickham, this scene in the film differs from the one from the book. While in the book it occurs at Phillipses’s place, in the movie they are under a tree in front of a river and Elizabeth is sitting there with her back laid on the trunk (min 31:44). The tree seems to symbolize the idea of growing happiness or affection, as the tree is a living being that grows from its roots to its branches that will keep on growing. In the film, Elizabeth is shown sitting under a tree twice and both situations involve her realizations for the affection she is developing for a man. The first one is when she talks with Wickham. The second one, occurs while Bingley is asking Jane to marry him, Elizabeth goes away and sits under a tree thinking and Darcy sees her at the distance. In both scenes, the tree acquires a symbolic meaning, her realization of a possible growing relationship. But the place and tree are different in both situations, as the feelings she is having for Darcy is not the same she had for Wickham. The film uses nature to explain Elizabeth’s development of feelings for Wickham and Darcy, something done in Jane Austen’s novel by the narrator.

In the film, nature also portrays Elizabeth’s importance of authenticity and true feelings. She is a wild creature in the sense that she will not stand conventions or artificial emotions, for her feelings should be as true as nature. For example, in Mr Collins’ proposal scene, he gives her a flower, but despite that, Elizabeth looks horrified at it, as the flower seems to be a metaphor of taming and controlling nature. She will not stand or agree on that, she will not like the idea that feelings must be shaped, as Mr Collin´s garden or as the cut flower. But instead, she will support the idea that feelings must flow as nature grows. This idea seems to be confirmed as after neglecting Mr Collins’ proposal, she runs directly to the lake, where she stays watching some goose flying away. Here the landscape plays a very important role too, the birds are flying away and Elizabeth is looking at them, it seems to be a symbolism for her preference of true love rather than the established conventions Mr Colling had named her. And the lake, the lake for the Romanticism like the overflow of feelings, the new world, the inner self.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) directed by Joe Wright. Available on Netflix.

Lizzy’s feelings are remarked by giving importance to the landscape in the film. When Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy avoided Bingley’s possible marriage, she is devastated. And the spectators are aware of that because, after that knowledge, Elizabeth is seen running through a bridge under a thunderstorm so fast as if she does not mind getting wet because she is so hurt. Her running under the thunderstorm are elements to portray Lizzy’s sadness and agony. Later on, during Darcy´s proposal’s scene, when he confesses that he has been separating Bingley from Jane, Elizabeth remains quiet for a while, but thunder is heard. The sound of the thunder is very important here because it reflects the protagonist’s rage for what she is listening to. In addition, when she is left alone, the scene focuses on the rainy landscape that surrounds her and she is seen in the distance, which shows her pain.

In contrast, dark and closed spaces show Elizabeth’s uncomfortable situation. As mentioned above, the landscape can also reflect the protagonist’s sadness by letting her feelings out and flow. As it is seen when she rejects Darcy, she is sad but she is still free to express herself. Whereas, when she wants to avoid Mr Collins at Netherfield ball, she is seen lying against the wall in total darkness as if she is in a situation where her freedom is limited. Something similar occurs when Elizabeth is in Rossings, and Lady Catherine asks her to play the piano. Elizabeth is seen watching a cockatoo inside a cage, she stares at it and touches it, almost as if she is afraid of losing her own freedom as the bird inside the cage, by being in Lady Catherine’s domain. She clearly does not seem to be comfortable in that place

The scene where Darcy gives his explanatory letter to Elizabeth differs from the book, a fundamental modification is perceived. In the book it occurs the following way:

“[s]he was on the point of continuing her walk when she caught a glimpse of a gentleman within the sort of grove which edged the park; he has moved that way; and fearful of its being Mr Darcy, she was directly retreating…a voice proved to be Mr Darcy…He had but that time reached it also, and holding out a letter, which she instinctively took, said with a look haughty composure: “I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter? And then with a slight bow, turned again into the plantation, and was soon out of sight”

(235, emphasis mine).

This situation is altered in the film, Elizabeth is staring at a mirror in Collins’ house, looking at her reflection. The scene is darkened and Darcy appears at her back, the spectators see his reflection on the mirror at which Lizzy is staring wandering at her own image and, as it could be inferred, thinking about Darcy’s words. It seems that the director wanted to do it inside the house rather than outside, as it occurs in the novel, because the whole movie portrays Elizabeth’s security through landscapes, whereas, situations of despair occur inside spaces. Also, in the book it is mentioned that she took the letter immediately, which shows that she does not wander, she is sure about her own image standing there on the landscape. Whereas in the movie, she does not take the letter and Darcy has to leave it on a table, the inner space portrays a broken or insecure Elizabeth.

There are some other examples where Elizabeth’s characterization is done through landscapes, another is situation is when she and Darcy meet after Lady Catherine’s visit. In the film, this scene differs from the novel where they see each other again when Bingley declares to Jane. But in the film, they meet “casually” when they were walking on the fields through the foggy morning landscape. Here the fog gives an air of mystery, the wonder if Elizabeth is finally going to return Darcy´s feelings, and then when the lovers declare themselves to love each other, the sun starts to appear as if everything is bright again.

As it has been discussed, landscapes in the Pride and Prejudice adaptation, the one with the same name from 2005, let the audience form a better idea about Jane Austen’s heroine. Nature characterize Elizabeth and explain her feelings. It seems to be an allegory to Elizabeth’s ideas of love: something that is not artificial, that should not be confined in a room or impression, but rather, something that must grow and develop freely as nature does.

𝐴𝑔𝑎𝑖𝑛, 𝘩𝑎𝑝𝑝𝑦 𝑃𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑃𝑟𝑒𝑗𝑢𝑑𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝐷𝑎𝑦 !

✶⋆ Want to know more about Jane Austen? Visit the Jane Austen House website.

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