The authoress wishes to apologize for the tardiness of this post (originally due to be posted last Thursday). She was too busy getting her skirt drenched six inches deep in the mud of her graduate school final exams.
You must know… surely, you must know it was all for you. You are too generous to trifle with me. I believe you spoke with my aunt last night, and it has taught me to hope as I’d scarcely allowed myself before. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes have not changed, but one word from you will silence me forever. If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.
Ah! Did you successfully land onto your fainting couch when you swooned? Good. You might want to stay there for a moment…
I recently watched the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, (Directed by Joe Wright, Screenplay Deborah Moggach, Starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen), again for the… Well, I’m not sure I should admit how many times I’ve watched this movie! But I was struck by a new realization during this viewing and it had me on the edge of my seat the entire film:
“Oh! This adaptation is a Victorian Gothic wannabe!”
Now, before you start throwing your books and bonnets at me, do me the honor of reading the rest of this post.
Set the Stage
Jane Austen published her book Pride and Prejudice, originally the more epistolary-based novel First Impressions, on January 28, 1813, after her recent success with Sense and Sensibility. Considering the Regency Period spanned from approximately 1795 until King George III’s death in 1820, this firmly roots Austen’s novels in the English literary movement called Romanticism (1798-1837). Romanticism is often viewed as a reactionary literary movement to the rapid changes resulting from the Enlightenment and increased industrialization. Romanticism also fought back against the aristocratic, social, and scientific norms of the times. Austen in particular criticized the novels rooted in sentimentalism earlier in the 18th century through her own novels. She accomplishes this with aplomb by appealing to readers’ desires to read about a simpler, more sophisticated, sentimental existence while simultaneously calling these values into question through her excellent application of comedy.
The Costumes Reveal the Characters
Often, while watching Pride and Prejudice (2005), it is easy to get distracted by ultra-brooding Darcy, aka Matthew Macfadyen. But when I finally became slightly immune to his rather brusk charms, the characters’ clothing first clued me into the Victorian tendancies of the movie. See Lizzie’s costumes in the pictures above? Both of them include a natural waistline instead of the typical Empire waist of the Romantic/Regency period.
The portrait above was painted in the Regency Period and demonstrates the typical cap sleeves, Empire waist, and open neck of women’s fashion at the time. The dropped, natural waist and tight, long sleeves exhibited in Lizzy Bennet’s costumes in most of the 2005 film came about much later… So from what time period did they glean their inspiration?
The closest style I can come up with is the long-sleeved, natural-waisted, full-skirted 1840s (note the La’ Monde illustration above.) Hoops were not common yet, but the trim, narrow waistline of an hour glass waist was all the rage in the 1840s, and the 1840s places many of the costumes solidly into the Victorian Period.
Ghosts, Decaying Setting, Gloom, Damsels in Distress, Nighttime Visitors, Heroes… Gothic?
Gothic Romance experienced its more outrageous moments before the Regency Period in the 18th Century with authors such as Ann Radcliffe (who Austen mocks in Northanger Abbey), but Gothic literature experienced a revival with authors such as the Brontë sisters Edgar Allen Poe
The 1840s style clothing was my first clue regarding the Victorian-Gothic elements of Pride and Prejudice (2005), but the similarities do not stop at natural waists and long-sleeves. Once I allowed myself to acknowledge the presence of Gothic in this adaptation, I saw elements of the style all over the place…
Okay, okay. There are no ghosts in Pride and Prejudice (2005). But as a staple of the Gothic framework, I was on the lookout for ghostly elements and I stumbled on the scene when Darcy drops off the letter explaining his side of the story after Elizabeth spurns his first proposal.
Anyone else find it strange that he just appears in her bedchamber mirror and disappears when she turns around? The audience is obviously meant to interpret it as a real interaction, so why do the creator’s chose to give Darcy such ghostly powers? Perhaps to reinforce the presence of Gothic in the film.
Ah, yes! That infamous first proposal scene! It’s beautiful, passionate, and doomed all at once. How did they accomplish it? I think the creator’s once again channeled Gothic influences to draft this scene.
Gothic literature often uses decaying settings and weather to drive the emotional element of the story. Throw in a spooky-once-elegant ruin and some storms and you’ve set the scene for a pivotal moment! (Check out Ann Radcliffe, the mother of the Gothic genre, if you don’t believe me.) And that’s exactly what happens during Darcy’s first proposal.
Where are they, you ask? At the remains of a Stourhead Temple of Apollo first erected to bless the surrounding land with sun. You don’t happen to see any sun in this scene now, do you? The contradiction only reinforces the emotional power and mismatch that the setting projects onto the scene.
Gothic novels are like owls… a lot of the action in them takes place at night.
One scene that has always rubbed me the wrong way in the 2005 adaptation is the fact that the great Lady Catherine de Bourgh shows up in the wee hours of the morning. It didn’t happen that way in the book, it wasn’t culturally acceptable, and why would Lady Catherine risk her reputation to travel at night? To keep up the pretense of a Gothic story.
Because the creator’s of the 2005 film had already decided to fuel a pivotal emotional scene with Gothic elements, they felt the need to continue such a practice with other scenes such as Lady Catherine’s confrontational visit.
Damsels in Distress & Heroes
Yes, I still think Lizzy Bennet is a strong, female character in the 2005 adaptation. But you gotta admit that the film is definitely increasing the “damsel in distress” and “Hero” characteristics present in Gothic literature.
Take the scene when Elizabeth learns of Lydia’s foolish choice to run away with Wickham. She is so upset she runs round and round the wooden screen wailing and can barely pull herself together enough to blurt out what is wrong. If that doesn’t scream “Damsel in Distress,” the fact that she consistently shows up outdoors undressed should!
Sad and out of doors in her nightgown… distress with a capital “D”
And let’s not forget how the movie goes out of its way to portray the importance of heroes and Darcy as the key “Hero” for Lizzy. There’s this moment reminding you about heroics and manliness:
And then, in her most depressed moment of sadness of missing her chance at one true love, Darcy shows up like this:
Darcy with a cape-like jacket at dawn. If that doesn’t say Gothic heroism, I don’t know what does. I rest my case.
You may be protesting, “Wait! They did all those things to make the story more real!”
And that’s exactly my point.
Pride and Prejudice (2005) did a fantastic job of tugging at our heartstrings and highlighting the plight of women in the 1800s. The cinematography and music are breathtaking. It is a masterpiece in its own right, BUT…
Its very realism only emphasizes its Victorian foundation. Expressing reality was a very Victorian idea. Those in the Regency/Romantic Period, such as Jane Austen, preferred to focus on the beauty that was not present in real life. Austen gave her stories the richness her life never had, and that is one of the reasons they have lasted this long.
By deciding to frame Pride and Prejudice with Victorian Gothic elements, the creator’s of the 2005 movie brought the story to new life with greater emotion and drama (Gothic) and a more realistic perspective of life (Victorian). I love it for what it is, but I think this creative choice may have limited the timelessness of the original story.
However, I leave that for you to decide… without pride or prejudice, of course!
All pictures and film snippets included in this post are the property of Focus Features and Studio Canal Working Titles.