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Portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in Movie Versus Book: Critical Analysis

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Joe Wright has portrayed Elizabeth correctly and in accordance to how Jane Austen intends her to be viewed. He does this by using relevant cinematography, sound effects, editing and mise-en-scene to contribute to the overall effect of Elizabeth’s character in the film. Elizabeth remains constant with her beliefs and does not accept the marriage proposals of two very capable men. Patriarchy in the nineteenth century was prevalent. It involved women marrying men of equal status, men dominating the household and being the breadwinners of the family, women having “less significant” roles than men and a difference in education for the different genders. Elizabeth’s personality challenges patriarchy. Elizabeth does not always behave with the utmost propriety and social decorum. She defies expectations by being strong-minded, stubborn and proud.

The Oxford dictionary defines patriarchy as “a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line” (Press, 2019). Mr. Bennet is the head of the Bennet family. Elizabeth is his most beloved daughter because they can relate to one another easily as they are the “two more intelligent members of the Bennet family” (Barnes & Noble, 2019). Mr. Bennet treats his daughters differently –Elizabeth and Jane are favoured while Mary, Lydia, and Kitty are not. In this way, he reinforces the patriarchal image of women – “Jane is beautiful and Elizabeth is intelligent”, but his other daughters are of little interest to him because they aren’t what the stereotype expects them to be (West, 2018).

Elizabeth is strong-minded, as she is very “set in her ways”. Because of this, Elizabeth is contrasted with Lydia who accepts Mr. Wickham’s proposal very eagerly and willingly. Elizabeth is not pleased about this marriage. She knows that Lydia, as well as her mother, are blindsided by the fact that she is married. Elizabeth adheres to her values and does not allow herself to be cheated into trusting that Mr. Wickham is decent and is marrying Lydia for love. Elizabeth’s reaction to the marriage is expressed more clearly in the film than in the novel. In the film, Elizabeth addresses Lydia’s “unimportant” conversation by saying “she does not want to hear”. Refer to Still 1 Elizabeth challenges Mr. Wickham as she does not bow back to him to honour him. When Mr. Wickham leaves the room, Elizabeth abruptly turns her head away from Mr. Wickham after moment of eye contact. This shows her disinterest in him and his marriage to Lydia. In the novel, Jane Austen includes the wedding whereas Joe Wright does not. Elizabeth states, in the novel, that “Wickham’s affection for Lydia was just what Elizabeth (she) had expected to find it; not equal to Lydia’s for him” (Austen, 1813). Elizabeth is not comfortable with the marriage. Jane Austen emphasizes this, stating “Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up, and ran out of the room; and returned no more, till she heard them passing through the hall to the dining-parlour…”. This shows Elizabeth’s frustration. Although Joe Wright does not include the wedding, the page to screen referencing is accurate. Joe Wright emphasizes Elizabeth challenging patriarchy, while Jane Austen only alludes to it at this specific moment in the plot.

Mr. Collins, a cousin of the Bennet family and the heir to Longbourn, seeks Elizabeth as his bride upon Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s recommendation. His reasons for marrying was: “it was the duty of a clergyman, it will make him happy and Lady Catherine De Bourgh suggested it to him” (Shmoop University, 2019). Jane Austen creates an awkward and humorous mood with the use of Mr. Collins’ mannerisms. In the novel, Elizabeth describes that “the idea of Mr. Collins… being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth (her) so near laughing…” (Austen, 1813). This is, therefore, suggesting that Mr. Collins is “silly” and cannot be taken seriously. Elizabeth’s comment suggests a comical ambiance.

Jane Austen describes Elizabeth as “vexed and embarrassed”, with Elizabeth mentioning that “…she sat down again, and tried to conceal by incessant employment the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion”, and Elizabeth feels the necessity to interrupt the obdurate Mr. Collins but cannot manage to (Austen, 1813). The dialogue of Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth in the film follows the novel’s accurately. Joe Wright uses the dialogue from the novel to emphasise the intention of Elizabeth as strong-minded character, but adds the abrupt movement of the chair and quick juxtaposition of shots to emphasize the situation visually. Elizabeth stands up to Mr. Collins, she speaks her mind and is not obliging. Jane Austen intends Elizabeth’s character to be determined when it comes to her beliefs and values, because as a character she is strong-minded.

Refer to Still 2 The use of the food in the mise-en-scene of the scene contributes to the intention. Just as the food and tableware are out of place in the context of the conversation, so are the characters. The flower, intended to be a symbol of love and affection, is also out of place, as Mr. Collins and Elizabeth don’t have a romantic relationship. The room is dark with no bright colours, but has some natural lighting, therefore making the tableware and food stand out. The wide, eye-level shot allows the viewer to be included in the scene.

Refer to Still 3 The over-the-shoulder shot allows the viewer to witness the situation from Elizabeth’s perspective. This allows the focus to be on Mr. Collins as he proposes. Elizabeth is “looking down” on Mr. Collins as she “stands up” to him. She does this literally by standing up from her seat to look down on him, and figuratively by standing up for herself and denying his proposal. Elizabeth is therefore seen as more superior as Mr. Collins – this is because he is positioned at a lower level than her.

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The editing of the scene from the wide shot of Still 2 to Still 3 is very abrupt. The camera zooms into Elizabeth’s face after Still 2, then moving to Still 3. Elizabeth’s facial expression demonstrate determination and confidence, as she maintains a straight face and eye contact with Mr. Collins. This quick juxtaposition of shots allows the viewer to feel that Elizabeth is being rushed into marriage by Mr. Collins. The hasty, brash sound of the chair scraping against the wooden floor adds to the rushed atmosphere and splits the proposal into two sections. In the first section, Mr. Collins dialogs to mask the silence of the room, and Elizabeth cannot find any words whatsoever, because of her surprise and frustration. The chair then scrapes the floor rapidly as Elizabeth stands up, breaking the dullness of Mr. Collins’ voice, moving into the second section of the proposal where she refuses him.

Elizabeth is stubborn, and does not change her decisions easily. Elizabeth believes in marrying for love or not marrying at all, and not for the necessity. In this way, Elizabeth challenges the motives for matrimony. Mrs. Bennet emphasizes the fact that her daughter’s denial of the proposal is unacceptable, and tries to convince Mr. Bennet to order Elizabeth to accept the proposal. In this situation in the nineteenth century, women were expected to accept a proposal to ensure the well-being of their family – women were expected to respect men, and agree to all that they were told by them. But Elizabeth is stubborn and does not obey to the “rules” of the time period. Elizabeth risks the chance at having an established life and ensuring this for her sisters too. She gambles a chance at marriage, uncertain that she will get the opportunity again. By doing this, she puts her family in jeopardy, as upon the death of her father, Mr. Collins will inherit their estate.

Elizabeth is proud. She often makes judgments based on appearance and first encounters, and honours them through the bulk of the plot – hence the title Pride and Prejudice. This links to her relationship with Mr. Darcy, as well as Mr. Wickham. She only changes her initial opinion of their character later in the novel. Elizabeth also rejects the (first) marriage proposal of Mr. Darcy. She challenges patriarchy greatly here as she expresses to Darcy her reasons for not accepting his proposal. Elizabeth reprimands Darcy for separating Mr. Bingley and Jane, and because of his poor relationship with Mr. Wickham. She indirectly refuses the chance at improving her status, being the wife of a wealthy man and having a relationship of love and security. Darcy is proud but he realizes his feeling for Elizabeth and tells her honestly. Elizabeth here again disallows herself a chance at a fruitful life. Elizabeth is preoccupied with her pride and her values; therefore, she does not realise her feelings for Mr. Darcy initially.

Refer to Still 4 Jane Austen sets Mr. Darcy’s proposal inside a house, while Joe Wright sets it outside, with the wet weather surrounding the duo. The author intends for Elizabeth to be caught off guard as she is not expecting Darcy to arrive, while the director creates a dramatic and intense mood in the pouring rain as shown in figure 3. She is also caught off guard in the film. The dialogue is followed closely. Joe Wright uses the rain to emphasize the drama. The author describes Elizabeth as having increasing anger. In the film, Elizabeth has an angry tone in her voice and maintains eye contact with Darcy, which contributes to the seriousness and tenseness of the scene, and to her challenging Mr. Darcy.

Refer to Still 5 At the Meryton Ball, Elizabeth challenges patriarchy as well as her social class by confidently recommending to Mr. Darcy after he asks what she would suggest to encourage affection, ‘Dancing even if one’s partner is barely tolerable.’ She then walks away from the conversation, after doing a small bow. Here she shows her confidence and ability to confront. Jane Austen does not include this dialogue in her novel. Joe Wrights inclusion of this allows for Elizabeth’s character to be emphasized as a woman who is not afraid to defy a man, which emphasizes Jane Austen’s intention for Elizabeth’s character who is utilized to demonstrate this.

In an essay on “gender and class oppression in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice”, Chung Chin-Yi makes these remarks: “In Austen’s world, women have few opportunities to support themselves in society aside from becoming governesses or marrying into wealth and prestige. Females had little opportunity for employment, to become a governess was considered degrading, and when there are no brothers or heirs to the estate, as in the case of Elizabeth Bennett’s family, the family then has to entail its fortune, in this case to a distant cousin, Mr Collins. Women thus suffer on many counts on account of their gender, in the suffocating society of manners and class pretension that Austen depicts, marriage becomes a need for survival. Yet, Elizabeth remains an independent minded heroine who rejects Mr Collins proposal and initially Mr Darcy’s proposal as she does not believe in marrying simply for status or wealth…” (Chin-Yi, 2019).

Finding a husband was a necessity, yet Elizabeth refuses two proposals. In this way, she challenges the expectations of women. In the nineteenth century, a proposal was sought after and women were expected to respect men, rich or poor, and accept the proposal to ensure that their future was stable and secure. This was because women who did not marry were seen as a burden to their family. Patriarchy was prevalent through marriage.

In conclusion, Joe Wright portrays Elizabeth very effectively according to Jane Austen’s intention. Jane Austen uses Elizabeth as a protagonist who remains true to who she is and who does not “follow the crowd”. Elizabeth is portrayed with stubbornness, pride and a strong-minded opinion, which successfully allows her to challenge of the patriarchal setting displayed in Pride and Prejudice. Joe Wright successfully interprets Elizabeth’s character, and uses clever filmic choices to reinforce the message Jane Austen conveys by adding effective cinematography, sound, editing and mise-en-scene. Therefore, the director of the film, Joe Wright, conveys the author, Jane Austen’s, intention very effectively.

Bibliography

  1. Austen, J. (1813). Pride and Prejudice. London: Penguin Books. Retrieved February 18, 2019
  2. Barnes, & Noble. (2019). Pride and Prejudice Characters: Elizabeth Bennet. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from Spark Notes: https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/pride/character/elizabeth-bennet/
  3. Barnes, & Noble. (2019). Pride and Prejudice Characters: Mr Bennet. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from Spark Notes: https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/pride/character/mr-bennet/
  4. Chin-Yi, C. (2019). Gender and class oppression in Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice. Retrieved from Academia.
  5. Gale, T. (2006). Women In The 19th Century: Introduction. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/women-19th-century-introduction
  6. Hanley, V. (2016, September 21). Character Study of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from Reviews Rants and Rambles: https://vinhanley.com/2016/09/21/character-study-of-elizabeth-bennet-and-mr-darcy-in-pride-and-prejudice/
  7. Jeane. (2005). Top 10 Favorite Elizabeth & Darcy Moments in Pride & Prejudice (2005) Movie. Retrieved 2019, from Pride & Prejudice (2005) blog: http://prideandprejudice05.blogspot.com/2015/09/top-10-favorite-elizabeth-darcy-moments.html
  8. Press, O. U. (2019). Patriarchy. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from English Oxford Living Dictionaries: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/patriarchy
  9. Shmoop University. (2019). Mr. Collins Character Analysis. Retrieved February 17, 2019, from Shmoop: https://www.shmoop.com/pride-and-prejudice/mr-collins.html
  10. West, C. (2018, July 23). The Role of Patriarchy in Pride and Prejudice: An Analysis of Mr. Bennet. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from Medium: https://medium.com/@camwest_5657/the-role-of-patriarchy-in-pride-and-prejudice-an-analysis-of-mr-bennet-2fbe573e5810
  11. Wright, J. (Director). (2005). Pride and Prejudice [Motion Picture]. Retrieved February 18, 2019

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Portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in Movie Versus Book: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-elizabeth-bennet-in-movie-versus-book-critical-analysis/
“Portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in Movie Versus Book: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-elizabeth-bennet-in-movie-versus-book-critical-analysis/
Portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in Movie Versus Book: Critical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-elizabeth-bennet-in-movie-versus-book-critical-analysis/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
Portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in Movie Versus Book: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/portrayal-of-elizabeth-bennet-in-movie-versus-book-critical-analysis/
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