So begins one of the most enduring and enjoyable of English novels. Over two centuries have passed since it was first written, and very little less since it was published. It is a comedy of manners, and those manners are very far from today’s – but the human interactions and perplexities remain as strong as ever. Derivatives have been rewritten on everything from murder mysteries to zombies to time travel. There are of course different editions of the original work or commentaries on it, but there are also sequels, plays, videos, retellings and even a paper doll.
I have recently been indulging in the original novel and two of the derivative works: the DVD of the BBC dramatization and a trilogy by Pamela Aidan of a retelling of the story from Darcy’s point of view. The three versions give an interesting demonstration of the importance of point of view.
The original book is primarily focused on Elizabeth’s point of view. It is not a tight point of view; Mr. Collins sneaks out to court Charlotte, Bingley’s sisters talk about Elizabeth behind her back, and even Darcy’s emotions are made clear to the reader long before Elizabeth has any hint that he considers her anything but a nuisance. But in general the reader is not told much that Elizabeth does not know, and there is no scene without a woman present.
The dramatization follows the book quite closely, even to most of the dialogue being taken word for word from the book. Some changes, such as Darcy’s swim (Jane Austin certainly never thought of his meeting Elizabeth at Pemberley dripping wet) are minor, but the scenes immediately following discovery of Lydia’s elopement produce a definite shift toward a more distant and omniscient point of view. In the book, the reader is encouraged to think, with Elizabeth, that Darcy wants nothing more to do with the family. In the dramatization, the viewer follows Darcy to London and knows long before Lydia lets it slip that Darcy, far from withdrawing himself from the contamination of Elizabeth’s family, has humbled himself to bribe the man he hates most to marry Lydia. The effect is a switch to a more omniscient point of view.
The Aidan trilogy, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, is written using a tighter limited omniscient point of view than the original novel, but this time the character followed is Darcy. The first book, An Assembly Such as This, follows most of Volume I of Pride and Prejudice. As far as the scenes in which Darcy and Elizabeth both appear, there is little difference in what happens, though of course the interpretations are quite different. Three new characters are introduced early, but only one, Darcy’s valet Fletcher, is human. (The other two are Darcy’s horse and the young hound he is training.) The last two chapters of the first Aidan book are concerned with Darcy’s attempts to distract Bingley from Jane in London. Here Fletcher comes into his own in a sartorial rivalry–quite unanticipated on Darcy’s part–with Beau Brummel. I suspect the major purpose of the author is to depict the shallowness and degeneracy of the group that would be considered Darcy’s social equals, and to point out that Darcy is aware of and disgusted by their behavior. Other new characters introduced in this book are of minor importance, though some become critical later and at least one, Lord Dyfed Brougham, turns out to be an important character in Darcy’s recognition of his own selfishness.
The second Aidan book, Duty and Desire, covers the period between Darcy’s separation of Bingley from Jane and his visit to Rosings. Elizabeth appears only through Darcy’s infatuation–which he is trying his best to overcome. He must have an heir, and Pemberley must have a mistress. He actively seeks a wife, hoping to put Elizabeth out of his head. Darcy’s interaction with his sister in the first third of the book, together with the later house party, make his eventual proposal to Elizabeth at Rosings more believable, though it is not until the third book that he finally acts on his infatuation. (I cannot help but wonder if Ms. Aidan saw the PBS special, Regency House Party, as that certainly ties into the last two-thirds of the second book.) But the Aidan book is otherwise quite unconnected to the Austen original.
The third book, These Three Remain, covers the second half of Pride and Prejudice, from the arrival at Rosings of Darcy and his cousin, the proposal, and most important, and totally left out of the Austen original, Darcy’s struggle with himself which leads him “to see himself as others see him”. By the time he meets Elizabeth again, at Pemberley, his change is convincing enough that we can follow him to London and his bribery of Wickham to marry Lydia with some degree of belief. After this, the trilogy gradually returns to the original novel, though I greatly enjoyed the scene where Lady Catherine confronts Darcy at his town house.
By itself, the trilogy would not compete with Jane Austen’s novel. It does, however, complement it, as does the dramatization.
All in all, the novel and the two derivative works form an interesting demonstration of how different points of view can make different stories of the same events.