Jane Austen Knew About the Neg

The BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice surpasses any other adaptation of the Great Jane.  Novels tend to make for poor movies, but their dramatic rhythms make for great television series.  Part of the reason for this version’s excellence, I think, stems from the attraction all women feel for Darcy, as played by Colin Firth.  He’s the most manly of all Austen’s beaux and the most skilled in game–clearly at work in this excerpt, Darcy’s first appearance at a public ball.  The whole thing unfolds perfectly: First, Elizabeth generates a bit of a jealousy plot for herself as she watches her sister, Jane, dance with the highly valued Mr. Bingley. Second, Darcy does not directly approach Elizabeth, but instead he lingers within earshot. Finally, he launches the negs that every woman I know who has seen this remembers to this day: 

Bingley: Come, you must dance. 

Darcy: I certainly shall not. At an assembly such as this? It would be unsupportable. 

[Cut to Elizabeth yearning to prove her worth.]

Darcy: Your sisters are engaged at present. I would think it a punishment to stand up with any other woman in the room.

[He accomplishes three things: another neg, preselection–he’s here with other high value women–and he makes a nod to caring for others.]

Bingley: I wouldn’t be as fastidious for a kingdom. I never met so many  pleasant girls in my life, except for one uncommonly pretty.

[Darcy’s wingman calls him out on his bull shittake. Great Cat theory here: lay out the toy, wiggle it, tempt, but pull away…]

Darcy: You have been dancing with the only handsome girl in the room. 

Bingley: She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld. 

[This is smooth. The mere fact that Bingley is interested in Jane ignites hope in Elizabeth.  Might Darcy want me?] 

Bingley: (indicating Elizabeth) Look there’s one of her sisters. She’s very pretty, too. I dare say agreeable. 

Darcy: She’s tolerable, I suppose. But she’s not handsome enough to tempt me. 

[Elizabeth’s stung, but tropical underneath that dress. Darcy continues, unrelenting…]

Darcy: Bingley! I’m in no mood to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. Go back to your partner and enjoy her smiles for the rest of the evening. 

[Disqualifies himself as suitor and demonstrates her much lower social value.]

Admittedly, the scene ends on Darcy feeling some guilt for having been so rough. But the game has been played. The only thing Elizabeth can do is runaway and laugh with other girly girls. Despite her rationalizations to the contrary, Elizabeth’s heart is his. Biomechanics is god.

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3 responses to “Jane Austen Knew About the Neg

  1. Pingback: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad…um…yeah. « Barely Knit Together

  2. supertailz

    I have to say I disagree kind of wholeheartedly. I think you kind of missed the point of Pride and Prejudice by quite a ways in this take on it. What Jane Austen is espousing is sincerity and it’s completely obvious both in that Elizabeth *doesn’t* even begin to like Darcy until she realises that a) she misjudged him and b) he starts behaving in a polite, honest and *nice* manner. The idea that Elizabeth is in any way attracted to his initial bastardly behaviour is simply extrapolating things from the text that just aren’t there. Some people may have responded in that way to those remarks – I can’t speak as to whether you’d be one of them – but Elizabeth certainly didn’t and wouldn’t. She’s attracted to a good person and politeness – equally obvious in her initial attraction to Wickham which is based on his “appearance of goodness” and when she discovers that it’s merely an appearance her attraction to him dies.

    Had Elizabeth liked Darcy for his rudeness, not only would she have fallen for him entirely when he proposed to her and the whole book would have been much shorter, but they would have ended up in the unequal relationship of which her father was so afraid for her. Instead of which it isn’t until sincerity, honesty and “gentlemanlike behaviour” are factors in their relationship that she falls for him.

    The neg often works (in my opinion unfortunately) but I think you are sincerely mistaken in supposing this to be one of the cases. Take instead a book like “Twilight” which shows a completely unhealthy relationship based pretty much solely around the concept of “the neg”. Leave P&P alone; it doesn’t deserve what you did to it.

  3. finsalscollons

    “Elizabeth *doesn’t* even begin to like Darcy until she realises that a) she misjudged him and b) he starts behaving in a polite, honest and *nice* manner. ”

    Having read twice the novel and seen two adaptations, I don’t quite agree. You forgot the c) reason. I will write it for you:

    and c) she travels to Darcy’s estate, realizes how amazingly rich Darcy is and imagines herself as the owner of these possessions through marriage.

    Elizabeth is the ultimate golddigger. When asked when she started loving Darcy she says: “When I saw his estate” (I am quoting by memory).

    Read Jane Austen and see how the economical motivations of the female characters are clear and go along with their romantic motivations. Good old Jane knew more about the nature of women and their hypergamy that most modern commentators.

    And this is one of the hundred reasons I love Jane Austen. Everything which is covert in our society is open in their novels.

    A modern woman would say about a man who is attracted to because of his riches: “He is quite a catch”, “He is successful”, “He is a leader”, “He is a gentleman”, “He treats me like a queen”, “He comes from a good family” and other euphemisms. Jane Austen is blunter. Her descriptions of their male characters often start like this: “Mr. So-and-So was a rich heir and had a rent of zillion pounds”.

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