Published by AudioGo – running time 12 hrs 5 mins
The crucial character of Lizzie…
😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 for the book 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 for the reading
When I try to pin down why I love Pride and Prejudice as much as I do, it really comes down to the character of Lizzie – her warmth, her strength and her humour. Lizzie, had she gone as governess to Thornton Hall, would not have moped around after the rather unpleasant Mr Rochester – no, indeed! She would have been annoyed at his behaviour, disgusted by his morals (or lack thereof), and would have set him straight on points of etiquette towards governesses and wards. Fortunately, Darcy is not as unpleasant as Rochester and, as well as the major benefit of not having a mad wife locked in the attic, is considerably better-looking.
I’m jesting a little, but there is a point – an independent-minded, strong heroine without her own fortune who is willing to turn down a man with as much material wealth as Darcy is a rarity in nineteenth century fiction. The position of ‘gentlewomen’ was such that, unless they controlled a fortune of their own, their welfare was entirely dependent on their male relatives – fathers, brothers, husbands. It’s hard for us to imagine what that must have been like. We get upset today when we hear of forced marriages, and even arranged marriages are anathema to many of us. But Lizzie and women of her era were expected to accept any offer that came with enough gold attached – you only have to look at Mrs Bennet’s reaction to Lizzie’s refusal of Mr Collins to get a feel for the pressure that girls were put under.
OK, this is fiction, and it all works out in the end…but there are other characters in Austen’s work that show the misery of the genteel poverty that many women were forced to live in through lack of a good marriage – Miss Bates in Emma, for instance. This is the future that may well have loomed for Lizzie if she failed to ‘secure’ a husband. How brave, then, to refuse Darcy! And for good reasons – not because she had fallen in love with some disreputable rascal but because she felt his proud manners and lack of concern for the feelings of others made him truly unlikeable.
But does she then boast of her conquest? Or mope over a missed opportunity? No! She keeps her feelings to herself and turns her strength and humour towards cheering up her beloved but blighted-in-love sister Jane, helping her mother and father get through the unfortunate Lydia incident and generally being the rock of the family. And, instead of resenting Darcy for having been proved right about her family, she is open and honest enough to reflect on his words and actions and to discern the goodness of character that hides behind his forbidding exterior. And a word of praise for Darcy here too – many a young man would have bitterly resented Lizzie’s refusal, but Darcy too reflects and comes to see the justice in her harsh words to him.
“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.”
All of this is a long preamble to explain why, although I love Lindsay Duncan nearly as much as I love Lizzie, her interpretation of Lizzie didn’t work for me in this audio-disc set. She has a lovely speaking voice and is one of my favourite actresses, but somehow she makes Lizzie sound hard and rather unladylike in this – I could imagine this Lizzie turning into a middle-aged scold. When she spoke the line about Lizzie dating her love for Darcy from ‘my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’ it didn’t sound like the self-mocking joke that it is in the book. When she gently mocks Darcy at the end, it doesn’t sound gentle and I could imagine them in a few years as one of those harridan-wife/hen-pecked-husband couples that Dickens would have enjoyed so much. Somehow the humour of Austen’s writing and the fundamental and crucial happiness of Lizzie’s nature didn’t shine through. In fact, I felt that, when speaking the dialogue, most of the girls sounded far too old and a bit fishwifely (especially poor Charlotte), whereas in the non-dialogue passages, when using her natural speaking voice, Duncan’s tone is perfect for the book.
So overall I thought this was a very good reading that would probably work well for someone coming fresh to the book with no preconceived ideas, but it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. 5 stars for the book, of course, but only 4 for the reading.
NB This audio-disc set was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.