Feminist Fridays: Pride and Prejudice (circa 1995 BBC)

Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, along with many of her other novels, often receives criticism for depicting women as utterly dependent on men. While I wholeheartedly disagree with this criticism (look at Austen’s satire! her wit! her humor! making fun of those who depend on men!), today I’d like to discuss this perspective regarding a modern adaptation of the novel: BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. After watching this in a matter of days at the beginning of my spring break (and becoming remarkably invested in the story absurdly quickly), I’ve returned to the age-old question: is this beloved, classic story feminist, particularly in mini-series form?

Of course, it has to be recognized that the Georgian Era in which Pride and Prejudice was written and is set is highly problematic by modern standards. Not only did women have no right to property and had to rely on advantageous marriages in order to move up in the ranks of society, but they also did not have great opportunities in terms of education, occupations, and paths forward in life. The incredibly class-conscious society depicted by Jane Austen in this 1813 novel and reflected in the 1995 mini-series left no room for the freedom of expression and opinion that women now have as a right today. It is to be expected that in depicting such a sexist society, the story itself would not be a call to action for the rise of women’s rights.

However, I would argue that there is something decidedly feminist about this story, particularly in the character of Lizzie Bennet. Not only is Lizzie independent, witty, and intelligent, but she is also much more active than women were expected to be during this time period. For instance, this subversion of the passive, obedient standard for women is apparent in mini-series scene where she trudges all the way to see her sister, Jane, at the Bingley’s house and arrives covered in mud. While the other women in the house scoff at Lizzie’s disorderly appearance, Mr. Darcy admires her for her subversion of gender norms. These feminist moments may seem subtle, but I believe that they’re vital to understanding this story as a counter to sexist expectations of women during the Georgian Era.

Another admirable aspect of this novel and screen adaptation is the emphasis it places on bonds between women. While the romantic plot of this story is often highlighted as the most important element of the story, I think it can be argued that the relationships between women are equally as prevalent. The Bennet sisters rely on each other for comfort, support, and guidance in a society that stifles young women and fails to see their potential as independent citizens. The bond between Lizzie and Jane is particularly strong in the mini-series and demonstrates the importance of women lifting each other up in times of struggle, be that emotionally or physically. When it seems as though Mr. Bingley is no longer interested in Jane, Lizzie admires her emotional strength and encourages her to move on and not dwell on the past. Again, these moments may be subtle, but they nevertheless highlight the ways by which women in this society helped each other and found their own kinds of power in their lives.

Is Pride and Prejudice a flawless feminist text or television series? Of course not. However, I think it would be amiss to entirely discount this story as one that portrays women poorly without any meaningful underlying purpose. For all of its faults, I’m happy to admire this story for its feminist moments (and the binge-watching splendor of the mini-series!). If you haven’t yet watched this mini-series, I would highly recommend it!

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

What are your thoughts on the novel Pride and Prejudice and any of its television or movie adaptations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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24 thoughts on “Feminist Fridays: Pride and Prejudice (circa 1995 BBC)

  1. I totally agree with you on this. While a lot of people think it isn’t feminist I dislike looking at old stories through the eyes of modern expectations or standards. It’s not fair to the story or the period t was set it. I adore this post!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I agree for the most part. I think that P&P does something interesting. A major part of the plot is that the Bennet’s are threatened because women can’t inherit property under British law, so when Mr. Bennet dies, Mrs. Bennet and all the girls could find themselves homeless. That problem drives a lot of the action. People tend to see Mrs. Bennet as absurd, and yes, she’s silly, but she’s facing a very real problem, and trying to deal with it in the only way she knows how- by ensuring all her daughters are married and have a place in their husband’s homes. I think that by doing this, Austen subtly points out that the inheritance law is wrong, and can have devastating consequences for families. Something similar happens with Lydia and Wickham when they elope. Unless they marry, Lydia (and by extension all the Bennet girls) will be “ruined.” Again that’s not right, nor is it fair. There’s no reason that Lydia’s sisters should be held responsible for her decisions. Especially since they were ignorant of those decisions until it was too late. By putting the Bennets in this predicament, I think Austen is criticizing a system with such inflexible standards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is such a great point! There’s so much criticism of society in Austen’s novels, and its frustrating when so many people denounce them as upholding the system that Austen is actually fighting against.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the most striking aspects that I love about P&P is that Lizzie demands respect from her partner in addition to security. In fact, Austen takes pains to stress that respect more than the security. Even Mr. Bennett cautions her on marrying for security over affection and respect. Her foil, Charlotte, is to be pitied because she cannot respect her partner and blatantly chose security. There’s a dose of realism in Charlotte that makes Lizzie’s standards all the more admirable.
    Mary Wollstonecraft also wrote beautifully on this in “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”.

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      1. Hahaha there are so many adaptations! But yea I love the women that play Jane and Charlotte. And I think Mr. Darcy is adorbs (which is not totally what he’s supposed to be like, but it works!). Plus, Mr. Bingley is perfect. I hope you enjoy it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oooh I haven’t watched it since I was 11 but I loved it at the time. The miniseries is very compelling. I think it’s an interesting question…Austen was definitely a product of her time but she does manage to be subversive in various ways. Her protagonists question their petition, even if it isn’t ‘full’ feminism

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  5. I watched the mini-series when I was about 12, long before I read the book (which was last year) and I think you’re bang on with the subtle feminist idea.

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  6. I think for the time period there was little other way for Jane Austen than to add sublte moments of feminism. Things don’t change overnight but she still tried to add in critical notes to the society as mentioned in another comment.

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  7. i love this series of posts of yours! i totally agree with your analysis. it’s (yet) another reason that it really bugs me when people dismiss jane austen as just some gaudy romance writer: P&P is not only a remarkable image of what life was like in the time period, but a decidedly feminist one, for the time. most of the books i read today, written in more modern/current times, don’t have supportive female relationships like this one! especially not at the forefront of the text. and lizzie bennet is, of course, a wildly feminist character for the time, in her strength in fighting for her future and identity – as well as those of her sisters!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much!! ❤ I'm so glad you feel the same way. Whenever I get into a discussion with someone who feels as though Jane Austen is a romance writer with no substance or merit I get so frustrated– it's awful that she has this reputation!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t really understand how people can think JA is ‘a romance writer with no substance or merit.’ There’s nothing fluffy about her works – they’re incisive, witty, carefully plotted, elegantly told and full of characters I feel I’ve met before in real life. As for the romance, if you’re looking for lingering gazes and stirring kisses, she’s going to disappoint! There are plenty of modern writers who do that instead.

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