Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Best Couple of All Time: Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy, as portrayed by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, are the clear winners of the "Best Couple of All Time" Award. It is not just the brilliant writing of Jane Austen that brings these characters to life so fully realized, but the stunning performances of Ehle and Firth, both separately and together, due to their wonderful chemistry, that make this the all around best relationship ever put on film.


It is a relationship characterized by struggle, sparring, and misunderstanding, but also charm, wit, attraction and teasing. It is an almost perfect tale of lovers at cross purposes but with the great sense and compassion to allow them to be together in the end. There are barriers to their love - but they are not absolute barriers; they are allowed to share complete unblemished happiness by the end.

I have never been as taken with a book as I was with Pride and Prejudice when I first read it. I had heard of the book of course, but for some reason didn't know it. I thought of it like Crime and Punishment or War and Peace, some deep difficult tome that I should attack some day. Lucky for me, one day while browsing in the used book store I took the time to pick up a copy and read the back cover. I found that I was utterly mistaken about the topic and bought it immediately.

Having never read a work from that era, I found the style of writing fascinating and alien. Although Austen wrote in prose that was markedly different from modern English, I found it easy on the eye and not too complicated to follow. Her language simply flowed off the page and felt effortless. While some words and phases like "chase in four" and "Michaelmas" made no sense to me at first, the book was so immediately humorous and lighthearted that I sunk in instantly. It was an intelligent read, but not laborious. I remember noticing how quickly it was going by and started to budget myself, allowing myself only 20 pages at a sitting in order to make it last. But alas it ended. At which point I probably read it again right away. 

Part of the charm of Pride and Prejudice is that which is found in all of Jane Austen's work. Her books are uniformly enjoyable for her use of language, her wit, and her keen observations on humanity. I find her prose amazing, as in this description of Mr. Collins: "The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance." Wow. If there has ever been a better sentence written in the whole of the English language, I would like to see it. Her books are all full of such gems. However, not to take anything away from her other books, I think the love story in Pride and Prejudice is probably her best. 

Lizzy is an incredible heroine, with her vivacity and intelligence, approaching the world as a puzzle but doing so in an easy, natural manner.  "It was not in her nature, however, to increase her vexations by dwelling on them. She was confident of having performed her duty, and to fret over unavoidable evils, or augment them by anxiety, was no part of her disposition." She is one of the best loved women in literature and deservedly so. She is lovely, sharp, compassionate and in almost complete control of herself. This passage, as Elizabeth prepares to meet the great Lady Catherine de Burgh at her estate Rosings Park is one of my favorites. "Elizabeth's courage did not fail her. She had heard nothing of Lady Catherine that spoke her awful from any extraordinary talent or miraculous virtue, and the mere stateliness of money and rank she thought she could witness without trepidation." I thought of these words one day as I steeled myself to visit the home of a very wealthy friend of my son for a play date. I tried hard to witness their wealth without trepidation as Lizzy would have done. But I know that, as much as I wish I were Lizzy Bennett, I am not. She is the better woman.

The exchanges between her and Mr. Darcy, which we would now call "banter," are just gorgeous and so fine. Mr. Darcy's chief quality is being smart enough to understand her and brave enough to pursue her. Truly. How unlikely is that? The fact that a man of his wealth and station in life is able to fall so fully in love with a middle class country girl by page 38! The reader learns his feelings after an exchange at a small party where Darcy has asked Elizabeth if she didn't want to dance a reel. To this she replies that he must have wanted her to say "yes" so that he would have that excuse to "despise her taste." Instead, she insists that she does not want to dance a reel and that he should "despise me if you dare!" "Indeed I do  not dare," he replies and "Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody, and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her. He really believed that were it not for the inferiority of her connections he should be in some danger."

And even though the inferiority of her connections is extraordinary, and he is obviously concerned about it, he is willing to forget and propose 100 pages later. We, the readers/viewers, have known this was abrewin' for most of the book, but Elizabeth, taken by surprise, skewers him in a brilliantly acted scene from both actors. It is a testament to her character that she rejects him here. How many of us could have done that?! Seriously. Colin Firth's acting rends my heart. But she is a terrific heroine and she will not be gotten that easily.

The story goes on and most of the complications that have knit themselves between our lovers are slowly unraveled and they are ready to be together. This beautiful scene portrays forgiveness, longing and absolute adoration and it is all done through their eyes. These two actors both have such an astonishing ability to communicate through expression alone. I have still never been able to find out who is actually doing the singing of Mozart's Voi Che Sepate, in this scene: if it is indeed Jennifer Ehle singing? It's wonderful. The song is evocative of a mood, as is the piece Miss Darcy plays -- full of tension and then resolution. Elizabeth's deft handling of Miss Bingley makes Darcy an absolute goner. Look at that look on his face after Elizabeth rescues his sister.

I could go on. We all know how they are on the verge of total happiness when Elizabeth's sister Lydia screws everything up by running away with Wickham. That must be resolved and our hero has to be taken down a notch or two. He has to really prove that her lowly screwed up connections mean nothing to him next to his undying unfathomable passion for her. 

And Elizabeth has to have her own exorcism of relative-issues in that great scene where she puts Lady Catherine in her place. It serves the purpose of allowing her to assert passionately and publicly that she would consider and probably accept a proposal from Mr. Darcy.

Of course she does just that and the two get to be together, happily forever. A beautiful story.

"The Best Couple of All Time: Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy." LostinBritishTV


  1. I absolutely agree with you Amy. This is one of the best couples ever. I do not know if you are aware, but Firth and Elhe were a couple in real life when they made these series, hence the chemistry between them. The series had such an impact in popular culture that Helen Fielding the author of "The Bridget Jones's Diary" based her Mr. Darcy on Austen's Mr. Darcy. When Hollywood came calling and the book was made into a movie, Fielding, who also had the opportunity of writing the script, insisted in casting Firth as Mr. Darcy. The novel, as well as the movie also has many resemblances to Pride and Prejudice, including Bridget's obsession with the BBC series and the scene were Mr. Darcy comes out wet from the pond.

  2. It came as quite a surprise to me to see Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth both in "The King's Speech", although she played Mrs. Logue (the wife of the King's speech therapist). She would have made an excellent Queen Elizabeth to Colin's King George VI.