Was there ever a storyline more filled with letters than Pride and Prejudice? The delectable 1995 mini-series, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, introduces many of the story’s most significant plot points with letters, moving the tale forward from one missive to the next.
Caroline Bingley’s letter to Jane provides the eldest Bennet daughter with the chance to spend more time with the household of the eligible, single “£5,000 a year!” Mr. Bingley. Her matchmaking mama literally snatches the page from Jane’s hands to peruse it herself. Mrs. Bennet titters happily over the salutation “My dear friend,” and parses every line of the short note for its possibilities. “You must go and make what you can of it,” she pronounces.
A letter from Mr. Collins — cousin and heir to the Bennet family’s estate — is a pompous masterpiece. Mr. Bennet reads it aloud at the breakfast table, clearly relishing the writer’s ridiculous style. When Lizzy asks her father, “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” Her father replies, “Oh, I think not, my dear. Indeed, I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse.”
Of course, Pride and Prejudice‘s most enduring love story is that of Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet. Their dance between love and loathing remains one of fiction’s treasured romances a full two centuries after Jane Austen‘s book first appeared in London bookstores. Naturally, a letter from Darcy to Elizabeth plays a pivotal role when he details Mr. Wickham’s past and tries to justify separating Bingley from Jane.
I loved how that letter is neatly sealed with wax, but surrounded by broken quill tips, mute evidence of Darcy’s effort to explain himself to the woman he loves.
More letters exchange hands and news, sometimes read on screen and sometimes only discussed. But one is in no doubt that for the inhabitants of Regency England in general, and for the Bennet family in particular, theirs was a world of letters.
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