Pride and Prejudice: A (Skewed) Summary in Four Songs
Pride and Prejudice is a classic as timeless as can be imagined, both in its original novel form and its countless adaptational forms. I recently re-read this book for a class here at UIC, and I am so glad I did because I honestly felt cheated by my first reading. Two summers ago, I read the book in roughly three days and was disappointed with my own dislike of it. I was terribly confused as to what the big deal was; I watched the 2005 movie (a screencap of which is pictured above) out of desperation a few weeks later, mostly because I was so upset at my own reaction to a story that I thought would’ve been an absolute hit with me. As it turned out, it was an absolute hit, but not until the movie (and second reading) convinced me otherwise. For those unfamiliar, the story revolves around Mr. Darcy, a rich gentleman with a rather awkward and prickly personality, and Elizabeth Bennet, a clever girl from a middle-class family in danger of losing their estate. Their romance is marred with misunderstandings and initial distaste for one another (with pride and prejudice, actually, as one may have guessed), but Darcy soon falls in love with Elizabeth’s challenging yet attractive and spirited character. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth follows suit, and thus one of the greatest and most iconic romances in history is born.
The two first meet at a social dance: Darcy refuses to dance with Elizabeth, which was an immense insult to a woman in Regency England. He later regrets doing so and offers her a dance or two at the following ball after he has learned he has feelings for her. Thus, the first song on the Pride and Prejudice track list is "Do You Love Me" by The Contours. From Darcy’s perspective, his asking her hand in a dance is a gesture of goodwill, a gesture “to let [Elizabeth] know / [he] can really shake ‘em down,” as the lyrics of the song state. It’s pretty funny, but dancing (and being a good dancer) was a big deal back then. Darcy is desperately hoping he can reverse Elizabeth’s negative opinion of him. She may have started by “[not] even [wanting him] around”, but that soon changed—starting with this dance!
Although Elizabeth’s opinion does change, it happens far slower than Darcy seems to realize: he proposes awfully prematurely and is rejected. By this logic, he aligns with the outlook of the protagonist in the second song on the playlist, "The Lady Loves Me" by Elvis Presley (With Ann-Margaret). The song, originally from the 1964 film Viva Las Vegas, follows a man (played by Elvis) insisting the woman of his affections loves him, while the woman (played by Ann-Margaret) intensely disagrees. Elvis’s character insists she “loves [him], but she doesn’t know it yet” and “it shows in spite of the way she turns up her nose." In Darcy’s proposal, it is very clear he expects to be instantly accepted, not only because of his belief that her feelings have changed (even if her behavior toward him hasn’t), but also because he is rich as all-get-out. Unfortunately for him, Elizabeth, like Ann-Margaret’s character, believes “the gentleman is an egotist” who “needs a psychiatrist”. It is fitting, considering Darcy represents the “pride” part of the title.
Obviously, Darcy’s first proposal is really terrible. He argues that he fell for Elizabeth despite her inferior status and the advice of all of his family, friends, and even his own better judgment. Luckily for Darcy, this is not the worst proposal in the book—that award goes to Mr. Collins, who visits the Bennet family to (basically) go wife-shopping. While he originally singles out Elizabeth’s elder sister Jane, he settles on Elizabeth when she is told Jane is soon to be engaged to another man. After Elizabeth rightfully refuses him, he proposes yet again to Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lucas. The man makes three proposals in three days, which illustrates the third song, ‘My Type’ by Saint Motel. Evidently, women are interchangeable with Mr. Collins: Charlotte “has a pulse and [is] breathing,” so she is “just [Mr. Collins’] type." Poor Charlotte.
Charlotte got stuck in a dead-end marriage, sure, but Elizabeth still had a choice to make by the time her friend was married away: what did she think of Mr. Darcy after all? Halfway through the book, new information comes to her that reveals Darcy as a truly kind-hearted and rather selfless person. It’s accelerated by the fact that, after his proposal is rejected, Darcy accepts the situation and still does good for Elizabeth without hard feelings. He only asks her to give him a chance, so, rather fittingly, the last song is "Take A Chance On Me" by ABBA. He stops actively pursuing Elizabeth after she refuses him, but he also makes no moves to pursue anyone else. “If [she changes] her mind,” he remains “first in line” for the marriage game. There are some extenuating circumstances in his favor, but, as is customary with every Jane Austen novel, she takes the chance by the end—they are happily married in the conclusion.
So, it is happily ever after for Darcy and Elizabeth, not so much for Charlotte or Mr. Collins—but what else can be expected? They aren’t characterized by vices in the title, after all. Thanks for reading everybody; I’ll close with some runner-up songs for P&P and tell you to have a great week!
Runner-ups: "Head Over Heels" by the Go-Go’s, "I Know Where I’m Going" by Judy Collins.