A few years ago, my husband and I were able to attend a performance of Japanese Kabuki theater company. The performance was in Japanese, so the entire audience had headsets that allowed an interpreter in translate the performance for us. The interpreter was spectacular. He translated not only the language, but the culture as well. He explained so many things that made the performance so much more enjoyable. For example, there were a number of black garbed people running around the stage but they were not actors. He explained they were stage hands and they wore black so you could not see them. Amazingly, once I knew this, I found I really didn’t see them anymore. One of the stage actors wore a costume with pant legs about three feet longer than they needed to be. He explained that the king’s advisers wore these pants to protect the king for if they were to harm the king in any way, they could not make a quick escape.
These little tidbits added so much to the performance and helped us enjoy it far more than we otherwise would have. I have found myself offering the same service to my family when we watch period movies, particularly Regency era ones. When my boys studied Pride and Prejudice in high school, I watched with them and explained an entire subtext that they were entirely unaware of. While they made some noises about appreciating it, I’m not sure how welcome my interpreting was to them.
But you, gracious readers, are an entirely different class all together! You share my joy and fascination with all things Regency. I cannot wait to sit down and watch Pride and Prejudice with you who will allow me to have my share of the conversation and not give me rolled eyes and pats on the head for it.
Episode 1 part 1
In the opening sequence, we seek Elizabeth walking and even running along lovely countryside on her way back to Longbourn house. Although it seems innocent enough, the custom of the day did not look favorably on young ladies walking by themselves–who knows what dangers might await them without a chaperone! Moreover, running was strongly discouraged as distinctly unladylike since well-bred individuals moved with elegance and poise at all times. I don’t know about you, but I would have been in serious trouble. Let’s just same my name being ‘grace’ is more irony than anything else.
When Elizabeth returns home, her sisters are loudly arguing and running through the house. At fifteen and sixteen, these young ladies are far too old to behave in such unladylike ways, pointing to the poor management of Mrs. Bennet upon her daughters. Their voices should be moderated and they should never engage in vulgar displays of emotion if they are to have any hope of being accepted in polite society.
A little later, as the Bennets are on their way home from church and the girls line up behind their mother in order of age. The Regency era was a period where social rank was very important and people were very aware of their place in society. The Bennet sisters walk in rank order, eldest to youngest. After her marriage, Lydia makes note of how their order of precedence must change a way of flaunting her new status and rank as a married woman—probably the first time she ever got to walk at the front of the line in her life.
Mrs. Bennet brings up the arrival of Bingley to Netherfield to Mr. Bennet and reminds him that he must pay a visit to the new comer to the neighborhood. It was custom that the established members of the neighborhood would visit a newcomer and establish an acquaintance between the families. Until their father visited, none of the Bennet ladies could visit or call upon the Netherfield ladies. When Mr. Bennet suggests, jokingly, that perhaps the ladies should visit alone, he is alluding to behavior so shockingly improper, no decent woman would ever consider it. No well-bred woman would ever call upon a man unless it was on a matter of business. Keep this in mind regarding Kitty and Lydia a little later.
When they return home, Mrs. Bennet immediately complains to Hill about Mr. Bennet’s behavior. This again reveals Mrs. Bennet as a very improper woman. A well-mannered woman would never speak to a servant in such a familiar manner, nor about such personal issues. One did not involve servants in one’s personal life. Servants were to be treated courteously, but with appropriate distance and formality.
Episode 1 part 2
As we start part 2, Mrs. Bennet is lamenting that they will never know Mr. Bingley, only to discover that Mr. Bennet has indeed visited Netherfield and now they will be unable to escape the acquaintance. Once an acquaintance was made, it was expected that the families would mingle together. Since in any neighborhood, there were a limited number of gentle-persons, it was expected that they would all socialize together. To fail to do so would be intolerably rude. I can imagine some very awkward moments when people did not get along with one another or were put out with one another. Perhaps this was related to the requirement that emotional outbursts be strictly avoided.
At the Meryton Assembly (a public ball), all the Bennet sisters anticipated a dance with Mr. Bingley. Gentlemen were expected to dance with many ladies during an evening and, unless engaged to a lady, unable to dance more than two dances with a single lady during the evening. As one of the leading families in the community, the Bennet ladies could expect to be honored with Mr. Bingley as a partner.
At the assembly, Sir William Lucas acts as Master of Ceremonies for the event. As Master of Ceremonies, he helps identify which lady and gentlemen will have the leading spot for each dance. He also performs the service of introductions so the couples may dance. A lady who has not been properly introduced to a man cannot accept a dance invitation from him. This is unlike a private ball, where a refusal to dance requires the lady to sit out the rest of the evening. So even though Mr. Bennet has been introduced to Mr. Bingley, Mr. Bingley is not free to ask the Bennet ladies for a dance, yet.
Mr. Bingley requests an introduction to the Bennet ladies. As their superior in wealth (thus social standing) he must be the one to request an introduction for the superior individual determines whether or not an introduction is desirable and will be accepted at all.
Mrs. Bennet trespasses on this convention when she speaks to Mr. Darcy without an introduction. She is actually demonstrating very bad manners and perhaps even a bit of self-importance in assuming she should approach Darcy for an introduction. Bingley tries to cover the gaff by introducing Darcy to the Bennets, but Darcy is clearly affronted and leaves as soon as possible. It seems to us that Darcy is the one being rude, but in fact it is Mrs. Bennet whose behavior is intolerable. He simply wants to get away from an awkward situation before it gets any worse, much as we would want to escape the overly familiar ‘toucher’ who keeps encroaching on our personal space and we expect will be trying to set us up with his/her offspring on a blind date!
I have probably waffled on long enough for now. So what do you think? Shall we continue this interpreted viewing of Pride and Prejudice 1995 next time? Let me know in the comments!