I just came across one of your posts on love where you mention pride and prejudice in the tags- do you have any more explicit thoughts on what makes it good as a love story? I love p&p and I'd love to hear what you think if you have time!
I don’t have time at all but I can’t resist an invitation to talk about Pride & Prejudice.
P&P has tropes & plot structures that have occured plenty of times in romance before and since–the “misogynist with a heart of gold” that is Fitzwilliam Darcy, the general woman-rejects-man-then-later-accepts-him arc–but I think that it succeeds where a lot of other things with similar narrative structures fail.
the thing about this setup is that provides ample opportunity to showcase love as a transformative force. and fiction with this setup succeeds or fails, imo, on the strength of its success or its failure to do that. a lot of things written in this vein, including modernized or AU-style adaptations of P&P or things that were probably heavily inspired by P&P, fail because there’s no character growth and no transformation. the woman realises that she was silly to reject the man for her silly reasons (which were actually probably very sound) but doesn’t really change in any material way–the man is there to graciously accept her change of heart, but doesn’t change in any material way either. this, incidentally, is why I can’t get behind North & South in the way that I can Pride & Prejudice.
the appeal of Pride & Prejudice for me–and, presumably, the appeal of P&P to a lot of women who are into men, lmao–is that Darcy actually changes throughout the course of the book due to Elizabeth’s influence. we see this, of course, during the scene at Pemberley with the Gardiners, when he behaves w/ actual civility (in ways that are probably familiar to you and don’t need to be dwelled on), and Elizabeth is all,
Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me—it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened. My reproofs at Hunsford could not work such a change as this. It is impossible that he should still love me.
but. okay. so what. anyone can change their behaviour for another person, anyone can act the way that they think they have to act to get the girl, so what? the real crux of this imo, and what makes it really compelling to me, is that I don’t think he changed for Elizabeth. because of her, yes, by his own admission, but from the time between her rejection and her arrival at Pemberley, I don’t think he ever thought that he was going to see her again. or at any rate I don’t think he planned to reform (or appear to reform) for the sole purpose of getting her to say yes to him. after she rejected him, he spent a lot of time, on his own, thinking about what she had said and looking back over his own behaviour:
The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: ‘had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;—though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice.
so he realises, over a long stretch of time, that he was disrespecting Elizabeth, failing to pay attention to her actual feelings (during the proposal scene and before), and expecting his status to be sufficient in securing her acceptance. he realises this by reflecting on himself, at his own impetus, at some distance from Elizabeth, not expecting her to guide him through the process of becoming a better person, not expecting her to automatically love him at the end of this process. he examines himself, not because he’s being guided every step of the way by a Selfless Female Figure, and not because he expects reward, but because it’s the right thing to do. and I think that his behaviour and mindset would have changed even if he never saw Elizabeth again, even if she had said no to him again when he proposed for the second time. (which was a greatly improved proposal, btw–“one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever”? a vast improvement over launching into a proposal without noting the “cold civility” of Elizabeth’s manner. “you are too generous to trifle with me”? a far superior knowledge of her character to thinking that her refuseal was solely due to her “pride [being] hurt by my honest confession of the scruples that had long prevented my forming any serious design”.)
I can’t resist quoting this entire speech as an illustration of my point:
Painful recollections will intrude which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. (emphasis mine)
my only quibble with this is that I would have wished this apology to occur before Elizabeth’s acceptance, but oh well.
of course, Elizabeth changes as a result of all of this too, and that’s part of the point of the book (Darcy’s is the Pride, but hers is the Prejudice). after she realises that she was wrong about Wickham:
She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
“How despicably I have acted!” she cried; “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.”
similarly, she attends to her shortcomings without outside guidance, and she doesn’t change for anyone in particular. this is important to talk about when discussing how P&P showcases the possibility of transformation, and the transformative power of love. of course, she doesn’t love Darcy at this point, and I’d argue that Darcy didn’t love her at the time of his first proposal either (he was perhaps passionate or infatuated, but real love involves respect for someone and a knowledge of them, and Darcy had neither). what’s really compelling about this for me, what really makes me care, god help me, about this straight white British couple, is that they don’t just go on loving each other w/o changing, they don’t even change because of their love for each other, but they arrive at loving each other through the ways in which they change because of their experiences with each other. and I think that this novel gets at, in a way that a lot of fiction based in the same general premise fails to get at, the concept of love as action, love as respect and mutuality, love as process, and love as transformation.