Recently my roommate made me watch Bridget Jones’s Diary. She was excited about the new one coming out and horrified to hear that I had never seen the original, and I owed her some roommate bonding time, so I gave it a shot. I was less than impressed with the movie, but I was really surprised to hear that it’s actually supposed to be an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I saw little resemblance between the twenty-first century woman terrified of dying alone because she had no husband (even though she had two loving parents, a career, and close friends who always seemed to be around whenever she needed them) and Austen’s most famous heroine. The only obvious connection between the two stories lied with the central love interest, Mr. Darcy.
In both the film and the novel, Darcy is the stoic man-of-few-words with whom the heroine has an initial awkward encounter followed by a series of brief meetings in which he shows zero interest in her at all. However, he then catches her and the audience off guard with a confession of feelings for her. In the movie this takes the form of Mark Darcy telling an embarrassed Bridget that he likes her exactly the way she is, despite her endless faults. In the novel, it’s a dramatic marriage proposal, with Mr. Darcy telling Elizabeth that he loves her even though she’s poor and completely inappropriate for him. Although Elizabeth rejects this proposal and calls Darcy out on his rudeness, after she discovers all the kind things he’s secretly been doing for her all along, she realizes that she loves him back and regrets turning him away. Don’t worry though, both couples get their happy ending.
When I originally read Pride and Prejudice and watched a 2005 film adaptation of it, I agreed completely with Elizabeth that she and Darcy were perfect for each other and had no doubts that they’d be totally happy post-marriage. His silence and snobbery were just typical of all nineteenth century, brooding heroes. However, after watching Bridget Jones deal with her own Mr. Darcy, suddenly the love story looked a lot less loving. Take out the costumes and the balls and the Austen language and all that’s left is a guy who gives no indication at all of liking a woman, and is in fact openly rude to her, until he finally decides that he’ll take her even though she is deeply flawed and not at all good enough for him. Elizabeth and Bridget can both do better, and an actual happy ending would’ve involved both women telling the men in their lives that being mean to a girl because you like her isn’t a thing past first grade.
Viewing a text through a new lens is always helpful in reconsidering old ideas you’d never thought to question before. Even something as unlikely as a modern day rom-com movie adaptation of a classic British novel can be a source for new ways of thinking. A text changes with its audience, and looking at something from a new angle can alter your entire interpretation of it. Austen wasn’t writing for a twenty-first century audience, and my understanding of the text is wildly different from how her first readers would’ve interpreted it. Literary studies are filled with adaptations and recreations of classic works, and it’s always worthwhile to consider one piece of writing from a variety of different angles.