Societal Expectations: A Comparative Analysis of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’ Diary
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Austen 5)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a renowned classic. Its take on gender roles and social conventions in England in the early 1800’s, still resonates with readers today in the 21st century. As is seen in the many parallels between the book, Pride and Prejudice, and the movie, Bridget Jones’ Diary, in terms of societal expectations, social economic status, and the development of the characters respective relationships. The latter was built up with the Pride & Prejudice plot in mind which poses the question: How can a story written with past social conventions in mind, relate so well to a contemporary plot? The goal with this paper is to analyze and discuss the societal expectations of both eras and the idea of social misfits while also delving into the development of the relationships being built between the characters, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and, Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy.
This paper has been structured into four main sections. The first section provides a summery of the part social economic status played in early 1800’s England, as well as how we view social economic status today. The second section delves into an analysis of how both Elizabeth Bennet and Bridget Jones deviate from these conventions and are seen as social misfits of their time. Finally, the third section discusses the misunderstandings and the development from hate to love, in respectively, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s relationship, in addition to Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy’s relationship.
Social economic status and social misfits in the time of Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813. At that time women had many obligations and few, if any, choices. Women were expected to marry, have children and serve their husbands, as this was their only purpose. If a woman were to decide to stay single, “she would be ridiculed and pitied by the community.” (Smith, online.) Generally women were split up into three distinct classes: “Women of the upper-working class, women of the lower-working class, and the underclass women.” (Smith, online.) Underclass women usually had little other options than to rely on relief organizations or sort to prostitution. Lower-working class women typically had little or no inheritance to speak of and no education, and so would have to work besides fulfilling her roles as mother and housekeeper. The high expectations let to a highly taxing life for these women. In contrast upper-working class women would archetypally have some fortune and general education that made them more attractive to higher standing men. Because of this, men and women from different social statuses hardly ever mixed.
In the setting of Bridget Jones’ Dairy, England anno 2001, women have gained many more career and educational opportunities than before and the freedom of choice regarding whom, when and if they marry. Moreover, society is less divided in regards to class and breeding than in the 19th century. Yet there are still expectations laid upon us by society whom Bridget, contrary to her 19th century counterpart, Elizabeth, actually tries her best to meet.
Bridget Jones is 32 and single, a status she is not content with and one she is constantly seeking to change. While in a modern day setting the age-old stigma of marrying and having children is still present. In the beginning of the movie Bridget writes down her New Years resolutions in her new diary (Maguire 00:06:15 – 00:06:48). There she touches on some of the expectations today’s society have for women, such as: lose weight, become more organized and find a nice sensible man. Later on, as Bridget gets ready for a book launch where she hopes to impress Daniel Cleaver, it is conveyed how important it is for women to groom themselves to society’s preference. Bridget struggles with a short inner conflict during the movie, as to whether she should go for the more socially accepted and sexy G-string underwear, or the less accepted, yet more supportive granny panties (Maguire 00:14:37 – 00:14:57). Of course Bridget chooses the less popular option and thereby underlines her unusualness by breaking the norm.
Elizabeth Bennet however does her best to challenge the strict expectations and norms set by society in the early 1800’s. She decides, most uncharacteristically, to decline not only one, but two proposals of advantages marriage. Elizabeth wishes to marry for love not convenience and therefore chooses to turn down first, her horrid cousin Mr. Collins (Austen 104-106), and later, the proud Mr. Darcy (Austen 186). From a woman of Elizabeth’s standing in said time-period such behavior was virtually unheard of. The two aforementioned instances also show Elizabeth’s intelligence, outspokenness and resolution to stand by her own principles, which was atypical for her time.
The relationship developing between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy is also an atypical one. Our heroines first meeting with her leading man leaves much to be desired as he is described as follows: “[…] he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased.” (Austen 12) Mr. Darcy even takes a swing at Elizabeth’s own pride, when his friend Mr. Bingley suggests he dance with her, by declaring “she is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” (Austen 13). Later on in the book, after having met the seemingly charming Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth is told of the terrible wrongs Darcy has done him in the past. This discovery leads her to dislike Mr. Darcy even more, calling his actions abominable and dishonest (Austen 79-80). As the cherry on top of her resentment towards him Elizabeth finally learns that the reason for her sister, Jane, and Mr. Bingley’s separation, is non other than Mr. Darcy as well (Austen 181-182). Nearly immediately after, Darcy comes to Elizabeth and proposes to her, an event that culminates in her complete rejection of him. Resolute to at least clear his name of false accusations Darcy then writes Elizabeth a letter wherein he explains himself thoroughly, concerning her complaints about Mr. Wickham and her sister, Jane.
Their acquaintance now seems concluded but, after some time for reflection on both sides, they meet again at Mr. Darcy’s estate in Derbyshire. Here Elizabeth is able to see a side of Darcy she did not know he possessed, as he shows himself to be both civil and gentle in manner towards her and her companions (Austen 242). Elizabeth begins to develop feelings for Darcy after they spend some time together, and she is introduced to his little sister. In the end Darcy stands by Elizabeth through a difficult time, helping her family and correcting his wrongs. She realizes she is in love with Darcy and that she has been blinded by prejudice born from pride and misunderstandings.
Much the same development plays out between the characters, Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy, in the movie Bridget Jones’ Dairy. The pair meets at a party hosted by Bridget’s mother, both wearing unappealing Christmas outfits chosen for them by their mothers. Here they start off on the wrong foot, much like Elizabeth and Darcy, with Mark telling his mother that he does not need to be set up with a spinster “who drinks like a fish and dresses like her mother” (Maguire 00:03:57 – 00:04:05). Much like the earlier couple, Bridget is also told slanderous news about Mark having stolen away Daniel Cleavers fiancée (Maguire 00:20:00 – 00:20:28), which of course only leads her to think worse of him. Another factor that plays into Bridget’s opinion of Mark is her own embarrassing and cringe worthy behavior whenever she meets him.
However, after a chance meeting at a couple’s dinner, Mark tells Bridget, quite clumsily, that he likes her just as she is (Maguire 00:46:08 – 00:47:04). Very taken aback by his sudden declaration Bridget slowly starts to warm up to him, and later on when he helps save her job by getting her an exclusive interview, to then unexpectedly show up at her door just in time to help her save her birthday dinner, she grows to really care about him. After a sudden physical confrontation between Mark and Daniel Cleaver, Bridget does not know whom to support and decides to cut them both loose, as she is still of the idea that Mark once stole away Daniel’s fiancée (Maguire 00:59:59 – 01:01:25). By coincidence however Bridget finds out that Mark was never in the wrong and that it had in fact been Daniel who at stolen away Mark’s wife rather than the other way around. Upon learning this Bridget hurries off to tell Mark of her feelings for him, and after a few more bumps in the road the couple finally get their happy ending with a Hollywood kiss (Maguire 01:15:38 – 01:16:15).
In conclusion it can be said that though society has changed a lot in the past 200 years, there are still stigmas and expectations that has remained much the same: marriage and reproduction being an important one of those. The plot of Pride & Prejudice will most likely always hold a certain amount of relevance in society, as it essentially speaks to one of our basic instincts whilst also promoting progress and independent thinking.
Austen, Jane. Pride & Prejudice. Penguin Classics, 2012.
Maguire, Sharon. Bridget Jones’ Diary. Movie, 2001.
Smith, Kelley. “Historical Brief-Lives of Women in the early 1800s.”