First Proposals: Pride & Prejudice/North & South

Seeing the Darcy vs. Thornton post (thanks Maria!) made me think a BIT more about their respective stories, esp. how they go about proposing to their ladies.  Let’s watch the one from P&P first with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.

Well, they both look pretty awkward- Lizzie is wondering why this insufferable has come to see her in the first place and Darcy is at a loss for a moment (he’s probably never proposed to any woman before).  They are in a little sitting room in Charlotte and Mr. Collins’ house.  Notice how Darcy leans forward a tiny bit (hopeful) after he says “But it cannot be helped.”  After Lizzie calmly/coldly rejects him by saying that she doesn’t even feel “a sense of obligation,” Darcy looks confused/hurt (see the eyes), then turns away and walks over to the mantle.  His head is lowered and he’s thinking of what to say next.  He even wipes at his mouth, disconcerted. Then he addresses her again, asking why he’s rejected in this manner.  Lizzie, who still sits, speaks more loudly and w/ emotion as she mentions her sister ‘s (Jane’s) happiness.  Hear how Darcy’s voice rises (sharply) when he hears Wickham’s name.  He says: “You take an eager interest in that gentleman’s concers?”  Lizzie’s voice also gets louder as she speaks of Wickham. Darcy is sarcastic re: Wickham’s “misfortunes.”  

As Lizzie continues, he paces a bit about the (small) room, pauses, then asks “And this is your opinion of me?”  (He’s being misunderstood, we later learn.)  But when he aproaches her and disses her family connections (in a direct/rude way), you can see the anger on Lizzie’s face even more than before.  Her face gets redder, she gets up from her chair, and turns away from him.  Then she turns around and attacks him, saying that he “was the last man on Earth” that she “could ever possibly marry.”  There is nothing like love/admiration/anything positive in Lizzie’s eyes!  She is quite bold (for her time) and expresses herself directly.  The day is sunny, we can see, but the mood is quite stormy inside.  Darcy quietly says that “you’ve said quite enough. madam” and quickly finds his exit.  (Note the formal manner he uses as he leaves.)  Elizabeth is very surprised and quite angry (still) after he leaves.     

Now, let’s look at the proposal (extended version) from N&S, Ep 2, with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. 

Mr. Thornton is looking toward the door, then out the window of a small room in the Hale’s home (townhouse).  He looks nervous as he crosses toward the door when he hears Margaret open it.  We notice that her expression is sad/dejected (maybe also tired?); even her posture is poor.  The room is not bright or cheerful, but there is some light coming through the curtains.  Margaret doesn’t look at him at first; he mentions the color of the fruit.  Then she talks about her mother and looks over at him.  But as she talks, she keeps her eyes mostly downcast, avoiding his eyes.  Her voice sounds young and her words are hesitant.

When Thornton expresses his gratefulness, her face changes quite a bit (eyes wider).  She stands taller and goes over to the window, saying she’d “have done the same for any man” who was in danger.  Thornton looks confused and repeats “Any man?”  Then they go on about the mill strike and the workers’ (violent) behavior.  Notice how Margaret speaks quite calmly and steps closer to him (while she offers him advice about his workers).  He cuts her off with: “They will get what they deserve.”  Then the mood of the scene, as well as his tone, shifts.

Thornton is hesitant to begin; he expressly (but humbly/quietly) states that “I know, I’ve never found myself in this position before.”  But just as he gets started (“my feelings for you are very strong”), she cuts him off!  She walks away (toward the window), saying that he “shouldn’t continue in that manner.”  The the whole “gentleman” deal comes up (big theme in this story).  That upsets Thornton, who shoots back that “I’m aware, that in your eyes at least, I’m not a gentleman.”  He asks why he is “offensive” (loudly) and Margaret goes off (loudly also), mentioning his status, sister, and mother.  “My mother?  What has she to do with this?” he asks (confused), leaning over the table.  Then she gets into the status/trade quagmire again, accusing him of wanting to “possess” her- pushing all his buttons.  “I don’t want to possess you!  I wish to marry you because I love you!” he exclaims as he (quickly) walks around the table toward her.  (Note the emotion in his voice.)  Margaret turns away and says that she doesn’t even “like” him.  She looks at him directly for a second as she says that. 

Thornton turns away, refers back to the fruit, then goes to the opposite side of the room (mantle).  Slowly, Margaret mentions Bessie, who is dying (“too much fluff” in her lungs).  Thornton sees that also as an attack upon him.  When Margaret tries to protest and calm him down, it doesn’t work (as he said before, he has “a temper”).  When she remorsefully explains that she hasn’t “yet learned how to refuse,” Thornton throws in some bitter sarcasm.  She goes toward him, but he turns away saying “I understand you completely.”  At the end of the scene, Margaret is sorry (I think) that she was so “blunt.”

Wow, so much going on in these two scenes!  (You need to watch them a few times.)  There are similarities and differences between these two (would-be) couples, as are obvious within these brief clips.  The “gentleman” issue doesn’t come up with Mr. Darcy since he doesn’t work, owns a huge estate in Derbeyshire, and is grandson of an earl.  Mr. Thornton, on the other hand, is a self-made man (and proud of it) who owns his own cotton mill; he is also a  magistrate (in role of modern-day judge) in Milton.  But when it comes to the ladies, he’s (admittedly) at a loss; his life has been “too busy” to think of such things.  He’s insecure approaching Margaret, partly because she’s the daughter of a learned (studied at Oxford) former clergyman and because he’s never felt this way about any woman before.  Remember how he confides in his mother, the night before he proposes, that he “daren’t hoped that such a woman could care for me?”   

Darcy, being of such high status (and with a lot of pride), feels that Elizabeth’s family are far, far beneath his sphere.  He discourged Bingley from pursuing Jane because of that reason (and also because he didn’t think she loved him).  Remember the “Towards him, I have been kinder that toward myself” line?  Ouch!  Admittedly, Mrs. Bennett, Kitty, and Lydia are no models of propriety, but the manner in which Darcy downgrades Lizzie’s relatives is very harsh.  Well, these gents just needed some time to learn and change their attitudes.  Also, the ladies needed to change as well, since they held such strong prejudices agains their suitors. 

In the book, Margaret feels that she’s not ready to get married, when she’s proposed to for the first time.  Recall that she was only 18 at that time, and didn’t feel any strong feelings for Henry Lennox.  She liked him as a friend, thought he was smart/clever, but that was about it.  As for Lizzie, she was a “sensible girl” in her father’s eyes, but she wanted to fall in love someday, too.  She never thought that Darcy would propose to her- she was “astonished” by the entire episode.  Wasn’t she just “tolerable” in his eyes?

I like both scenes- in the first one, I sympathized more with Lizzie.  But in the second scene, I think my sympathies switched from Margaret to Thornton, then back again.  It was more of a fight (in my opinion) and had more movement than the one in P&P.     

What did you think of these scenes?  Which do you prefer and why?    

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5 thoughts on “First Proposals: Pride & Prejudice/North & South

  1. Wow, thnx for ALL the great insights, saraleee & Trudy! Yes, Trudy, you’re right re: Darcy/Lizzie at time of 1st proposal- she didn’t have much to admire him for (aside from being rich, handsome, & well-positioned). Oh, they also danced nicely together (Netherfield Ball). On the other hand, Thornton is a good friend to Margaret’s dad, sends the family nice gifts, & they have had a few (interesting) convos together. She admires him for being a self-made man, even though she hasn’t met guys like that before. And yes, Thornton does want to make himself understood- that’s why he gets so emotional! Darcy is emotional (on the inside, of course), but he would never show it.

  2. That’s a lovely analysis of the two scenes–and very welcome, too, since they are quite different but people often think they’re alike.
    I prefer John and Margaret’s scene, because I I think the two of them are more passionate and unrestrained. They discuss more of their differences: not just their unequal social status, but also their beliefs about the society they live in and what’s right and wrong. They are both people of strong opinions.
    Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are also strong-willed, but the issues between them have to do with their social status and loyalty to their families. It’s a slightly narrower range of conflict.
    Thanks! What a fun and thought-provoking post.

  3. Oh this is fun! Thanks for the chance to compare these two declarations of love. There’s a lot more tension, movement, and passion expressed in the exchange between Thornton and Margaret. The Darcy proposal seems very subdued in comparison.
    Although both these cases involve a man of important stature offering to girl of more humble means who admires said girl secretly and is soundly rejected, there is a great difference between Darcy’s expectations and Thorntons. And I believe that Margaret is much further in danger of falling for Thornton already at the time that Thornton arrives to declare himself. I’m no P&P expert, but I don’t think Lizzie has found anything to admire about Darcy by the time he proposes and she truly has no idea he has held feelings for her.
    Margaret, on the other hand, comes to the room where Thornton has asked to see her full of dread for what he might say. She will not be surprised, but almost expects that he may feel an obligation to rescue her reputation in light of what she did in public the day before. She has Fanny’s stupid words ringing in her ear, making her feel that she needs to defend her actions – to prove that she did not save Thornton because of any feelings she might have for him.
    The truth is, she *does* have some feelings for him, but she is not ready or able to process them yet, and so she is desperate to deny and defend, pushing him away/stopping him at any mention of feelings.
    It’s when he leaves so hurt and angry that she finally realizes that he was in earnest about his feelings for her. This proposal will force her to examine her feelings now. From now on she will act differently with him – humble and repentant. Never argumentative and haughty again.
    Darcy goes into the proposal assuming she will accept. i don’t think it even crosses his mind that she would refuse such an offer. Thornton, on the other hand, goes to declare his love even though he feels in his heart that his chances are a million to one! (sigh)
    He is as desperate to make himself understood – to make Margaret look at him as a man, not just a tradesman – as Margaret is to defend her ’emotionless’ actions in saving him.
    I think that’s why we feel much more back and forth between Thornton and Margaret. There were some very strong undercurrents there on both sides.

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