Pride & Prejudice: a fairy-tale nostalgia?

While checking out some of the sites that have linked to this blog, I discovered this interesting take on Pride & Prejudice, which is largely a reply to, and rebuttal of, Gene Edward Veith’s review in World magazine. For example, Veith writes:

The movie is sumptuous to look upon, capturing well both the sights and the feel of early 19th-century England. We are immersed in a graceful culture where sexual immorality is a devastating blow to the family honor. And where a gentleman’s moral character changes a woman’s hostility into love.

And then the Elfin Ethicist responds:

This “graceful culture” is a fairy tale — and not Austen’s fairy tale, but Veith’s. Did not many 19th-century women, anxious to secure financial and social support, overlook moral weakness in their men? Remember, Elizabeth Bennet is unique in the novel for her insistence upon the man’s character; the novel shows her rejecting the dominant value of her society, which would have her put economic safety and worldly honor first. To glorify her culture is to miss out on the strength of her character altogether. Furthermore, Veith is ignoring the darker side of the “devastating blow to a family’s honor” associated with (a woman’s) sexual immorality. In the novel, Jane and Elizabeth agonize over the shame brought down by their sister — shame that threatens their lifelong happiness, security, and social standing despite their total innocence. Does Veith really find that desirable in a culture?

This echoes many of the thoughts that I had while watching the film, but did not put into words in my earlier posts.

There’s a fair bit more, looking at how the sort of “nostalgia” demonstrated in Veith’s review dominates much of the evangelical discourse these days, and so on. The Ethicist concludes:

Here’s my point: true moral fiber is always countercultural. Christians are called to resist the temptations of “the world,” not just modernity. We are not doing ourselves any favors by getting bleary-eyed over yesteryear’s state of affairs. Homesickness is natural, but we should be longing for a different kingdom entirely, not for any social state of the past.

Quite so. The past definitely has its place, of course — we can’t be re-inventing the faith every generation, for example — but romanticizing the past can be dangerous. And one of the things I liked about this film, and the way it emphasized these economic issues, was how un-romanticized its view of the past was.

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  • There’s a great proverb somewhere in scripture… I wish I could remember it now … that specifically advises us not to romanticize the past. Wish I could remember it for occasions like this. I do believe it’s in the book of Proverbs.

  • “Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10, NASB)

    Great posts Peter and Elfin. I agree 100%.

  • Bingo! Thanks, Dave!

  • Glad to have found your site on a random search for Mike Horton’s latest musings on the church. Having studied under Leland Ryken at Wheaton College, I appreciate your literary criticism of films. Thanks.