Music in Film: Pride and Prejudice 1995

This post was first published on May 2, 2016 on Austen Variations.

Music and Jane Austen go together like…well, a poverty stricken but lovely young lady and a wealthy and handsome young man in search of a bride (even if he doesn’t know it yet)…

Jane Austen’s continued popularity almost 200 years after her death is a testament to the universal themes found in her books, which are as relevant today as they were in Regency England.  One of the devices she uses to round out and illustrate her characters is music, but as is typical for our Jane, she does not tell us what songs, or what composers her characters favor, but leaves us to our imaginations to decide what is played. Enter the movie industry! 

Austen’s works have been popular since their publication, but I believe that one of the reasons they are so immensely popular in the past 25 years is because the movie industry has made the characters so much more real to modern audiences. It is no longer necessary to guess what a well-dressed gentleman would look like in the stories or what a Regency ball gown looks like, and the most recent films (the past 25 years) have made great efforts to not only have the costumes reflect the the personalities of the characters and their place in society, but to also be correct for the era being filmed. Movie-goers and readers have become much more demanding of historically correct appearance, attitudes and even music in their entertainment and a jarring detail may bump the audience out of the world of the story when they should be immersed in it.

In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley praises the musical prowess of Mr. Darcy’s sister in order to emphasize the lack of ability of the Bennet sisters, who had a haphazard education at best.  Their disparagement of Elizabeth Bennet’s singing and playing skill, however, does not prevent Mr. Darcy from enjoying her natural and unaffected performance, in contrast to her sister Mary’s weak voice and conceited air while playing. When they meet again in Kent, Elizabeth’s playing and singing for Colonel Fitzwilliam draw Darcy inexorably to her side and he is entranced, against his will, by her and her playful nature.

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in Andrew Davies' Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in Andrew Davies’ Pride and Prejudice, 1995

The 1995 BBC/A&E collaboration to film Pride and Prejudice for a mini-series developed by Andrew Davies improved on the previous film versions with its color, cinematography, and costuming. The “Making of Pride and Prejudice” book is an interesting read for avid fans as it goes through how each part of the film was approached. One area they didn’t cover, however, was music. The original score was written by and works very well with the characters. Who can forget Lady Catherine’s ominous theme as Elizabeth meets her at Rosing Park and when the opinionated lady appears without warning at Longbourn to chastise Elizabeth about the rumours of her impending marriage to her nephew, Mr. Darcy?!

In addition to the musical score by Carl Davis, which beautifully underlines the story and the characters of the story, there are three pieces of brief but significant Baroque music inserted into the story to help flesh out the characters. Early in the film, we hear Mary Bennet practicing Beethoven’s Six Variations from the opera La Molinara. We first hear her playing the simple base melody and later stumbling over the second variation with an awkward and irregular tempo which illustrates her determination to become “accomplished,” with a great deal of practice, but little talent, which became an embarrassment to her family later.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when music is used to brilliant effect at the Netherfield ball, when Darcy and Elizabeth dance for the first time. She has sworn that she will never dance with Mr. Darcy even if he asked her, which she considered unlikely in the extreme, but courtesy demands that she accept him when that moment actually arrives. The music for their dance starts with the rather ominous introduction and with grim expressions on Darcy and Elizabeth’s faces as they rigidly start the dance in perfect formation. The dance tune then softens and continues as the cameras zoom closer and they finally start to converse during the dance.  The highly stylized English Country Dance is contrasted with Elizabeth’s pert comments when she finally decides that it would be much more amusing to annoy Mr. Darcy by forcing him to talk than it would be to go through the entire dance silently. Unfortunately, the name of this lovely dance piece is Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot…yeah, I know.

Also at the Netherfield, Ball Mary Bennet forces her way to the pianoforte (the only way she can get attention) when Bingley suggests that some of the ladies play during supper and she plays and sings a morbid song set to Handel’s Largo, “Slumber, Dear Maid”.  Her off key, affected singing makes her more sensible sisters cringe as everyone at the ball laughs and stares at the only plain, and most ridiculous Bennet girl. To make matters worse, Mr. Bennet interrupts Mary as she plunges into a second song, telling her to “Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit.” Mary’s shrill tone while singing is accented with the howling of the dogs and whinnying of the horses outside Netherfield as she sings. When Mary leaves the instrument in embarrassment, Bingley’s sister, Mrs. Hurst, promptly sits down and plays Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca very quickly and competently, and looks up with a smirk at the Bennets when she finishes to make sure they recognize her superiority.

This one-up-(wo)man-ship between the Bingley sisters and the Bennet sisters illustrate an important point between the two families. The Bingleys are now gentry, but their grandfather was a tradesman who earned a great deal of money, which has allowed his grandchildren to go to the finest school and to have all the accoutrements of the gentry.  Because of their background in trade, however, they are clutching at the hem of the true gentry and their lack of background makes them want to be more gentrified than those who has been gentry for generations, so that they can climb the social ladder. They try to separate themselves as much as they can from their antecedents and even mock Sir William Lucas for “having a very good sort of shop.” If things go well for the Bingley sisters, their children will be high enough and far enough away from the shop to sit comfortably there.

The Piano Lesson by Edmund Blair Leighton

The Piano Lesson by Edmund Blair Leighton

On the other hand, the Bennets are actually in the gentry because of Mr. Bennet’s background, but are teetering towards a downward fall. His family has generations of country gentry, as well as being prosperous enough landholders to make it unnecessary that they work (the definition of gentry, although ministers and officers, the haven of younger sons, are exempt from this rule). Mrs. Bennet comes from the tradesman class and a woman’s class is determined when she marries by that of her husband. If Mrs. Bennet had been quiet, dignified, and refined like Mrs. Gardiner there would have been no question about the family’s status in society. In addition to Mrs. Bennet’s defects, their close association with her sister, Mrs. Philips, who was as low class in her behavior as her sister (if not as hysterical and hypochondriacal). Mr. Philips, a solicitor, does not have the cachet of a barrister or a judge.

The Lucas’s are also on the fringe of society. Sir William was a tolerably well-to-do tradesman who won a knighthood via “an address to the king” when he was mayor of Meryton. This elevation gave him “a disgust to his business” and he settled at Lucas Lodge to enjoy his elevated rank. Sir William is friendly and courteous, but very foolish. His family behaves reasonably well for their place in society, but the knighthood will die with Sir William and his family will inevitably sink in consequence, unless his daughters can marry up, which is unlikely as they are good-hearted, but plain.

Mary Bennet’s musical skills are again contrasted with Elizabeth later in the film, when Elizabeth plays the pianoforte for Colonel Fitzwilliam. She plays Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, not much better than Mary played Beethoven early in the film, but Elizabeth’s unaffected playing and lack of arrogance (such as that of Lady Catherine when she talks about how superior her playing would be, if she had ever learnt) give both Darcy and the Colonel a pleasant evening though not playing “half so well” as her sister Mary had at Lucas Lodge.Jane Austen's World


  1. If you would like to play some of Carl Davis’ score from Pride and Prejudice you may buy the piano music from this, as well as some from Sense and Sensibility (by Patrick Doyle), Emma (by Rachel Portman), and Persuasion (by Jeremy Sams) in the music book, Jane Austen’s World. This book includes the beautiful “My Father’s Favourite” from Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility, but that’s another story!
  2.  One last word: The instruments used in the orchestra at the   Netherfield ball were all period-style instruments. The violins have no chin or shoulder rests, and the bows are longer than what is used now requiring.  If any of you have ever tried to play the violin or viola without a chin and shoulder rest, you will know that they must all have serious neck problems after an evening of play!!

Austen Fans gather in Fort Worth!

The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in at the Worthington hotel in Fort Worth, Texas from October 13-16. The AGM has guest speakers, breakout sessions, and a grand finale with a Regency Ball. In addition, on Sunday, October 16, there will be an author booksigning event from 8 am to 10:30am open only to the attendees of the meeting. Many authors, both fiction and nonfiction, will be attending the AGM and there are booksigning events outside of the AGM venue, as well.

On Friday, October 14, Laurel Ann Nattress, Carrie Bebris, and Janet Mullany will have a booksigning at Barnes and Noble at Sundance Square. The event begins at 6:30 and runs until 8pm.

On Sunday, October 16, seven Austen Authors writers will have a booksigning at the same Barnes and Noble, beginning at 1pm and ending…whenever they run out of fans! Authors present will be C. Allyn Pierson, Sharon Lathan, Abigail Reynolds, Cindy Jones, Karen Doornebos, Mary Simonsen and Susan Mason-Milks.
Both of these Barnes and Noble events are open to the public and are an opportunity to meet your favorite authors and maybe find some new favorites!

19th Century medicine: what’s with the blood-letting?

Anyone who reads pre-Twentieth Century literature or watches period films has come across an episode in which a character is ill and they are bled by their doctor.  I have been asked many times if doctors really did this, why they did it, and what it was supposed to do.  Indeed, bleeding, either by opening a vein or using leeches to suck out the blood, was a major treatment for a number of disorders before the second half of the 19th Century, when a massive wave of medical scientific discoveries completely changed the practice of medicine and the practice of bleeding gradually died out.  I posted a similar article on The Book Rat in June, 2011.

Medical science in England before the modern era was based on concepts first delineated by ancient Greek physicians, such as Hippocrates and Galen. These principles were distilled into the holistic medicine (treatment of the entire body or constitution) practiced in the Georgian and Regency Eras. Human health was a situation where the patient’s constitution was balanced between “weakness” and “plethora.” In modern use, the word plethora means “a large amount, or many,” but in medical terminology it meant an excess of  heat, blood, body fluids, etc.  Plethora was diagnosed in conditions where the patient became more red, warm or swollen,  and might include fevers, localized infections such as cellulitis (where affected areas of skin become red and swollen), inflammatory arthritis (such as gout), and pregnancy (where the skin is typically more pink and warm than usual because of the increased blood volume during pregnancy).  Weakness, on the other hand, was any condition that would make the patient paler, thinner or weaker: blood loss, fainting, chills, or wasting diseases.  Because physicians in the 18th and 19th Centuries did not do any surgical procedures (you could not be a gentleman if you worked with your hands), the actual blood-letting was done by surgeons.

The treatment of plethora included changes in diet to avoid anything which was thought to be “heating”, and generally meant anything red, rich or fatty, or stimulating. Foods to be avoided included red meat, eggs, spices, and “stimulants” such as wine, coffee, and tea. “Cooling” foods were encouraged, such as fruits and vegetables, and simply prepared white meats, such as chicken and fish, and bland foods such as gruel (a sort of runny cereal made by boiling oats or other grain in milk or water). In addition, physicians would take blood from patients to directly remove the “excess” blood that was engorging their bodies and causing them to be red and hot.  This treatment would be likely to help patients with gout, where there is an excess of uric acid in the blood (see my post on Gout).  This results in red, hot joints, most commonly in the big toe and the knee.

Fever was a common medical problem because of the lack of antibiotics and vaccinations (except for smallpox vaccination, which was widespread by the Regency Era).  With this theory of health and disease states, bleeding a patient who was hot and feverish to decrease the fever made perfect sense to pre-modern practitioners.  Ironically, blood-letting was often used after gunshot wounds to prevent a fever from the almost inevitable wound infection which resulted from having the ball and bits of clothing fibers implanted in the body.  One wonders how many gunshot accidents resulted in death because the surgeon finished off the patient after the bleeding from the wound stopped.

Pregnancy was considered to be a plethoric condition and women in this “interesting condition” were often given “cooling” diets to promote health. Because these would include plenty of fruits and vegetables, it would often improve constipation, which is common in pregnancy, and this  was taken as encouragement that the diet was working as it should.  Fortunately for the health of the patients and their infants, most women did not follow these diets as strictly as their physicians would have liked. Women who had a history of miscarriage or infertility would be more likely to rigorously follow the suggestions of their physician, and to change physicians if their condition did not improve to find one whose care they liked better.

Patients who were pale and weak, such those who were having chills in the early stages of a cold or who had wasting diseases such as tuberculosis, were encouraged to have a “heating” diet and could eat as much red meat and drink as much wine, especially red wine, as they wished to warm an overly cool and weakened constitution.  They would also be treated with heating treatments, such as mustard foot baths or mustard plasters to the chest. In this case, of course, blood-letting was not used.

So, infections such as malaria, bacterial wound infections, or influenza (all of which are characterized by fever) would be treated as plethora, while infections such as tuberculosis, which causes chronic cough and gradual wasting, would be treated as weakness.  People who were weakened by blood loss might be treated with blood-letting and fed with gruel rather than with red meat, which would help restore their iron stores needed to replace their blood loss.  Today, blood-letting is used to treat hemochromatosis (an inherited problem which causes the storage of too much iron, damaging the liver), polycythemia vera (excess red blood cell production, which can increase the risk of stroke), and porphyria.

Blood-letting shown in medieval illuminated manuscript

An interesting historical side note to this treatment was the condition of the Prince Regent and his father, King George III. The king is well known for the periods of insanity from which he suffered, which eventually became permanent and required that the Prince of Wales become Regent.  A number of medical historians believe that King George III suffered from a form of porphyria, an inherited disease in which the patient lacks one of the enzymes required to break down hemoglobin into smaller molecules which can then be excreted by the kidneys. The major symptoms of hereditary porphyrias are abdominal pain and psychiatric symptoms.  The treatment for porphyria, still used today, is to remove blood from patients on a regular basis until they are slightly anemic and thereby decrease the number of porphyrins in their blood.  This treatment is done at blood center and is just like donating blood, except that the blood removed is discarded. The Prince Regent had a long history of various types of illness, including frequent abdominal pain, and he was a great believer in blood-letting, having it done whenever he felt unwell. His symptoms might have been from his unrestrained eating and drinking, but if they were an indication of porphyria, his enthusiasm for having his blood let might have prevented him from developing the severe mental symptoms from which his father suffered.

Inheritance and Northanger Abbey

For the last part of my series on inheritance in the Regency Era, I will discuss Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  NA is, of course, quite different in tone than Austen’s previously discussed works as it is a parody of the gothic romances that were so popular in her time.  These novels, written by popular writers such as Ann Radcliffe, were moody, atmospheric and highly romantic, wallowing in exotic places and unnameable crimes and disparaged in public by most people and read avidly by many women of the time.

Catherine Morland, the heroine of NA, is a very ordinary girl without outstanding looks or intellect.  She is delighted when she is invited to travel to Bath with a kindly neighboring couple.  The first person she meets is Henry Tilney at one of the public dances and she likes him very much, but he immediately disappears.  In the meantime, she meets Isabella Thorpe, the daughter of a school friend of her hostess.  Isabella is very theatrical and immediately attaches the naive Catherine, introducing her to all her favorite gothic novels.  Mr. Tilney returns after a few days with his sister and soon Catherine’s brother and his friend, Isabella’s brother John, making for a lively social life.

Most of the drama of this book comes from the lies told by John Thorpe to make his friends (and therefore himself) seem more important and wealthy.  His mischief causes Catherine endless trouble as he has misrepresented Catherine’s brother to Isabella, lies to Henry Tilney to make Catherine do what he wants, and then lies even more to Henry Tilney’s father, General Tilney, turning Catherine into a wealthy heiress instead of the modest vicar’s daughter that she is.  Isabella lures James Morland into an engagement, which she is happy with until she finds out how low his income will be.  The odious general is even more class conscious than John Thorpe and decides that Catherine would make a suitable wife for Henry, who is his younger son and a minister.  To promote this match, he invites Catherine to his estate, Northanger Abbey, for a visit.  Catherine makes a fool of herself over the expected Gothic character of an Abbey and eventually the general finds out that she is not an heiress and sends her home without the slightest care for her comfort or safety.

Inheritance is only of importance in Northanger Abbey in that misrepresentation of the wealth of the Morlands by John Thorpe causes a great deal of mischief for both Catherine and James.  General Tilney’s estate is entailed on his elder son, but the most important consideration for him is marrying off his daughter and younger son is to find them rich and important matches, no matter what their feelings are in the matter.  He believes John Thorpe’s lies about Catherine being an heiress, and says that she will also inherit the fortune of the Allens (the friends who brought her to Bath) because they are childless.

John Thorpe and General Tilney are two sides of the same coin- both are obsessed with wealth, but John chooses to give his friends importance by vastly inflating their wealth and the General promotes his family’s importance by throwing Catherine out when he find that she is not important enough.  In the end he finds out that Catherine is not as poor as he assumed when he discovered she was not an heiress, which is just as well since Henry likes her and feels obligated to find out if she returned home safely and then asks her to marry him.

August is Austenesque Extravaganza Month

It is now August and time for the Austenesque Extravaganza!   There will be special posts, reviews, and travel to other Austen-related blogs.  I will be featured on Touring Thursday, August 25, at Austen Authors!  For more information, click on the Touring Thursday picture to go to Austenesque Reviews.

Inheritance and Pride and Prejudice

The financial problems of the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice are the result of a straightforward entail, which dictates that Longbourn estate will go to Mr. Collins when Mr. Bennet dies, leaving Mrs. Bennet and any unmarried daughters to “starve in the hedgerows.” When this occurs, the women remaining at home will be allowed to take their personal possessions only (clothing, toiletries and personal jewelry), leaving all the furniture in the house for the new owner. It is possible that even some of Mrs. Bennet’s jewelry, if there are family heirlooms which are included in the entail, could belong to Mr. Collins. Mr. Bennet’s death would not leave his family in debt, fortunately, since his ‘love of independence’ made him scrupulously avoid spending money they did not have to worry about also being saddled with debt they would not be able to pay. The Bennet family income is already so low that they are just hanging on the edge of gentility and they have only £1,000 which will go to each daughter when Mrs. Bennet dies; certainly not enough to attract a decent husband for each of them. The two eldest daughters have enough beauty and, in Elizabeth’s case, wit to make it likely that they will be able to find a husband of some kind, but their prospects will be severely limited, and made even worse by the vulgar behavior of their two youngest sisters and their mother.

Inheritance law and Sense and Sensibility

Austen’s first published book, Sense and Sensibility, depended upon a complicated will by the unnamed uncle of Henry Dashwood (father of John by his first marriage and Elinor, Marianne and Margaret by his second) for the creation of the dramatic tension. This uncle lived to a very old age and had had the companionship and care of his sister until her death. When she died, Mr. Dashwood’s nephew, whom he intended to inherit Norland, gave up his own estate and moved his family in with his uncle and cared for him the last ten years of his life. Unfortunately, instead of leaving the estate directly to Henry Dashwood, the uncle willed his estate away from Mr. Henry Dashwood, creating the preliminaries for the events which left Mrs. Dashwood and her daughter in dire financial straits. Mr. Henry Dashwood is given the use and income of Norland for his lifetime, but his uncle specified in his will that it would then go to Henry’s son John and his young son, Harry, free and clear. There were no restrictions on how John Dashwood’s son used the property when he inherited and there is not a legal entail mentioned in Sense and Sensibility, so Harry could do what he wished with the property.

Because of this will Mr. Henry Dashwood and his second family were very comfortable only as long as Henry was alive, and he hoped to save a significant amount of cash out of the income of the property to allow his second family to live comfortably when he died. His son John already had inherited a comfortable fortune from his mother’s marriage settlement, receiving half of it when he came of age, and had married in his wife Fanny a woman who increased his fortune significantly with her dowry. Unfortunately, Henry Dashwood lived only a year after his uncle and was able to leave only £10,000 to support them, including the £1,000 Henry’s uncle left for each of the girls when he died. The income from this legacy would have to support the four women, which Fanny Dashwood optimistically predicts will bring in £500 per annum to feed them, clothe them, and provide shelter for them. While this would be enough to keep them from penury, it is certainly not enough to allow them to have any of the elegancies which they enjoyed in their previous life. Also, when each of the girls marries they will take their £1,000 legacy for their dowry, decreasing the income of the remaining family by about £50 per year. A £1,000 dowry is so small as to require that they marry a man who is independently wealthy and free to marry for love, or, as happens with Elinor, to give up any thought of distinction or elegance and eke out a living with her garden and cows when she is married to Edward (and he is only able to marry her because he is kindly given a living by Colonel Brandon).

Myth busting: inheritance law in the Regency Era

For most fans of historical fiction and period films, English inheritance law is one of the most confusing parts of understanding English society. Unfortunately, it is also a major part of many novels from that period, as the inheritance of property could make the difference between living well and abject poverty. I am going to talk about some of the myths which I hear frequently and then talk about what the law really was during the Regency Era.

Myth #1: Women could not own property. Continue reading

Hello world!

So, why is my blog called “Semi-True Stories?”  I am a novelist and I write sequels to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” but I am interested in all types of historical fiction and I hope to interest others in my writing and in the historical fiction and Jane Austen genres.   My blog title comes from my children: when my father tells them stories about his youth they tend to regard some of the details with a jaundiced and disbelieving eye.  One time, after listening to a particularly improbable story one of them asked, “Papa, is that story really true?”  His dignified answer was, “It is a semi-true story.”  I thought that description was a very apt expression of what I write: semi-true stories.