Every woman in the land is secretly Mrs Darcy

Share

I came home from work unexpectedly early the other day and surprised my fiancé in the act of secretly watching reruns of Andrew Davies's Pride and Prejudice. It turns out that Elizabeth Bennet is his favourite woman in literature – not as played by Jennifer Ehle necessarily, although I don't suppose that does any harm, but the real one as written by Jane Austen. Naturally it is very flattering to learn that one's fiancé is a long-term admirer of Lizzie Bennet. (I mean, who would want to marry someone whose literary heroine is, say, Anna Karenina?) But my, those are big shoes to fill. For an actress, of course, as well as for a wife.

Strangely, though, the announcement of the cast for the new BBC adaptation of P D James's Death Comes to Pemberley has led to a lot of sympathy for the actor who plays Mr Darcy. The book is a crime story set in the Darcy-Bennet household six years after their wedding, when they already have two children. Matthew Rhys will play Mr D, and everybody wants to know if he thinks he can out-Darcy Colin Firth, and whether he plans on emerging from any ponds.

Rhys immediately tried to brush aside the idea that he might feel any pressure from the spectre of a soggy Colin Firth peering over his shoulder. "The beauty of Pemberley is that it is an entirely new and different Darcy, six years on," he said. "Also, I don't have to appear from a lake in a white shirt and breeches." But the one who should really be worried is Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Elizabeth.

Trust me, there are no bookish boys who grow up reading Pride and Prejudice and thinking that they are just like Mr Darcy. (Plenty of men are like Darcy – "He has no emotional vocabulary," as Rhys generously puts it – but those ones did not spend their formative years reading Jane Austen.) On the other hand, many generations of female book geeks have convinced themselves that Lizzie Bennet is entirely based on them.

Unlike any other classic literary heroine – the tragic beauty Tess Durbeyfield; the kind-of annoying Emma Bovary; the downtrodden Jane Eyre ("Reader, I married the slightly-singed, good-for-nothing attempted bigamist") – Lizzie has female readers wanting to be her from the start. Who doesn't want to say to her suitor: "Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?" and when he replies "For the liveliness of your mind, I did," retort "You may as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little less"?

Lizzie is not beloved for her beauty, as most young book geeks will also never be. She's not a simpering little wannabe-wife. She's just bloody brilliant. Fortunately, so is Anna Maxwell Martin, who has form in the strong literary heroine role. She's not a Hollywood beauty, though she is striking. She has that determined, Bennet jut of the chin. And she's absolutely nothing like Keira Knightley. She may not have to wade out of any water, but Maxwell Martin has nothing less than many women's ideal self to portray. Good luck to her with pulling that off.

twitter.com/@katyguest36912

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: will this be the election result? And other Questions To Which The Answer Is No

John Rentoul
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn