I was recently watching the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on a night when foul weather raged outside. It had been a long time since I last watched it and I found myself focusing on the way the society was portrayed over the story itself which I already well know.
While keeping in mind that it is just a movie, the director seems to have taken care to show the less attractive aspects of the times including mud, chipped paint and farm animals everywhere. Even though the family is comparatively wealthy and keeps servants, the house they live in is shown to be quite disordered, and very unhygienic by today’s standards.
But there was something so attractive about what I was seeing despite my being used to significantly more comfort than the people of those times. A sense of peace and certainty about everything around. Despite the film being but a vision of the time capsule that is the book, it is hard not to admire that time; warts and all.
I believe that this was mostly to do with the civility shown and especially the general manners of the characters. Not just the way people speak but the care that is taken with appearances which makes everything seem so much more dignified. Now, there are certainly many moments when this lapses but it would be clear to anyone viewing that these are obvious lapses from expectations.
I am well aware that the time wasn’t as rosy as a Jane Austen novel but there is still a lot of truth in these stories. And it makes me conscious of the society I see around me today and indeed, myself. I feel like I am really missing something from my person when I watch or read about earlier times. Yes, they could be a bit stuffy and this etiquette was often used as a shield for some nasty people, but they were generally a very positive thing for society. It is a shame that our social conventions have fallen to the point where it is hardly surprising to hear filthy language in public, even from a child.
The other thing is that it seems so easy but it really isn’t. It is genuinely hard to train in virtue and make habits out of things you have spent most of your life not doing. I already have to check myself when I walk around my house with food or try to sneak off for breakfast instead of going to the table. And these are just little things. These are things I can improve and I’m not blaming the society for what I can do myself. So this is more of a lament at what has been lost than anything else. And on the plus side, something can be done about it.