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Gentle readers, in celebration of Pride and Prejudice’s 200 year anniversary, Jane Austen’s World will feature a regular article about Jane Austen’s most popular novel throughout 2013. We can count on frequent contributor Tony Grant from London Calling to provide us with a unique perspective. Enjoy!

All good films have a car chase. Some originate from well written, exciting, nail-biting, on the edge of your seats, breathless descriptions in a novel.

Steve McQueen in mustang

Steve McQueen in mustang

Let it not be said Pride and Prejudice doesn’t have it’s nail biter, it’s moment of burning rubber and screeching tyres that is right up there with Steve McQueen ripping up the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, hurling his Ford Mustang over the lips of hills and down daredevil slopes with a street fighters aggression or Michael Caine escaping the Italian police with wheels spitting gravel and door smashing bravado in his supercharged mini cooper GT along the Corniche, “not many people know that,” or John Thaw in The Sweeney, as gritty streetwise cop Jack Regan thundering through the Isle of Dogs in his 3 litre V6 Ford Consul GT. Mr Bennett has his contenders, but not, may I dare say, his equals, oh no.

Elizabeth Bennett, who is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, the Gardeners has received a letter from her sister Jane

Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of alarming you — be assured that we are all well. What I have to say relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his officers; to own the truth, with Wickham!”

Image of eloping couple. 1815

Image of eloping couple. 1815

This piece of information about Lydia sets in motion, literally, a series of coach journeys and desperate searchings that rivals anything Steve McQueen or Michael Caine partook of.

Michael Caine: Nuts to your watches! You just be at the Piazza at a quarter to..
Steve McQueen: Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.
Det. Insp. Jack Regan: Remember, no guns unless they use ’em.

Mr Gardner and Mr Bennett walking the streets of London, searching for Wickham and Lydia could well have used lines like those. What needs to be said, what needs to be done, never changes whatever century, don’t you think?

“…and all three being actuated by one spirit, every thing relating to their journey was speedily settled. They were to be off as soon as possible.”

Coach travel

Coach travel

And so Mr and Mrs Gardner and Lizzie Bennett sped south to Longbourn at the hair-raising speed of 10 miles per hour or more, on the occasion of increased velocity being achieved when long flat straight roads presented themselves; jolted and tossed about, no doubt, like three potatoes in a sack.

But Lydia and Wickham were as devious and cunning as any mafia on the streets of Naples, or ruthless bank robbers from the East End of London or murderous killers off the dangerous streets of San Francisco. Gretna Green was, dare I say, a red herring. They spread rumours, gasp, horror; they planned and they plotted, they predicted and they saw clearly with their crazed, devious minds thinking out brilliantly, their next move. They lived the heady adrenalin pumped life of criminals on the run.

Mr Bennett “… did trace them easily to Clapham, but no farther; for on entering that place they removed into a Hackney coach and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom.”

Oh gosh and golly, what subterfuge, what dastardly cunning. They actually changed from a chaise to a hackney coach.The evil mind games of those criminals. But they were hunted, yes, hunted, by Mr Bennett, he, a wily, ruthless backwoodsman who once he smelled the scent of his prey cannot, will not, be put off his quest. Mrs Bennett was right to be desperate in her concerns,

And now here’s Mr Bennett gone away and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?”.

Popeye Doyle himself could not compete with Mr Bennett surely in his ruthless endeavour

 The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I’m gonna get him.”

But our Mr Bennett in his utter, focused, desperate determination can but say,

“Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

Good gracious, the man is a titan of hot-blooded aggression. Surely nothing can prevail? Wickham has met his match.

epsom

Epsom Watch House & Clock c1840 from Dugdale’s England & Wales
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

Elizabeth was desperate to know what lengths, what depths her father would go to retrieve his wayward daughter, her very own sister.

He meant, I believe,” replied Jane, “to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions, and try if anything could be made out from them. His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them from Clapham. “

Of course, a touch of sheer genius; find out the number of the Hackney Coach. That would do it. He would be sure to find them then.
And after all this searching, this animal desperation, this wolf like howl of anguish ripped from the primeval instinctive depths of Mr Bennett’s heart, what then? What could be the consequences? So after many letters flying backwards and forwards, if anything, P&P appears to hinge very often on the writing, sending and receiving of letters, Mr Gardner has appeared to pay Wickhams debts,, Mr Bennet has only to provide a paltry £100 a year, he can’t believ his luck and can’t quite work out the finances as if he ever could work out his finances. (Aside: we all know who really has settled the finances, don’t we?? Ha! Ha! It’s getting more like a pantomime all the time this. Mrs Bennnet as Widow Twanky and Mr Bennet as Baron Hardup.)

He had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry his daughter, it would be done with so little inconvenience to himself as by the present arrangement. He would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser, by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expenses had been very little within that sum.

That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his chief wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced his activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned to all his former indolence.”

Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet

So Wickham was to marry Lydia and Mrs Bennett was happy and all was well with Mr Bennett and he could return to his former state of,” indolence.” A sort of Popeye Doyle with carpet slippers smoking a pipe and reading his newspaper seated at his fireside; a Michael Caine reminiscing about his past, cold eyed and tough emotionless roles in Get Carter relaxing now in his easy chair or Steve McQueen sitting back on his ranch, his rocking chair gently calming his fevered brain and letting his motorbikes go rusty, crying into his beer, or, even a Jack Regan from The Sweeney who could at last ,” Shut it!” himself. Ah, all was well in the end. Colonel Forster could return too to Brighton, to the lesser dangers of defending our shores and leading his regiment against Napoleon knocking at the very shingle on Brighton Beach. Mr and Mrs Gardner could return to the hustle and bustle and shops and markets of Gracechurch Street in the city and Lizzie and Jane, yes, well, we know what becomes of Lizzie and Jane,

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs Bingley and talked of Mrs Darcy may be guessed.”

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham not so

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham apparently not so

So, in a novel dedicated to getting daughters married, a lot of horse and carriage mileage is accrued and many letters are written. We only hear of weddings, but we certainly know about how characters felt. Will, Lady Catherine ever get over being, “exceedingly angry” or will she just explode with high blood pressure?

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