“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a great fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Boston College Theatre Department’s performance of Pride and Prejudice, based off of Jane Austen’s original novel, and directed by John Houchin explored the truths encapsulated within the book’s aforementioned opening line, a line which also provides valuable insights into the endeavor of discernment. The play ran from November 15th through November 18th.
Set amongst the placidity of rural England at the opening of the 19th century, the play centers around the family of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, played by Garret Gagnon and Anna Waisgerber, respectively, and the pressing question of courtship amongst the five daughters, and specifically Elizabeth, played by the dynamic spirit of Jessie Shaw. The question is intensified by the reality that, as per the contemporary custom, Mr. Bennet is in search of a male inheritor of the Bennet’s Longbourn estate.
The play follows most exclusively the character of Elizabeth Bennet and her befuddling journey through courtship. From the beginning, a particular Mr. Darcy, played by Jeremy Harris, has a way of eyeing Elizabeth from afar, and when he occasionally comes into contact with her, he speaks frugally and his countenance is simply indifferent, distant—and a little creepy. Nevertheless, Mr. Darcy is a wealthy man, and looks down with prejudice on the socially inferior Bennet family.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth grows resentful of Darcy, and turns her eye to the charming George Wickham, a militia officer, with whom she is particularly smitten. Later, Mr. Collins, an eccentrically comical Anglican preacher played brilliantly by Aidan Mallon, offers his hand in marriage in hopes of inheriting the Bennet’s estate. “Speaking the truth from her heart,” Elizabeth brazenly rejects his offer. In a surprise to Elizabeth, Darcy also proposes to Elizabeth despite her “social inferiority," insisting later, “How ardently I admire and love you.” Like Collins, though, she unabashedly denies him, citing his “selfish disdain.”
This moment, however, proves to be the watershed moment for Elizabeth, who begins a real process of soul-searching. And as Wickham elopes with her sister Lydia, played by Izzy Richards, Wickham’s selfishness surfaces. Moreover, in a letter from Darcy and series of encounters, he rejects the claims of his poor character and relays the true story concerning his relationship with Wickham and disposition towards Elizabeth. Growing in kindness and affection while with her, he eventually extends his request again of marriage. Admitting that “vanity has been [her] folly” in her reception of Darcy, she accepts his offer, and the play concludes with the two in love, overcoming their pride and social prejudices and embracing their honorable characters.
Now, in reconsidering the play’s opening line, it seems it could also be adapted to reflect the personal dynamic that all college students encounter: discernment.
In truth, each person—crafted in God’s image and likeness—possesses a “great fortune,” a collective trove of characteristics and idiosyncrasies that can and should be shared with the world. And, in the same way the Elizabeth courtship is to discover the right man, our discernment is greatly entrenched in a courtship of deciding where best to invest our trove of wealth that God has endowed within each one of us.
As Elizabeth is able to sort through the truth surrounding the situation, wiping the panes of her own vanity and pride, she is able to see a clearer reality concerning who she should pursue. It must be acknowledged, too, that Darcy is one whom Elizabeth perceives initially as cold and even off-putting; but, infused with a spirit of receptiveness, she begins to see his fortune within him. Her own self-discovery is also a lesson for us all to look inward and sweep our prideful affections away in order to look objectively where our fortune can be invested.
This is not easy—for the truth is that we have been endowed with so much. Nonetheless, it seems that the joy we embrace within that search is truly what defines how fruitful the discernment will be—and that whatever we choose, God will take our work, hold it up to the light, and call it good.
Image Courtesy of Boston College Theatre via Instagram