I was at the comic book store the other day, poking around while my friend picked up her pull list. And I came across the last issue of the Pride and Prejudice mini-comic that Marvel has been publishing. And now I have a whole mini-essay on portrayals of historical literature. Behind a tag, because this got loooong, and image-heavy.
I wish I had a scan of the inside illustrations, because these girls looked like the most anorexic fashion models you can think of. Here’s the cover of the first issue:
She looks like a bobblehead doll.
Now, I am aware that people were smaller back in the 19th century. But they were not all skinny. Let’s look at Jane Austen, in the portrait by her sister:
Nice double chin, right? Jane isn’t Elizabeth Bennet, obviously, so what about descriptions of Lizzie from the book?
“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”
Not so pretty as Jane. Also, we hear this from the youngest Bennet sister: “Oh!” said Lydia stoutly, “I am not afraid; for though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest.” Further on:
“I would not be so fastidious as you are,” cried Bingley, “for a kingdom! Upon my honour I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life, as I have this evening; and there are several of them, you see, uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
“Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
This is supposed to show how disagreeable and prideful Darcy is, but it also shows that Elizabeth is a pretty typical example. Here is Darcy’s assessment later on:
But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.
“Light and pleasing.” Does that mean this?
I think this gallery at Sensibility.com has a good range of what were considered admirable figures. These women all have round, full arms and full cheeks; many of them have the hint of a double chin, and most of them have not-insignificant bosoms. Contrast their figures with these:
I don’t think it’s going too far to say that this artist may have been more inspired by the Keira Knightley vision of the 19th century than the Jennifer Ehle one. I think it’s also heavily influenced by comic portrayals in general, like this (potentially NSFW) or this or this.
I don’t know. I wish the art was better in general. I wish we had a wider range of size (and race, and sexuality, and gender, and and and) representation in comics. I wish the Bennet girls looked like they were actually related. And I wish I had a better way to wrap this up, but I appear to have run out of steam.