pride and prejudices

August 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm (Uncategorized)

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?

Or this?

I think this gallery at 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.



  1. Godless Heathen said,

    Mrs. Bennet’s dress looks terribly out of place. She probably would have also worn a gown with the “empire” waist to it, though in a more matronly fabric. Jane also looks astonishingly young for being one of the older daughters.

    I too think the artist was inspired by Keira Knightly, which is just dismaying when you consider how awful that film version was. The Regency period gown does create certain illusions about fullness in bust, hip, and a slightly pregnant look, to better draw in men looking for wives. It’s supposed to scream “I’m fertile!”, so even though a woman might have appeared pleasantly light, she would have had at least illusory cushioning.

    There’s a danger in comparing this art to art from that period, however, in that all of the paintings of that period would have been highly idealized. Women who might have been not that plump probably got rounded out through “artistic license”.

  2. Nomie said,

    Oh, certainly I agree that the paintings from that period are idealized depictions. I was trying to point up the way in which Austen’s description – “light and pleasing” – has been interpreted in a look that’s vastly different, visually, than the kind of ideal Austen probably had in her head when she was writing it out. But that might not have come through. It’s been a long time since I tried writing anything out like this. XD

  3. HellfireLover said,

    Interesting how modern Western culture appears to have painted itself into a corner with its ultra-narrow definition of acceptable beauty. Setting aside the improbable body types portrayed here, the female faces here are all pointy-chinned, with straight, small noses, ‘come-hither’ painted-up eyes and oh lord, is that dark lipstick I see? Jane looks like Regency Barbie. In that last panel, the girl in brown appears to have been modelled on Dannii Minogue. They just look wrong – like someone playing dress-up with a bunch of models.

    The gallery at Sensibility provides some clue as to what is wrong – the women in those portraits have intelligence and character in their faces. Are we to believe that the vapid mannequins portrayed here are supposed to be a sympathetic reading of a classic novel? Because I’m a million miles from convinced.

  4. Cayora said,

    I hope you don’t mind this random comment, but I do understand your frustration with these comics. While I cannot offer you a comic set in the Regency era with realistic bodies, I can offer you a modern one. May I recommend the Wet Moon series of graphic novels by Ross Campbell? The do offer the variety of body types, races, and sexualities you are looking for. And they are absolutely beautifully drawn, too.

    Just a suggestion. I hope you don’t mind.

    • Nomie said,

      I don’t mind at all! I actually saw one of those on the front table in the store I was in, but I didn’t get a chance to circle back and look at it. I’ll definitely keep an eye out next time I’m there! And thanks for commenting!

  5. LivingTheQuestions said,

    I teach Pride and Prejudice to high school students, and what always ends up becoming an emphasis of discussion for us is how very LITTLE physical description there is in Austen’s novels. No ball gowns are described, nor hairstyles, nor women’s figures. TI was not an interest of hers. Beauty and attraction, in the long run, in Austen’s novels are really about intelligence, humor, and self-awareness. So, while I so appreciate this post and may even recommend it to former students, I also think it’s worth pausing to notice how very little Austen focuses on physical description.

  6. Fashion News: Fashion Models as of August 23, 2009 | Zeet's World Of Fshion said,

    […] of make up artists, hair stylists, two wardrobe stylists and three assistants and much more ! pride and prejudices – 08/22/2009 I was at the comic book store the other day, poking around […]

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