So I absolutely love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I've read the book ten or 12 times I think. (Though quite surprisingly I've never been able to read any other Jane Austen- weird.) I love the period description, the lifestyle, and I love the characters, especially Elizabeth Bennet. She's very fierce and opinionated, but also able to change her mind and grow. But I also love the the story line, which is full of the Theology of the Body.
Or at least, the Part II of the book is filled with TOB. You won't find much TOB in Part I; in fact you'll find a lot of what I'll call anti-TOB. Part one is really about the pride of Darcy and the prejudice of Elizabeth. It's only near the end of Part I, when Elizabeth reads Darcy's letter that we make a transition "back the beginning."
In his letter Darcy explains his actions, as well as those of Wickham. When Elizabeth reads the letter she initially does not want to believe it. But as she re-reads it she comes to believe Darcy, and she starts to believe in him. It's prophetic in a way that it opens her up to letting him into her life.
Part II when Elizabeth, through a series of dramatic coincidences, winds up visiting the estate of Darcy, who just happens to come back early and run into her. Elizabeth immediately notes the change in Darcy's behavior. He has let go of his station and freely associates Elizabeth's Aunt and Uncle. So he enters into her society and freely associates with Elizabeth and her friends. in addition Darcy convinces his friend Charles Bingley to pursues her sister. It's much like Phillipians 2:5-8.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
All is going well when tragedy strikes. While visiting with Darcy and Bingley, Elizabeth receives a letter containing some terrible news. Her sister Lydia as eloped with Wickham. It becomes clear that Wickham has zero interest in marrying Lydia. If left to stand this would strip the family of all their honor, and would cause them to fall in status and rank. Wickham, you'll remember, was a servant on the estate of Darcy's father. In fact, his skill and his grace made him shine most brightly among all the servants. But, he rebelled against Darcy and his father, and was cast out of Pemberly. He was reduced by his pride to wander the seedy English underclass. There he would associate with women, tempting them to fall into that same underclass. Elizabeth would recall that though he seemed to be an angel of light, all of his works were empty. Wickham is a symbol of Lucifer, AKA Satan, who is is full of empty works and promises.
Now the Bennets are in trouble. They are in danger of being thrown out of the Longbourne Estate, their Garden of Eden. To save the family's honor and retain their status they must pay Wickham to marry Lydia; basically it's a kind of ransom. Unfortunately, they don't even know where to find him, and even if they could find him, they do not have near enough money to induce him to marry Lydia.
Enter Darcy. Or rather, exit Darcy. Upon hearing Elizabeth share this terrible news he looks thoughtful, then politely and gracefully takes his leave. She believes all of her hopes of winning his favor, now that she desires that favor, are lost, merely because of the fault of her family. But she is wrong; in fact she has greatly underestimated both his love for her as well as his new found humility. Darcy has actually set off to restore her family's honor. He enters the under class, tracks down Wickham, and pays that ransom, and restores the family's honor. This is a symbol of Christ's death ransoming us for our sin.
Elizabeth is grateful, knowing that the family cannot pay him back for this great kindness. But while grateful, she believes all chance of marrying Darcy is lost, now that Wickham is part of her family. But once again she underestimates Darcy's love and humilty. Darcy in fact still desires ardently to marry her. And marry her he does! As result everyone in the family is not merely saved, but actually gets to move from the nice estate at Longbourne to the super duper nice estate at Pemberly, where they live happily ever after. It's like moving from the Garden of Eden to Heaven itself.
More TOB: Pride and Prejudice on Eros and Agape
So there you have it. TOB in pride and Prejudice. Is it a 100% match? No, but there are many powerful connections, and I think it is incredibly important that we do this more often- see our own salvation history in the works of great romance. It helps us to better understand not merely intellectually but also viscerally something Benedict XVI wrote:
"God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape" (Deus Caritas Est 9)
Darcy's love for Elizabeth at the end of Part I can only be understood as eros. But if you look at his love in Part II it is impossible to separate the agape from the eros. Works such as Pride and Prejudice give us a model to help us turn our love from merely eros to love that is both eros and also totally charity. It also challenges us to turn our agape from something disinterested into something personal. This is in regards both to God as well as neighbor.
Even MORE TOB: Pride and Prejudice on God's love for Israel and all humanity
The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her—but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. (Deus Caritas 9)
Darcy of course sets out to marry Elizabeth, but all of the Bennett's gain access to Pemberly through his Love for Elizabeth. Even the less lovable ones, such as Mrs. Bennett. In the same way all peoples are saved through God's love for Israel.
And just a little More TOB: Pride & Prejudice and the TOD
I should be very remiss is I were to leave out a bit of TOB from part one. In fact, Pride and Prejudice is ultimately where I got the idea for Theology of Dance.
"I should like Balls infinitely better," said Caroline Bingley, "if they were carried on in a different manner ... It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."
"Much more rational, I dare say," replied her brother, "but it would not be near so much like a Ball."
CS Lewis used this line to open up his essay Priestesses in the Church? in which he explained why the Church ordains only male priests. All of his explanations are straight out of the Theology of the Body. It's as if he read St. John Paul II's TOB before writing the essay, which is of course impossible, as he wrote it before JPII wrote anything on the TOB. In particular what I call the Four Meanings of the Body came from this essay. You should read it.