Being Eliza Bennet

by afatpurplefig

Of all the English heroines, my all-time favourite is Elizabeth Bennet, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. If you haven’t read it, a catch-up requires little effort. Think headstrong daughter of limited means who refuses to acquiesce to a marriage devoid of love, and a brooding gentleman of 10K a year, whose arrogance keeps others at a distance…and there you have it.

Although, this description does little to capture the magnificence of Miss Eliza, who not only snags her man, but does so on her own terms, with clangers such as:

‘From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish distain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of the disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world on whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.’

I told you. She is as magnificent as Austen’s comma game.

It would therefore be remiss of us to not take in some of the locations where the incomparable BBC adaption of the novel were filmed, given that Lucy and I can almost recite the script verbatim. After a final Box Brownie coffee and a Stratford farewell (standing purposefully where we believed Will might have stood outside the fence of his back garden), we set the GPS for Ramshaw Rocks, a gritstone rock formation in the Peak District.

For the record, English drivers are dead-set mad. There are speed cameras everywhere, but that doesn’t stop the steady stream of individual vehicles that rocket past, weaving in and out of traffic in the rain at goodness-only-knows how many miles past the speed limit. Incidentally, when I looked up the ‘English mile’ to see if it differed from the US version, one response read, ‘the UK mile is usually more pleasant.’

We turned off for a late breakfast at Leek and, just as regret started to seep in at not having stopped at a service centre for bad coffee and chain fare, managed to snag a park near the Leek Oatcake Shop. Covid has reduced the shop to an actual hole-in-the-wall, with the front dining space closed and a steady stream of oatcakes instead being passed out of a door at the side. And I mean steady – in the time we were there, they were serving a customer a minute.

We asked how many one normally eats, to which out server replied:

‘Ooh, it’s hard to say. Sometimes you eat one, then you think, I’d really like another!’

We bought four variations on cheese; onion, egg, mushroom and beans. Later, we deeply regretted not having bought at least ten.

From here, the journey grew increasingly picturesque, and Lucy’s litany of exclamations grew increasingly entertaining. ‘Fake town!’, she would declare, in response to the gatherings of stone houses, each of which is individually worthy of a heritage listing in Australia.

We squealed when passing the sign for Derbyshire, ‘the best of all counties’, where Eliza stays with her Aunt and Uncle in Lambton…

…and soon found ourselves traipsing up the muddy incline to Ramshaw Rock.

Here I am, attempting to look wilful, headstrong, confident, and determined, yet lulled into serenity by the wild, untamed countryside.

Our next stop was Pemberley, known in the real world as Lyme Park in Disley, which inspired further tears as it came into view. Lyme Park is a tourist hub, leading Lucy and I to double-mask and adopt our determined avoid-people-at-all-costs approach. I hope I don’t live to regret the Mr Darcy magnet from the gift shop.

Pemberley (which it will always be to me) is utterly extraordinary. So much so, that it makes perfect sense that Elizabeth apparently realises she loves Darcy when she ‘first see[s] his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’. She is no dill, our Elizabeth. Here are Lucy and I, without reception, recreating key scenes:

‘Is this where the carriage pulls up?’

‘That has to be the lake…or is it around the back?’

‘Take a picture from that direction. No, wait…it’s that direction.’

‘Take a panorama! So we can figure out the exact spot of the lake later.’

It appears we will have to re-watch the entire series and, in particular, the lake scene, which I recently discovered has been immortalised in a lake in London. At least I’m not the only one.

After the indulgence of Pride and Prejudice, the day grew increasingly grim, leading us to reconsider wandering lonely as a cloud and instead make a beeline for Longtown. Tomorrow, we shall cross the border and (re-) introduce ourselves to the wonder that is Scotland.