Memory is an interesting thing. The smallest object can trigger an avalanche of feelings, sending you back years, sometimes decades. A song can make you remember that time you danced with your crush at a school dance. Eating pancakes can remind you of your mother. But the most powerful memory of all is the olfactory memory: remembering through smell. Just thinking about an odour can make you recollect things you haven’t thought about for years. But one whiff of a certain something can almost put you right there, in the moment.
One of my strongest olfactory memories is connected to a film, Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (2005) to be precise. At the time, my mother took me to my local cinema to see it. I hadn’t read any of Jane Austen’s books then, nor seen any of the TV- or movie adaptations, so I didn’t know what the story would be. As far as my expectations where concerned I thought it would be a mildly enjoyable costume drama, like all the other period films I had seen before. But what happened to me in that cinema will forever be etched in my mind.
I became completely engrossed, and I mean completely. I was literally experiencing all the physical attributes of falling in love: my heart was pounding, my palms where sweating and I had a swarm of butterflies in my stomach. When the film was over my mother and I swooned all the way home. As soon as we got back my mother brought out her VHS copy of the 1995 TV version of the film that we immediately started watching, because we just couldn’t get enough. Along with the Colin Firth version of Pride & Prejudice my mother brewed a pot of Persian earl grey tea. The scent of bergamot and camomile blended with Jane Austen’s story, and now I can’t smell a cup of Persian earl grey without envisioning a mist covered meadow and Mr Darcy walking towards me.
When someone is as famous as Jane Austen it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what they originally became known for. You just know who they are without having to read any of their books. Nowadays she’s probably mostly seen as the author behind a bunch of “chick lit”, and those modernised “chick flicks” such as Bridget Jones’ Diary, Clueless and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. People, men in particular, don’t read her books unless they’re forced by school. They, literally, judge the book by the cover. But please don’t forget that behind Jane Austen’s fame is this: she was a goddamned good writer.
Where I esteem her above any other author is when it comes to emotions. She could pinpoint them better than anyone else – despite being an unmarried woman who died when she was 41. Love, for instance, doesn’t just feel like one thing. Being in love with someone you know isn’t good for you doesn’t feel the same as the love you have for a sibling, and those differences is what she so expertly puts in her books. And that is why they, and subsequent film and TV shows, still hold up today. For even though they are filled with customs and situations we would never encounter today, we still recognise those feelings.
Among the hardcore Jane Austen fans the 1995 TV version of Pride & Prejudice is the one that is considered sacred. It stays very true to the book and it’s got Colin Firth in a wet shirt. The film, however, isn’t as well liked. As an example, look on the Internet Movie Database (imdb) you’ll see that the film has a respectable viewer score of 7.8 out of 10, whereas the TV show comes close to perfect at 9.1. But for me it isn’t important that they set every scene where it was in the book, or that they keep all of Mr Bingley’s horrible sisters – it’s the emotions that matter. And I think the film surpasses the show in that way. I mean, they managed to make a film that gave me butterflies even though there’s not a single kiss between the hero and heroine. You feel the heartbreak, the humour, the hurt, even though it’s a fairly slow-moving, highly visual film. It doesn’t stay all the way true to the book, but it captures the mood perfectly.
So I’m eternally grateful to Joe Wright for making Pride & Prejudice. He opened the door that lead me to one of my favourite stories by one of my favourite authors. I will forever remember that night at the cinema, and that lovely cup of tea. Now I’m going to go brew myself some Persian earl grey, take a deep breath, and remember what I have never encountered: Mr Darcy walking towards me to tell me that he loves, he loves, he loves me.