Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pride and Prejudice: a romance, in rhyming couplets

A few months ago I wrote a version of Jane Eyre that was inspired by Dr. Seuss.  Now I'm trying my hand at another classic novel.  Hope you like this slightly condensed version of Pride and Prejudice!


Pride and Prejudice (a romance, in rhyming couplets)

It’s been said that a man who is single and rich
must be seeking a wife. This was news about which
Mrs. Bennet was thrilled, for a nearby estate
had a wealthy young man for a tenant: how great!
There were five Bennet daughters, all pretty and fair;
if they played their cards right, one of them might ensnare
this new neighbour, named Bingley, and capture his heart.
Mr. Bennet must call on him: that was the start
of a proper acquaintance – and then, never fear,
the young man would be hooked. His five thousand a year
would be welcome! The fact that the girls had no fortune
could not deter him. Ah, but would he come courtin’?

Then the Bennets were told of a dance in the town,
and Bingley would be there! Each girl chose a gown
and with eager expectancy went to the dance,
Mrs. Bennet exulting in this perfect chance.
Mr. Bingley was all that they hoped he would be:
friendly, handsome, and kind – full of real courtesy.
But his sisters, there with him, were snobs to the core.
Country dances, they thought, were the ultimate bore.
Bingley’s friend, Mr. Darcy, stood tall by his side,
looking cold and aloof: he epitomized pride.
Bingley danced with Jane Bennet and instantly fell
for her beauty and grace. It was easy to tell
he was smitten. Elizabeth Bennet, however –
though witty and lively and terribly clever –
had to sit out a dance, since male partners were few.
Bingley whispered to Darcy, “That girl’s pretty, too.
You should ask her to dance.” Darcy turned with a frown
and gave Bingley’s idea an uncivil thumbs-down.
“She is tolerable, yes – but she’d never tempt me.
Go dance with Miss Jane now, and just let me be.”
Lizzy heard, and thought, “Jerk!  How could he be so rude?”
But she soon laughed it off. She would not let a dude
with an overstuffed ego destroy all her fun.
At least Bingley was nice – and he might be The One
for her sister. Elizabeth watched with delight
as Bingley and Jane danced well into the night.

The next day, the Bingley girls wrote to “Dear Jane”
and invited her over. She went, but it rained.
She arrived soaking wet, with a cold in her head;
they urged her to stay and provided a bed.
Mrs. Bennet was glad Jane was sick and must stay:
a fever and cold seemed a small price to pay
for the chance to reel Bingley in, just like a fish.
But Lizzy, concerned, expressed her strong wish
to go and see Jane. She would walk the three miles,
which she did. When she got there, the welcoming smiles
of the Bingley girls masked their disgust and dismay.
She looked wild and disheveled! Why, that was no way
for a lady to act! Darcy too looked askance,
but (perhaps feeling shame for his words at the dance)
spoke politely to her and inquired after Jane.
She was civil – but hadn’t forgot his disdain.
Though grateful for Bingley’s great kindness and care,
she was not a bit sad when time came to leave there,
for she knew Bingley’s sisters disliked her; they thought
that while Jane was worth knowing, her family was not.

Mr. Bennet announced to his family one day
that his cousin, named Collins, was coming to stay.
Because of an entail, this man was the heir
of the Longbourn estate.  That seemed very unfair
in Mrs. Bennet’s opinion; she groused quite a bit
to her husband, but soon she was forced to admit
that the letter from Collins was pleasing in tone,
so she said she would welcome him into her home.
As a clergyman, he might not be a bad match
for one of her girls (and she had quite a batch).
Mr. Bennet suspected that Collins was odd;
his arrival confirmed that he was quite a clod.
He was obsequious, and his manner was fawning;
his pious chit-chat soon left all the girls yawning.
First he singled out Jane as the daughter he’d court,
but her mom said “Nope! Taken!” – and he was the sort
to think one Bennet girl was as good as another,
so he set sights on Lizzy, delighting her mother.

The girls walked to Meryton one day to shop;
Mr. Collins came too and was talking nonstop.
The two younger girls preened, being not at all shy
when they met with some soldiers, now posted nearby.
One of them was named Wickham, and he was a fellow
with manners so graceful and temper so mellow
that the girls all admired him. Elizabeth thought
that he seemed like a gentleman she’d like a lot.
Then Bingley and Darcy appeared. Lizzy eyed
Darcy coolly, but then she observantly spied
that Darcy gave Wickham a cold, angry look,
while Wickham’s face paled; this was all that it took
to make Lizzy suspect that these men had a history.
They all went their way, while she pondered this mystery.
She met Wickham again at a social affair;
he confided to her that yes, Darcy’s cold air
showed his hatred for Wickham. They’d once been good friends,
but Darcy had wronged him and not made amends.
Lizzy wasn’t surprised to hear Darcy was vile.
She believed Wickham’s words and was charmed by his smile,
and she told Jane that Darcy was mean and corrupt.
Though Jane cautioned her, Lizzy had made her mind up.

Soon the Bingleys decided to put on a ball,
and the Bennets were thrilled.  For the next few days, all
that was heard in their house was the prep and the chatter;
Mr. Collins was also quite keen on this matter.
He primped in the mirror with satisfied glances
and claimed Lizzy’s hand for the ball’s first two dances.
The night of the ball they arrived with great glee.
Lizzy looked round the room, for she wanted to see
whether Wickham was there, but he did not appear;
Darcy’s presence upset him too much, Lizzy feared.
She first danced with Collins – he was so inept
that she reddened with shame and could have just wept.
Then to her surprise, Darcy came to her side
and asked her to dance. Though turned off by his pride,
she could not, at that moment, think how to reject him.
So, while dancing, she made up her mind to inspect him.
She questioned him, hoping to get a good sense
of his character, but he made no self-defense.
By the end of the dance she was still just as sure
that Wickham was blameless, and Darcy a boor.

The evening wore on. Poor Lizzy and Jane
felt embarrassed: their family gave them such pain!
Young Lydia and Kitty, as silly girls do,
acted flirty and flighty and made a to-do.
Mrs. Bennet was bragging about Bingley’s wealth,
while Mary crept to the piano, with stealth.
(She always had wanted to play really badly,
and now her fond wish would be realized, sadly.)

The next day poor Lizzy was filled with regret,
for her family’s antics were hard to forget.
But then Collins came in, looking smarmy and slick:
“I’ve been seeking a wife – you’re my number one pick!”
Lizzy firmly refused, knowing they’d never suit,
but he seemed unaware he was getting the boot.
He repeated his offer; again she said no.
Mrs. Bennet rushed in, crying, “What? You don’t know
your own mind, you daft girl! Come and talk to your father!”
But he disliked being drawn into this bother
and said firmly he’d disown Lizzy for good
if she dared marry Collins – which she never would.
Mr. Collins stomped out without one backward glance;
Mrs. Bennet despaired. Lizzy’d blown her best chance!
Collins stormed down the lane – then met Lizzy’s best friend,
Charlotte Lucas, a sensible girl. By the end
of their short conversation, Collins thought, “Hey!
This girl’s really my type.” So he made no delay,
but proposed to her promptly, and Charlotte said yes.
He might not be Prince Charming, but she was much less
interested in romance than other girls were;
a respectable home was sufficient for her.

When Elizabeth heard, she was downright gobsmacked:
she would never have guessed that her friend Charlotte lacked
the good sense to perceive that this man was a twit.
But then Jane calmly said, “Lizzy, though I admit
he’s the least sharp of all of the knives in the drawer,
he may suit her just fine. Now, who could ask for more?”
Before Lizzy could answer, the maid brought a note
and Jane read it while Lizzy sat wondering who wrote.
Jane said sadly, “The Bingleys have all left for town
and are not coming back.” Lizzy said with a frown,
“This is not Bingley’s choice. His own sisters and friend
are conspiring together to put a quick end
to your romance. I think that they want him to wed
Darcy’s sister – but Jane, Bingley loves you instead.
They are trying to break you up. This is their plot.”
But while Lizzy was certain of this, Jane was not.
While the people whom Lizzy thought well of were few,
Jane was trusting and good and thought others were, too.

Mr. Collins and Charlotte were married, and then
moved away; Lizzy grieved for the loss of her friend.
When she heard Charlotte’s father and young sister meant
to go visit the newlyweds in county Kent,
she accepted their offer to accompany them there
for she wanted to see how poor Charlotte did fare.
Mr. Collins was tickled because they’d all rode
such a distance to visit his “humble abode.”
While he chattered and fussed, Charlotte stayed calm and cool;
she seemed hardly to notice she’d married a fool.
He praised Lady Catherine, his rich patroness,
who lived nearby at Rosings; he then exclaimed, “Guess
where we’re going this evening? She’s asked us to eat.
Miss Elizabeth, do not be worried to meet
this great lady. Your plain, simple clothing will do;
Lady Catherine knows she ranks higher than you.”
They arrived; Lady Catherine was bossy and gruff
and had iron-clad opinions on all sorts of stuff.
She then told them a fact that made Lizzy take heed:
Lady Catherine was Darcy’s aunt – and indeed
Anne, her daughter, was destined to be Darcy’s bride.
Lizzy thought, “Well, it seems that he comes by his pride
honestly! But poor Anne is too sickly and plain
to appeal to a man who’s so stuck-up and vain.”
Then – to speak of the devil, as the old saying has it –
Darcy came, with a cousin, to Rosings to visit.
Lizzy met him once more, and dislike filled her heart:
she was sure that he’d torn Jane and Bingley apart
and had treated poor Wickham with cruelty – how vile!
But she hid her disdain with a cool, polite smile.

Then one day, when the Collinses were not at home,
Mr. Darcy arrived and found Lizzy alone.
He seemed nervous and tense, and she could not quite see
why he’d come. Then he spoke: Darcy told her that he
was in love with her. “I know my friends won’t approve,
and my own better judgment steps in to reprove
my decision, but – really, I must be insane! –
I have struggled against my desires, but in vain.
Would you please be my wife and relieve my distress?”
Then he stepped back and waited, expecting a “Yes” –
but then Lizzy stood up and she cut Darcy dead.
“You’re the last man on earth that I’d marry,” she said.
“You have injured my sister and cheated your friend;
frankly, you must be nuts if you think I’d intend
to be wed to a man who’s so ruthless and mean.”
Darcy’s face turned bright red, and his anger was keen.
“Well, I guess you’d like flattery rather than candour,”
he said haughtily. “You’d prefer that I pander
to your wounded pride and not tell you straight out
that your low-class connections are making me doubt.”
“Not at all, Mr. Darcy,” said Lizzy, with pluck.
“It is helpful to know that you’re such a rude shmuck!
If you’d spoken to me as real gentlemen do,
I might feel sad for saying I won’t marry you.
But you’ve been so uncivil, I’m sure you can see
why your offer of marriage would never tempt me.”

Darcy bowed, said a quick good-bye, and took his leave.
Lizzy sat down in shock. She could hardly believe
what had happened. But Charlotte and Collins came in
and she had to pretend that she felt no chagrin.
The next day she went walking, to just clear her head,
and she met up with Darcy, who hastily said,
“Would you please read this letter?” and then walked away.
She sat down to find out what this missive might say.
As expected, his tone was as frigid as ice,
but the contents surprised her and made her think twice.
He said yes, it was true he had been Wickham’s friend,
but that Wickham’s bad ways brought their bond to an end.
Darcy’s father had offered to Wickham a living,
but he’d asked for a payout instead and been given
a generous sum, which he’d wasted on drink
and wild living. When Darcy at last dared to think
Wickham might be reformed, he soon saw his mistake.
Wickham wooed Darcy’s sister, in hopes he might take
all her fortune – but luckily, Darcy found out
and he sent Wickham packing. This tale raised no doubt
in the mind of Elizabeth – it all made sense.
She thought, “I trusted Wickham! Why was I so dense?”
But the letter went on and soon filled her with ire:
Darcy freely admitted he’d meant to conspire
to break up Jane and Bingley. “I just could not see
that she liked him that much – and I think you’ll agree
that your family’s behaviour is quite far beneath
what good breeding requires.” Lizzy gritted her teeth
at his awful presumption – yet had to confess
that he did have a point. She sat back, took a breath,
and considered his words. She knew now that she’d been
much too quick to condemn him. Now that she’d seen
there was more to the story than she had allowed,
she could see she’d been prejudiced, though he’d been proud.

Soon it came time to leave; she was keen to go home
and tell Jane. They decided to not make it known
to their general acquaintance that Wickham was bad,
for they’d just heard the news that the regiment had
been reposted to Brighton. They’d be rid of him soon.
His departure at this time just seemed opportune.
Then the youngest girl, Lydia, got quite excited
and told everybody that she’d been invited
by the wife of the colonel to Brighton as well.
“A whole camp full of soldiers!” Why, that sounded swell.
So she hurried to pack – but Elizabeth said,
“Father, she should not go. I must tell you, I dread
to think how her behaviour might ruin our good name.”
But her father said, “Pooh!  Lizzy, Lydia’s the same
whether she’s here or there: just a silly young thing.
With the colonel’s protection, no way will she bring
any shame to our family. Now just let things be.”
(Don’t they say, there’s none blinder than those who won’t see?)

After Lydia had left, Lizzy went on a jaunt
for some sightseeing with her dear uncle and aunt.
While in Derbyshire, one day they came to the gate
of a mansion called Pemberley. ’Twas the estate
of none other than Darcy. “We mustn’t go there,”
said Elizabeth, anxiously. She didn’t dare
visit Darcy’s estate, perhaps meet him again –
it would be so distressing to see him. But then
she was told Mr. Darcy was staying in town
and would not be at home; at this news, she calmed down
and thought visiting Pemberley might be all right.
It was such a fine place. As she looked at the sight
of the galleries and gardens, she thought, with a sigh,
“I might have been mistress of this, by and by.”
The old housekeeper said, as she gave them the tour,
that she’d known Mr. Darcy since he was but four,
and he’d always been generous, good-natured, and fair.
All his servants, she said, were quite pleased to work there.

Lizzy walked round the grounds on her own, deep in thought,
when she suddenly glimpsed him. Oh no – to be caught
on his property after refusing his offer!
She was much too discomfited even to proffer
her hand, but he treated her kindly, although
she had snubbed his proposal a few weeks ago.
He then welcomed her aunt and her uncle with grace,
leaving Lizzy perplexed – what a strange about-face.
He said, “Please come tomorrow and join us for dinner.”
As they left, Lizzy’s aunt said, “Why, he’s quite a winner!
He’s not the proud man that you made us believe.”
“So it seems,” Lizzy said. “Looks may often deceive.”
When they came back to Pemberley House the next night,
Mr. Bingley was there.  He was warm and polite
and enquired after Jane; it appeared that he’d missed her.
Darcy introduced Lizzy to his younger sister,
the one who’d been wooed by that gold-digger, Wickham –
“And to think,” Lizzy mused, “I’d assumed he was victim.”

At their inn, the next day, Lizzy got mail from Jane.
What she read was distressing and filled her with pain:
for her young sister Lydia, flighty and shallow,
had left Brighton barracks with some soldier fellow.
Elizabeth gasped when she read the man’s name:
it was Wickham, that scoundrel! Why, had he no shame?
They had gone to be married – but Lizzy thought, no:
there was no Bennet fortune to tempt him, and so
he must just be intending to have a brief fling,
caring nothing for all the disgrace this would bring.
As Elizabeth read, at the door came a knock:
Mr. Darcy came in; Lizzy looked up in shock.
He could see she was flustered and very upset,
so she told him the news – though she’d rather forget.
He was grieved, not surprised: this was Wickham’s true style:
to seduce teenage girls with his flattering smile.
Darcy left with an indignant look on his face.
Lizzy sighed: now he knew her whole family’s disgrace.

She rushed home, and Jane cried, “I’m so glad you’re back, Lizzy.
Since we heard of this news, we’ve been all in a tizzy.
Our mother’s distraught and our father’s in town;
he’s enlisted our uncle and hopes to track down
Mr. Wickham and Lydia – it may be all right.”
But when poor Mr. Bennet returned that same night,
he had not found the couple. “They’re living in sin,”
he concluded. “Dear Lizzy, how right you have been.
You warned me, but I was too careless to heed.
Now Lydia’s ruined, and it’s all my own deed.”
But a letter from London somewhat eased their dread:
It was from Lizzy’s uncle. “I’ve found them,” he said.
“They’re going to be married; I’ll give her away.”
Mr. Bennet was pensive. “How much did he pay
to force Wickham to marry her? Lots, I suppose.”
When his wife heard the news, she was soon in the throes
of elation:  though barely ten minutes before,
she’d been calling that Wickham a sleaze-ball (and more)
for seducing her daughter – now she was content.
A wedding! Oh joy! Such a blessed event!

Not long after the marriage, the newlyweds came
for a visit. Said Lydia, “You’re all just the same,
but now I’ve got a husband. Lord, isn’t he fine?”
Mr. Bennet looked daggers, but his wife gave no sign
there was anything wrong. “Dearest Wickham!” she cried.
Nor did there appear any shame on his side.
Lydia told of her wedding – a quiet affair,
with just her aunt and uncle accompanying her there,
“and of course, Mr. Darcy,” she said casually.
Jane and Lizzy perked up. Goodness, how could that be?
It just seemed so improbable! Darcy, attend
Wickham’s wedding? Elizabeth soon put an end
to her wondering by writing her aunt just to say,
“Tell me how did this happen? Write back right away!”
Her aunt did, and explained, “Darcy planned the whole thing.
He gave Wickham some money, bought Lydia a ring,
and was Wickham’s ‘best man.’ What a kind thing to do.
But you know, don’t you, Lizzy? – he did it for you.”
Lizzy sat, lost in thought. She was deeply impressed
at how Darcy had dug deep and shown her his best,
truest self.  Did he love her?  (If not, would he do
such a generous thing?) It might really be true.

Very soon, Mr. Bingley moved back to the ‘hood.
He came over to visit, and spent quite a good
bit of time looking lovingly over at Jane.
She was calm, but she couldn’t convincingly feign
her indifference. He dropped by the very next day,
and when mother and sisters were out of the way,
he proposed; she accepted. “I really should never
have left without saying I’d love you forever,”
said Bingley. The Bennets were all full of cheer,
Mrs. Bennet especially:  “Five thousand a year!”

Then one day a huge carriage drove up to the house.
Mrs. Bennet, for once, was as quiet as a mouse
when she saw Lady Catherine march through the door
with a face set like stone, looking ready for war.
Lady Catherine asked Lizzy to go for a stroll;
then she said, “I’ve heard news that would almost be droll
if it wasn’t so shocking: do you plan to wed
Mr. Darcy, my nephew?” “Uh – no,” Lizzy said.
“I’m relieved,” Lady Catherine said, “for my Anne
is my nephew’s intended. A girl like you can
never come up to my family’s level, you see.
Such unequal alliance – it must never be!”
Said Lizzy with spirit, “Why come all this way
to insult me? If Anne’s his betrothed, as you say,
then he’ll hardly propose to me – but if he did
want to marry me, nothing you say could forbid
my accepting. I’ll live my life as I see fit.”
Lady Catherine stormed away, all in a snit.

Mr. Bingley and Darcy came over one day
and invited the girls for a walk. On the way,
Lizzy said, “Mr. Darcy, I must thank you now
for assisting our family. My aunt told me how
you arranged our poor Lydia’s wedding. Although
no one else knows but me, I’m aware that we owe
you a debt.” Darcy said, “Please don’t say any more.
I did all this for you; I feel just as before.
I still want you to marry me: only just say
if your answer’s still no – and I’ll be on my way.”
Lizzy’s answer was yes. Darcy then took her hand
and said sorry for being such a proud, haughty man.
She apologized, too: she’d let prejudice sway
her opinions, but now she was happy to say
she’d been wrong. She went home, the good news to report.
All the family was shocked – was this man Lizzy’s sort?
Mrs. Bennet was first to recover: despite
how she’d hated poor Darcy from very first sight
and berated him soundly, she now said, “My dear!
What a lovely man! He’s worth ten thousand a year!”

Every tale has its moral.  Elizabeth found
that initial impressions are not always sound:
one man may seem nasty, another man nice,
but before making judgments, we ought to think twice.
Mr. Darcy had learned that you should not begin
by insulting the lady whose heart you would win.
But we’ll end with advice Lizzy always would treasure:
“Think of past events only as they give you pleasure.''