Lydia Bennet: She’s Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No

Hello, Austen Lovers! Can you believe the month of May is coming to an end? Sometimes it seems time is passing so slowly; and yet, we’re nearing the half-way mark of 2020 with surprising speed!

In my home state of Colorado we are still living under quarantine rules, although some restrictions have been relaxed. Now we can visit a salon to get a haircut (which I haven’t yet done, so I’m rockin’ a ponytail), and this week restaurants opened with serious limitations.

Since I have an underlying health condition to consider, I am still staying at home, where I know I’ll be safe. To pass the time, I’ve worked jigsaw puzzles, painted the entire interior of my house, and brushed up on my conversational Spanish skills.

I re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and last week I watched a favorite old Hollywood musical, Oklahoma!

Now, maybe I’ve been under quarantine too long, but I hadn’t watched the movie for very many minutes before I began to notice elements of the story that reminded me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

If you haven’t yet seen it yet, the film centers on the romance between farmer Laurey Williams and cowboy Curly McLain in 1907 Oklahoma Territory.

Curley and Laurey, singing their hearts out in Oklahoma!

As usual, their course of true love does not run smooth, due in part to a socially outcast farmhand named Jud Fry, who has the hots for Laurey. I confess he reminded me of Mr. Collins’ pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet, especially when Laurey says of Jud:

“He makes me shiver ever’ time he gits close to me.”

In the film, Laurey has a good friend named Ado Annie Carnes, a boy-crazy farmer’s daughter who loves cowboy Will Parker, but can’t stop herself from seeking attention from other men.

As Ado Annie explains to Laurey: “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no.”

Wasn’t that Lydia Bennet’s problem, too? Both Ado Annie and Lydia where raised in good families, and both were taught right from wrong. Yet when Ado Annie sang these lyrics in Oklahoma!, I couldn’t help but think of Lydia Bennet:

It ain’t so much a question of not knowin’ what to do
I knowed what’s right an’ wrong since I’ve been ten.
I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they are true
About how girls are put upon by men.

I know I mustn’t fall into the pit
But when I’m with a feller
I fergit!

A few verses later, Ado Annie chirps:

Ev’ry time I lose a wrestlin’ match.
I have a funny feelin’ that I won!

Despite her love for Will Parker, Ado Annie juggles a romance with Ali Hakim, the traveling peddler who promises to take Annie “to paradise.” But what Ali really means is, he wants Ado Annie to spend a few hours with him in a hotel room in the next town.

Ali Hakim, Ado Annie, and Will Parker.

Just as Lydia Bennet thought there wouldn’t be any harm in running off with Mr. Wickham, Ado Annie considers joining Ali Hakim on that trip to “paradise” he promised. And when her father finds out about it, and realizes Ali has compromised his daughter, Mr. Carnes forces him to offer Ado Annie marriage.

Ali put it this way:

I wanted to marry her when I saw the moonlight shining on the barrel of her father’s shotgun.

Shades of P&P! Lydia Bennet had a sort of shotgun wedding of her own after she ran off to London with Mr. Wickham; and, just like Ado Annie, Lydia was shameless in telling everyone she knew how her wedding came about, causing Elizabeth to scold her:

I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.

I won’t give away the ending of Oklahoma! for those who haven’t seen it, but since it’s a Hollywood musical from the 1950s, you can be sure there are plenty of happy endings to go around, just like in P&P.

And this weekend, I plan to treat myself to another old movie—most likely a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical from the 1930s.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Swing Time (1936).

I wonder if I’ll spot some parallels to Austen’s novels in that movie, too?

Are you like me? Do you see bits of your favorite Jane Austen novels in our modern movies and TV shows?

Do you have favorite movies you like to watch over and over again?

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