It’s funny how so many of these adaptations of classics are becoming like Shakespeare–it’s a matter of comparing renditions, productions, and portrayals of the well-known and beloved characters, rather than seeking the definitive version.
One of the things that struck me this time was the notion of plainness and how that must have been a significant protection for women of little means at the time. If you were thrust into the role of dependent (or, of course, servant) and were attractive, then I suspect that the world would have been a dangerous place indeed. The minority of women in that situation would have been lucky enough to get a marriage offer. And in the mean time, attracting the attention of the husband or the son of the household would have led to possible rape and brutalization, as well as ruination and disgrace. In a world where women had little autonomy and almost no legal agency, they would have had to walk a very fine line indeed.
Being plain would have served as something of a shield in such situations. Presenting yourself as nondescript, and fading into the background would have been the safest option in such times, I would think. Someone who attracts neither the amorous attentions of the men nor the rivalrous resentments of the women would at least have survived in such adverse and oft-challenging circumstances. That kind of invisibility would have been an advantage in other ways as well–it would have allowed an astute observer to learn a good deal about the dynamics of the interactions and relationships between the people who had power over her finances and her life.