Saturday, August 12, 2023

Why Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen's Most Popular Heroine

 Victoria Pedraza | 7/30/2023


Clever, witty, and a little too certain of her people-reading skills, Elizabeth Bennet has captured the imagination of millions since she sprung from Austen’s pen in 1813, including me. But she’s just one of Austen’s heroines. 


A well-written character should be complex, relatable, and believable. It should almost feel like you’re getting to know a real person as you delve further into the story. Perfect characters don’t work, I think that’s a central idea behind the success of Pride & Prejudice, the main flaws of the heroes are right there in the title.


Lizzy’s not portrayed as a perfect, passive, or overly virtuous character. She has flaws and makes mistakes, but these imperfections make her more human and authentic. Her ability to stand up for herself and her principles, even in the face of societal pressures, is inspiring to many readers. She values integrity, honesty, and genuine affection in her relationships, which resonates with readers seeking characters with strong principles. 


Elizabeth resonates with readers. Her love and care for her younger sisters even as she’s exasperated by their behavior, her painful realization that her father is far from perfect, even the initial judgy reaction in the face of her friend’s engagement. We just get her. It’s easy to recognize her flaws and love her all the more for it. 

Marriage in Austen’s Time

One of my eternal frustrations when discussing Austen’s work is the belief that her work is romantic. Austen wrote scathing social commentaries on English society during the regency.


Her best characters reject the conventional understanding of marriage prevalent in the Regency era. They resist societal expectations and demonstrate a form of social rebellion by refusing to marry for financial security or social status. Elizabeth Bennet, for instance, boldly turns down not one but two eligible marriage proposals: Elizabeth's refusal to bow to societal pressure showcases her determination to find genuine love and respect in a marriage, rather than settling for a life dictated by others.


It’s subtle, but, Austen criticizes gender inequality time after time. Take for instance the entail issue in P&P. The whole reason the Bennet girls are under so much pressure to marry was that they would inherit nothing. This unequal inheritance system reinforces the notion that women's worth and security are dependent on marriage, perpetuating the societal norms that limit their autonomy and opportunities. By showcasing the struggles faced by the Bennet sisters and the urgency of their need to marry well, Austen critiques the gender disparities and the lack of financial independence faced by women during that era. Through Elizabeth Bennet's character, Austen highlights the need for women to be seen as more than mere commodities for advantageous matches and advocates for a society that values women's abilities, intelligence, and aspirations beyond marriage.

Elizabeth’s Character Growth

Elizabeth Bennet's initial prejudices play a significant role in shaping the plot of "Pride and Prejudice." At the beginning of the novel, she forms strong opinions about people based on limited information, leading to several misunderstandings. 


One of the central themes of the novel revolves around Elizabeth's prejudice against Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Upon their first meeting, she perceives him as aloof, arrogant, and proud, this combined with her wounded ego, having overheard an insulting remark from him, makes her susceptible to believing Mr. Wickham’s lies about him. She dismisses all of his attempts at kindness because she’s already decided against him.


As Elizabeth's prejudices crumble, she grows as a character, becoming more understanding, compassionate, and perceptive. Her transformation is a central aspect of the novel, showing that people are not fixed in their judgments, and with new information and experiences, they can overcome their biases.

Interactions with Mr. Darcy

Mr. Darcy’s first proposal is a turning point for Elizabeth as a character (and for Darcy when we don’t learn about it until later). Before that, every interaction that they have is colored by Elizabeth’s perception of him.


Mr. Darcy's subsequent letter to Elizabeth serves as a crucial catalyst for her growth and as she spends more time observing Mr. Darcy's actions, she begins to see a different side of him. She notices how he cares for her family's reputation and how he quietly helps them behind the scenes, like paying off Mr. Wickham's debts to secure Lydia's marriage. These actions contrast with her initial impression and show her a deeper and more compassionate aspect of his character.


Through her evolving relationship with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth begins to value integrity, intelligence, and kindness over wealth and social status, ultimately recognizing the true worth of Mr. Darcy beyond societal expectations.


Elizabeth Bennet's growth throughout "Pride and Prejudice" makes her a relatable and admirable character for several reasons. Her initial prejudices and misconceptions about Mr. Darcy and others reflect a very human trait – making judgments based on limited information or influenced by others. As she evolves and learns to challenge her preconceived notions, readers can relate to the process of self-reflection and personal growth. 

Why Elizabeth Stands Out as the Most Beloved Heroine

Elizabeth Bennet stands out as the most beloved Austen heroine due to the perfect balance of her strengths and weaknesses. Her wit and independence make her relatable and captivating to modern readers, while her vulnerabilities and imperfections make her a realistic and human character. Unlike some of Austen's other heroines who start with a more reserved demeanor, Elizabeth's outspoken nature and spirited personality immediately engage the audience. Her growth and self-discovery throughout the novel endear her to readers. Her ability to confront her prejudices, learn from her mistakes, and embrace personal growth resonate deeply with audiences, inspiring them to do the same in their own lives.


Thus, Elizabeth Bennet becomes a beloved and timeless heroine, capturing the hearts of readers across generations. Her relatability and complexity make her a character with enduring and universal appeal. She’s as at home here in the 21st century as she is in Regency England.

Elizabeth Bennet, Adapted

Elizabeth Bennet has been portrayed in numerous film and television adaptations of "Pride and Prejudice," further solidifying her place in popular culture. Various talented actresses have brought their unique interpretations to the character, showcasing her wit, charm, and growth. From Greer Garson in the 1940 film to Jennifer Ehle's in the 1995 BBC miniseries and Keira Knightley's modern take in the 2005 film adaptation, each portrayal has contributed to keeping Elizabeth alive in the hearts of audiences.

Takeaway

Pride and Prejudice is the very first classic that I read, right after I finished one of the Twilight books (can’t remember which one). Almost a decade and a half later, I find myself returning to it over and over again. For me, it was not just a book; it was the gateway that led me down the rabbit hole of classic literature.


As the years passed and my literary tastes expanded, Pride and Prejudice remained a constant companion. With each rereading, I discovered new nuances and appreciated Austen's social commentary even more.


If you haven't already done so, take this opportunity to dive into Jane Austen's timeless masterpiece, "Pride and Prejudice." Delve into the captivating world of Elizabeth Bennet and appreciate her character. Notice how her wit, intelligence, and independence shape her interactions with other characters, and how her growth throughout the novel transforms her perspective. Allow yourself to be inspired by her determination to stay true to herself.


In reading "Pride and Prejudice," you'll discover why Elizabeth Bennet remains one of literature's most beloved heroines. Her journey and impact on literature and pop culture continue to resonate, proving that her character stands the test of time as an enduring source of inspiration and admiration.

Sources:
  • Toledo Lucas County Public Library. (n.d.). Jane Austen's hidden feminism. Retrieved from https://www.toledolibrary.org/blog/jane-austens-hidden-feminism#:~:text=Jane%20Austen's%20Pride%20and%20Prejudice,and%20so%20is%20its%20author.

  • Robinson, T. (2020, June 24). Jane Austen's inspiring heroines, ranked. ScreenRant. Retrieved from https://screenrant.com/jane-austen-inspiring-heroines-ranked/#lady-susan---love-amp-friendship.

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Yours sincerely,

Victoria


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