Pride and Prejudice Character Review: Elizabeth Bennet

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

*A note before going forward-Unfortunately, life has gotten in the way of my usual scheduled character reviews. Thank you to those who have been reading for your patience. I decided to end my character reviews with the human characters from Star Wars and not write about the non human characters. It’s time to start on a new series of characters.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

The romantic heroine has been around since the dawn of story telling. Her story, with a variety of twists and turns (depending on the writer and the heroine) usually ends with the traditional happy ending.  When she published Pride and Prejudice and introduced the world to Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen took the traditional romantic heroine and spun her in a completely new direction.

Elizabeth Bennet is the second of the five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Her father’s favorite and emotional mini-me, Elizabeth is smart, sarcastic and has a sharp tongue. Because she is without any brothers (and living in a world that seriously undervalues women), the family estate will go to a distant cousin, Mr. Collins, upon her father’s death. She also has a small dowry, which means that she must marry and marry well. In that world, marrying well-meant that marriage was more about income and status than affection and mutual interests.

When she meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, a friend of the Bennet’s new neighbor, Charles Bingley, she think he is a rich snob who is full of himself. Though I doubt anyone could blame her (“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.” Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3 Volume 1).

Over the course of the book, Elizabeth will turn down a marriage proposal from the gag inducing Mr. Collins, be temporarily taken in by the charming smile of Mr. Wickham, and finally see Mr. Darcy for the good man he truly is. But first she needs kiss the frogs (Collins and Wickham) before she meets the prince (Darcy) and learn that first impressions may not always been correct.

Though Elizabeth Bennet was created over 200 years ago, she is a modern heroine.  She is a smart, spunky, nonconformist who is not willing to sell herself in the name of marriage just to keep a roof over her head.  Though she lived in a time with a very rigid class structure, Elizabeth is not the type of heroine who will unquestioningly give in to the demands of the upper class simply due to the mere differences of income and title. While she experiences some emotional bumps and bruises, Elizabeth is her own woman and is not willing to compromise who she is just to fit into the mold that women of her era blindly fit into.

To sum it: A romantic heroine does not have to be the fainting “rescue me” damsel in distress type. She can be her own woman and still get the guy (or girl, if one is so inclined) at the end of the story. Women still relate to Elizabeth Bennet  because she speaks truth to power to readers today as much as she did in the 19th century.  By creating characters that are human, modern and stand the test of time, the writer is sure to hook a reader or an audience member and keep them coming back for me.


Throwback Thursday-The Heiress (1949)

The first man in a woman’s life is her father. No matter how old she gets or whom she meets (especially in the realm of romantic relationships, if she is straight), her father will always cast a shadow in her life.

In the 1949 movie, The Heiress (based on the book by Henry James), Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) appears, on the surface to have it all. A loving father, a secure home, clean clothes, fresh food, etc. But appearances are deceiving. Her widower physician father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) is still in mourning for his late wife and son decades after their deaths. His treatment of his daughter, who is his only surviving child, borders on emotional abuse.

When Catherine meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), it looks like she has found a spouse and lifetime partner. But Dr. Sloper has a different view of Morris. He believes that Morris is only interested in his daughter for her fortune. Catherine is torn between loyalty to her father and her love for Morris. In the end, she must choose one man and resign a relationship with the other man.

I enjoy this film for several reasons. The first is, that unlike other film adaptations of novels from this period, the screenwriters and creative team kept to the source material. What the reader reads on the page is what the audience sees on-screen. The other reason is that it is my favorite Olivia de Havilland performance. Her performance is quiet and subtle, with moments of strength and emotion that are surprising.

I absolutely recommend this film.

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