*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.
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.
On either end of the 1% spectrum, there are two kinds of people. On one end is the Bill Gates type, the person who uses his or her name and fortune to help those less fortunate. On the other end is the person who expects the rest of us to kiss their behind and fawn all over them just because they are famous, powerful and wealthy.
Jane Austen’s most notable member of the 1% community is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, from Pride and Prejudice. The elder sister of Mr. Darcy’s late mother, Lady Catherine is everything that the 99% expect of not just the upper classes, but the aristocratic set. Lady Catherine is a first class snob who talks over everyone, thinks she is always right and has kept her only child, Anne, on a very short leash. Under the assumption that her nephew and her daughter have been betrothed since childhood (despite any lack of evidence), Lady Catherine is far from pleased that Mr. Darcy may have an interest in Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman from a middle class family whose dowry is small and whose family home is entailed away to Mr. Collins. Mr. Collins is not just Elizabeth’s cousin (and her father’s heir), but also Lady’s Catherine’s rector.
Every good story needs a villain, an antagonist to the main character. While Lady Catherine is not a villain in the traditional sense, her opposition to Elizabeth makes her the villain in Pride and Prejudice.
To sum it up: Sometimes stereotypes are good, but only in small doses. While Lady Catherine is very much a stereotype, she is also the perfect antagonist to Elizabeth, the lead female character. If Austen was using Elizabeth as an example of how to act and how to grow from your mistakes, Lady Catherine is very much the opposite. She remains staunch in her beliefs, refusing to change or believe that her nephew would be happy married to Elizabeth. In creating Lady Catherine, the polar opposite to Elizabeth, Austen created a villain who is unforgettable. Characters must stand out to engage a reader or an audience member. If I take one lesson away from reading Pride and Prejudice, that is the lesson. Without memorable characters, the story falls flat and the reader/audience will walk away.