Read a character sketch of Elizabeth Bennet
The twenty year-old Elizabeth, sometimes Lizzie, sometimes Eliza, is a most attractive young woman. Not only is she beautiful, with eyes that made her irresistible to Mr Darcy, but she has an exceptional personality. She is high spirited but self-controlled, always guided by her good sense, which few of the other female characters in the novel have. She is self-assured, outspoken, and assertive, but never rude or aggressive.
Elizabeth’s assertiveness and outspokenness would have shocked the readers of the novel when it first came out. Although Jane Austen is criticized for creating characters that reaffirm the expectations about female stereotypes it is clear that the character of Elizabeth Bennet challenges the expected gender norms of her time, particularly when compared with the other females in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is willing to express her opinions wherever she is, without fear, and has the confidence openly to challenge the views of those of superior social standing. On her first meeting with Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Lady Catherine interrogates her and is surprised by the open, frank replies of the twenty year-old.
“Upon my word,” said her Ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person. Pray, what is your age?”
Elizabeth also behaves in an unorthodox fashion in her approach to marriage, and in a society where a woman’s security depends on a good marriage, and in a family where for at least one of the daughters finding a husband is a matter of social and economic survival, refuses two advantageous proposals. In doing so she challenges the traditional norm whereby women have a financial obligation to marry at the first opportunity.
In Elizabeth’s social setting her mother would be the arbiter in matters of marriage and Elizabeth would have been raised to understand and accept it. However, she defies her mother in refusing to marry Mr Collins and astonishes him. Given her lack of money and social connections he is unable to understand her rejection of his proposal and interprets it as insincerity. He persists, saying that all women refuse at first as a matter of coyness, and then Elizabeth puts him straight expresses herself in language that opposes gender norms. “Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart,” she says.
A woman is not supposed to have a rational response to such things – rationality being reserved for men – and later, Mr Collins admits that she would have been too much for him anyway.
Repeating that with her rejection of Darcy, one of the richest men in England’s, first proposal, because she doesn’t like his character and finds the language of his proposal distasteful, is further evidence of her departure from gender norms.
Her rejection of marriage on the basis of economic gain and insisting on happiness in marriage, which could only happen by marrying for love, is something those around her – even her father – do not understand, so far away from societal expectations is that idea.
Elizabeth’s marital philosophy, together with her assertiveness, places her in the position of being a protofeminist a century before the first glimmerings of a feminist movement in England.
Throughout the novel, Elizabeth is faced with many challenges pertaining to her sex and social rank, within a British patriarchy and perhaps, in creating Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen has given us English literature’s first feminist.
Two hundred years after the fictional life of Elizabeth Bennet we finally see the kind of rebellion Elizabeth Bennet would have approved of. The “Me too” movement is an expression of women’s objection to men, operating from a position of much greater social and financial power, forcing them to agree to arrangements that suit them and not the woman.
Darcy, a most powerful man, until he gets to know Elizabeth well and changes in his own attitude, is confounded by her refusal of his proposal. Presuming that he knows what she wants, based on his experience of women he knows, he devalues her. But she has a far better understanding of sexual politics: while he expects deference and gratitude from her she demands respect from him. They fight and struggle over that and she wins. He accepts her evaluation of him, even though she admonishes him with language that no-one has ever used to him – “arrogance,” conceit,” “selfish disdain of the feelings of others.” No-one would ever have dared to talk to him like that. But she has gained his respect and that facilitates his change from the man she has described to a man worthy of her love.
Elizabeth has a fine-tuned critical mind and is able to sum up most of the people around her. Although she fails to do that accurately with both Darcy and Wickham – the former because of the misinformation she receives about him and the latter because of the practiced charm of the con man that he uses on her – she gets it dead right with most of the other people she meets. Her assessments of Mr Collins, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Caroline Bingly are spot on. The first is a fool, the second a tyrant, and the third a nasty piece of work. Elizabeth gets that very quickly and part of the story is about the way she deals with them.
However, her confidence in her own judgment is the thing that leads her to make some almost terminal mistakes and it’s only because of her ability to step back and honestly assess her own behaviour that she finally wins through.
Elizabeth’s conversational skills and sparkling wit are divisive. They often act to her disadvantage, such as bringing on Lady Catherine’s disapproval, but they are also partly responsible for Mr Darcy’s admiration. Lady Catherine is appalled by the willingness of someone so young to give her opinion so freely, and Mr Darcy is impressed by her confidence in doing so as well as with the good sense of her opinions on all matters.
In Elizabeth Benett, Jane Austen has given the world an immortal fictional character, one that we can almost mistake for a real person, in the same way as Shakespeare and Dickens did with some of their characters.
That’s our Elizabeth Bennet character analysis. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
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