During the month of October nine other authors and I are “Shining a Light on Our Ladies” by taking a closer look at what makes our heroines so special. Those involved include: Helen Hollick, Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage, Inge H Borg, Linda Collison, Elizabeth Revill, Patricia Bracewell, Sophie Perinot, and Diana Wilder.
To view last week’s post on four of the heroines from the REALM series, go HERE.
Today, I chose to look at the heroine I feel I know best, although she is not my creation. Elizabeth Bennet came to the notice of the reading public in January 1813, and for over 200 years, readers have come to adore Elizabeth’s witty repartee, vitality, intelligence, and charm, and to a certain extent, her discriminating observations of those about her. She is regarded as Austen’s most endearing heroine. Elizabeth is a beloved character in British literature, and her complexity entices us. For example, despite her quick mind, we quickly discover that Elizabeth is as vulnerable to a man with a handsome face as are her sisters. Austen described her creation “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” [Wright, Andrew H. “Elizabeth Bennet.” Elizabeth Bennet (introduction by Harold Bloom). Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers , 2004. 37–38 . Google Book Search. Web. 22 October 2011.]
What else do we know of Elizabeth Bennet? Obviously, to be as relatable as she is, Miss Elizabeth must have more depth that the above characteristics would show. Some of the characteristics we see of Elizabeth in ourselves are not necessarily her more endearing qualities.
Let us take a look at Elizabeth’s interactions with Charlotte Lucas. Of all the other female characters in the story, Elizabeth assumes that Charlotte is the one most like Elizabeth in her intelligence and her temperament. In reality, Elizabeth imagines Charlotte’s opinions are more of the same nature than they actually are. Elizabeth, like any woman in her social position, understands the need for a marriage of convenience, but she secretly hopes for a bit of affection between her and her future husband. She believes Charlotte feels the same, even when Charlotte declares otherwise. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance…it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life. To which Elizabeth replies, You make me laugh, Charlotte, but it not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.
Yet, Charlotte’s choice of Mr. Collins proves Elizabeth’s friend “practical.” Charlotte’s perceived betrayal wounds Elizabeth’s confidence and her sense of dignity. If Charlotte MUST choose a man of Mr. Collins’ character, what choices remain for Elizabeth? She feels trapped by life, and Charlotte’s actions prove there is “no means out.” We in the modern world are often faced with the prospect of being the only one of our friends not married; yet, is this fear truly a modern one?
Charlotte resigns herself to a tedious marriage with Collins, a fact that goes against Elizabeth’s nature for she lives firsthand the outcome of such a marriage, the one between her parents. Elizabeth finds herself clinging to a fading hope of discovering someone who will recognize her as a superior choice. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s pride is a false one. She has no real competition among her sisters. If she knew a wider society, Elizabeth would be more aware of her shortcomings when Mr. Darcy announces them in his first proposal. True, Jane is far handsomer, but the eldest Miss Bennet is not written by Austen to be Elizabeth’s equal. I am certain that there are many females out there who have asked themselves, “What does he see in her?”
Like her father, Elizabeth takes pleasure in living among foolish people. But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn? When I was still teaching school, one of my favorite lessons was on a “comedy” unit. Humor is the only socially accepted form of criticism, and both Elizabeth and her father use their witticisms as an attack on others and as a defense for their own shortcomings. My students loved it when I pointed out that we humans smile largely when we say, “I didn’t mean it. It was only a joke.” Compare that false “smile,” one with teeth showing and lips stretched wide, to the one an animal shows its enemy in warning. (i.e., The dog bared its teeth.) Very similar…
That being said, does Elizabeth use her humor to deflect attention from her own shortcomings? I do not criticize her actions. I find Elizabeth’s response quite “human.” If the Bingley sisters finding Elizabeth wanting, how else would she respond but to point out their “deficiencies”?
It is helpful to consider what life skills has Elizabeth learned from Mr. Bennet. Needless to say, Elizabeth is her father’s favorite, and she wallows in his approval. Any admiration she knows comes at the hands of Mr. Bennet. She imitates his love of reading, his witty observations of others, and Mr. Bennet’s “isolation,” although Elizabeth is not as successful as her father in remaining detached. We view Mr. Bennet as jaded in his opinions and in his bending to the wishes of Mrs. Bennet in order to avoid his wife’s “nerves.” In her imitation, Elizabeth takes herself quite seriously in her dealings with others. She tells Darcy, Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies ‘do’ divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.
When the outside world proves her opinions in error, Elizabeth does not know how to react. She cannot understand Bingley’s abandonment of Jane for Elizabeth is certain the man loves her eldest sister. As mentioned earlier, Charlotte’s acceptance of Mr. Collins goes against all things Elizabeth claims as holy. Unconsciously, she does not reject her mother’s opinion of her. We recognize how Mrs. Bennet’s constant reminders to Elizabeth as being “ungrateful” and being “the least dear” of her children must play into Elizabeth’s personality. Elizabeth is defined by this image, and she fights it as does Mr. Bennet.
How could Elizabeth NOT feel the sting of Mr. Darcy’s rebuke? She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt ‘me’; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. Although she thinks herself Mr. Darcy’s equal, he sets her down as if she were a member of the working class. Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy is a reflection of how badly her pride is bruised by his remark. Again, I find this a very natural response. We all like to think ourselves above such pettiness, but human nature says otherwise. Darcy’s opinion is a blow to Elizabeth’s confidence, and she makes it a point NOT to permit Mr. Darcy or anyone (including the incomparable Lady Catherine de Bourgh) to view her as inferior again. She uses her caustic wit as a sword to fend off all comers.
Elizabeth makes Darcy and the Bingley sisters (and later Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine) the butt of her jokes. Like her father, she weakens the significance of all that is “wrong” in her world with her laughter. By making Mr. Darcy appear ridiculous to others, Elizabeth brings him down to an inferior position. She builds fences around her heart so Mr. Darcy cannot hurt her pride again. This causes her to misinterpret his interest in her. For example, she thinks when Darcy listens in on her conversation with Charlotte at Lucas Lodge that he is attempting to find more fault with her. It is a defensive move on her part, and the reader must understand this before he/she can accept Elizabeth’s change of heart for Mr. Darcy. These foibles are what makes Elizabeth “one of us.” Just think how boring she would be if she were as one dimensional as Jane or Lydia Bennet.
In the end, the reader is led to believe that Darcy and Elizabeth experience an ideal marriage, but as both hold several character flaws, I can only assume they find a means of dealing with each other. As much as I would like to believe they live “happily ever after,” an HEA does not mean they do not experience the occasional tiffs/disagreements.
Elizabeth earns the status in Society she desires, while Darcy’s self-esteem is salvaged by Elizabeth’s acceptance of his hand. Darcy depends on his new wife’s constant admiration as part of his overall subjective evaluation of his self worth, while Elizabeth must build him up in order to achieve the admiration of those about her. She finally has her mother’s notice, as well as all who once thought her inferior. She is the Mistress of Pemberley – a reflection of the man she married. Remember that Mrs. Bennet refers to Darcy’s 10000 pounds a year as being “as good as a lord.”
Perhaps, I am a bit of a cynic, but Darcy and Elizabeth succeed as a couple because they each “feed” the other what he needs. I do not think that is bad, the “practical” part of me sees it as a great solution for marriage; at its best and its worst, marriage is a compromise. I am a bit of Charlotte Lucas’s nature in my view of what makes a successful marriage. It may, perhaps, be pleasant to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it s sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely – a slight preference is natural enough; but there are few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement….When she [Jane Bennet] is secure of him [Mr. Bingley], there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses….If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continued to grow sufficiently unlike afterward to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.
All this give and take makes Elizabeth Bennet a character with whom we can relate. She is not perfect. Not one sided. She is tolerable enough to tempt us to read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice again and again.
Now, it is your turn. Tell me what you think. Leave a comment below to add your opinions or to be part of the Giveaway. I have two eBooks up for grabs. The Giveaway ends at midnight Saturday, 17 October 2015. The winners may choose between the titles listed below…
(Note! Diana Wilder has an additional giveaways below!!!)
Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Though His Eyes
Elizabeth Bennet’s Deception: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
Mr. Darcy’s Fault: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
Elizabeth Bennet’s Excellent Adventure: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
Please seek out the other members of the blog hop. There are a variety of writers, styles, and historical periods among the offerings. Many of the them also are hosting giveaways. This week, we are featuring…
Diana Wilder comes from a family of storytellers and people-watchers. A childhood spent traveling with her military family gave her plenty of opportunities to weave stories around the places and people that she encountered. Her first novel, written on lined paper and barely legible, was a story of the Hawaii of Kamehameha the Great. The Safeguard, born of a lifelong fascination with its period, features several of her ancestors who were in the area at that time. She says it is difficult to be bored when there is history to read and people to write about.
And her shining lady, Lavinia Wheeler: Born into the cream of Southern society in Savannah, Georgia, Lavinia Wheeler was raised to run an estate with a light touch. That training proves to be of some use when the American Civil War comes roaring to her doorstep.
Plus a chance to win a book – http://dianawilder.blogspot.co.uk/
Elizabeth Revill is a professional actress for many years with extensive experience in theatre, radio, film and television fuelled Elizabeth’s passion to write. Ever since she was a little girl I enjoyed writing stories and would keep friends and family entertained with her world of make believe. Born in Birmingham, Elizabeth now lives in North Devon.
introduces us to WWII District nurse Carrie –
Carrie’s strength, passion and fire prove her to be a determined woman who knows what she wants. Her spiritual and emotional journey survive a heart wrenching struggle of tangled, traumatic and life affirming experiences, which shape her into a woman never to be forgotten.
To read more on Elizabeth Revill, click here .
Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based fantasy adventures.
As a supporter of Indie Authors she is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award.
And Helen’s ‘Ladies’
Edith number one: the love of King Harold’s life – a woman who walked the battlefield at Hastings in 1066 to identify his mutilated body, and Edith number two, Harold’s own sister who despised him…
Visit Helen at http://www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
Visit the blog posts from week 1 (October 6) of “Shine a Light on Our Ladies.”
Hellen Hollick – Queen Emma of Normandy ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/
Patricia Bracewell patriciabracewell.com/blog/
Inge H. Borg devilwinds.blogspot.com/
Regina Jeffers – Four Heroines of the Realm – https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/shine-a-light-on-our-ladies-the-women-of-the-realm-series-part-1/
In case one of the above links becomes broken, here are the links for the first two weeks of the blog tour:
Helen Hollick: http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/shining-light-on-our-ladies_6.html
Pat Bracewell: http://www.patriciabracewell.com/2015/10/shining-light-on-our-ladies-a-tale-of-two-queens/
Inge Borg: http://devilwinds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/shining-light-on-our-ladies-blog-hop.html
Helen Hollick: http://www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/2015/10/shining-light-on.html
Diana Wilder: http://dianawilder.blogspot.com/2015/10/shining-light-on-our-ladies.html
Regina Jeffers: https://reginajeffers.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/shining-light-on-our-ladies-blog-tour-elizabeth-bennets-less-likable-qualities/
Liz Spear (Revill): http://www.elizabethrevill.com/blog/shining-a-light-on-our-ladies
Excellent exposition on one of my favorite literary ‘Ladies’!
Many thanks, Diana.
I agree with Diana Wilder. What insight and what an engaging blog. I shall definitely seek out these books. Thank you.
I am Austen fan, Elizabeth, but also write Regency romances and cozy mysteries.
I am an Austen freak, Elizabeth. LOL!
What a fantastic in-depth look at Lizzy’s character. I have a friend who dismisses Austen’s work as being ‘all about the pampered upper classes’ and that is to completely miss the point. She was adept at writing characters whom one can recognise today, with their very human traits, strengths and faults. Thanks for an interesting post.
I believe it is the faults of both Darcy and Elizabeth that make them more relatable, Annie. I am glad you enjoyed the piece.
Regina, What a task you set up for yourself by writing about such a (supposedly) well-known character. But what a wonderful chance to see another side of Elizabeth Bennet. Most intriguing.
Such fun meeting you and all the other Shining Ladies during this great blog hop, thanks to Helen’s ingenuity and staunch support of the Indie author.
Helen is a wonderful advocate for the Indie writer, Inge. Thanks for joining me today.
And she is also still young – not yet one and twenty.
Very true, Vesper. Even so, we must recall how girls were often mothers at 16-18 years of age. I do not think Elizabeth’s reactions prove her inferior; they prove her human. That is why I adore her.
Thank you for a delightful look at Elizabeth Bennet. 🙂
“Our” Elizabeth is a woman with flaws, but with a spirit few can claim, Barbara.
Regjna, thank you for the fascinating post about dear Elizabeth Bennet. 🙂
If Elizabeth were perfect, it would be harder to love her, would it not, Caryl?
I think I’m gong to be cross with you Regina LOL – having read your fascinating article I now want to watch that stunning BBC TV adaptation again (the Colin Firth one) but I really ought to be writing! On the other hand I have been busy all day…
I just returned from the Jane Austen Society of North America’s AGM and signing at the conference. I am all about Austen, Helen (perhaps more than ever).
As for my writing, I am working on three books at once. I wish one would claim dominance for awhile. It is exhausting to have so many story lines claiming my few remaining brain cells.
Thanks for joining me today.
Very interesting, Regina. I never considered Darcy and Elizabeth “feeding” each other what the other needs, but I understand what you mean. For me, I like to think of them as being two imperfect halves who make a perfect whole. 🙂
Thanks for yet another wonderful giveaway!
I believe we are saying the same thing, Pam.
Great insight on Elizabeth. She has many relatable characteristics that surpasses generations.
Because Elizabeth Bennet is relatable is the reason why we still read Austen 200+ years later.
How can you portray so well Elizabeth’s personality? You make her seem like a person you have a lifelong friendship with. Thanks!
I do, Tere. I have read and reread Pride and Prejudice since I was 12 years of age.
I like your insight into human nature and personality traits and how “happily ever after” doesn’t necessarily mean without conflict. And I enjoy the JA genre and its many possibilities and re-interpretations.
There are many who write Jane Austen fan fiction that believe Elizabeth “changes” Darcy, even though Elizabeth says she knows him better and finds him more agreeable.
In my opinion, I believe they don’t change each other. They develop a better sense of self-awareness that allows them to understand themselves and each other in ways that they didn’t before they met each other. Through their self-awareness, they realize their love and suitability for each other.
Totally agree, Claudine.
I enjoyed this in-depth look at our dear Elizabeth. We wouldn’t love her so much without all her flaws. I am with you in D&E feeding each other. Wonderful post.
Thanks, Becky. I feared the idea of presenting Elizabeth’s foibles and flaws.
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Thanks for sharing the post.
It’s nice when the heroes/heroines have some realistic depth. Great post!
Thanks, Anna. As you well know, we become so attached to our characters.
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