Marly Friedman Conference – Ann Lauinger
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of the world’s most popular novels, tells the story of fiercely independent Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters who must marry rich. The story not only tells of Elizabeth’s unusual relationship with the arrogant but wealthy Mr. Darcy, but it also recounts the stories of all the sisters and how they all relate to one another. This paper is going to explore Elizabeth’s character, specifically throughout the first half of the novel.
There are many adjectives to describe Elizabeth Bennet: smart, funny, loyal, and of course, pretty. The story starts with Mrs. Bennet hearing of the arrival of a handsome young man, which we later learn is Mr. Bingley, and her pressing her husband on getting more information. When the invitation to the ball at Meryton arrives, it is known that Mr. Bingley will be in attendance, along with his sisters and Mr. Darcy, who the women hope is just as handsome and respectable as Mr. Bingley. At the ball, he ends up dancing twice with the eldest sister, Jane Bennet, and Mrs. Bennet is beyond pleased, bragging to her friends about Jane’s beauty. Darcy, however, ends up slighting Elizabeth by indirectly calling her ugly, therefore becoming the most abominable man in town. Later when they are alone, Elizabeth and Jane talk about the ball, specifically about Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth and Jane are the two eldest, and perhaps the closest, of the sisters. Elizabeth remarks, “‘With your good sense, to be honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affection of candour is common enough; one meets with it everywhere. But, to be candid without ostentation or design”,–to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad–belongs to you alone’” (4. 16-17). I think this quotation
demonstrates the differences between Elizabeth and Jane, while also saying a lot about the former’s character. According to Elizabeth, one of her sister’s faults is seeing only the good in everybody. As seen many times throughout the novel, Elizabeth questions everything about everyone, carefully questioning their intentions and waiting for people to inevitably mess up. She consistently insists she doesn’t want a husband–that she’s fine on her own–yet gets so caught up in her sister’s lives and thinks she is always right. Elizabeth is certainly very headstrong and considers herself a good judge of character; while she is very good at reading people, she’s not always right.
How do other people interpret Elizabeth? As mentioned earlier, Darcy slights her at the dance, saying she is not pretty enough to dance with. She is also the favorite child of her father, Mr. Bennet, and therefore cannot she any fault in her. When Elizabeth and Darcy are next acquainted with one another was when Elizabeth went to visit Jane at Mr. Bingley’s. Darcy was there, along with Bingley’s sisters, and Darcy was seen as being particularly curious about her. After dinner, they had all made their way into the living room, where the following conversation took place between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy: “‘And your defect is to hate everybody.’ ’And yours”,’ he replied with a smile, ’is willfully to misunderstand them’” (11.30-32). Here, Elizabeth thinks that Darcy hates everyone; Darcy thinks Elizabeth purposefully doesn’t understand them. There is a lack of communication that doesn’t seem to be working for either one of them. Within this short interaction, Elizabeth thinks that she knows Darcy, which I think also speaks to her stubbornness and need to judge people based on their wrongs. I think Elizabeth, while praised to have very good judgement, can be wrong at times and only chooses to see the bad, thus how she purposefully misunderstands people; I think Elizabeth is too hasty in her judgements.
As for her father, while not a very good one, is even more protective and caring of Elizabeth than his other daughters, and, while some parents have a favorite deep down, he outwardly shows it and is a fact known throughout the family. When Elizabeth refuses to marry Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet insists upon it, his response can be seen as both protective and snide in regards to his wife. “‘An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do’” (18.20). In this situation, one can interpret Mr. Bennet throwing his wife under the bus while outwardly choosing her daughter as disconcerting, but Mr. Bennet truly does care for Elizabeth, and Elizabeth seems to appreciate it.
Elizabeth’s views on love and marriage are just as important to her character as everything else. In an interaction with her aunt, she remarks, “‘”Pray, my dear aunt, what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive? Where does discretion end, and avarice begin? Last Christmas you were afraid of his marrying me, because it would be imprudent; and now, because he is trying to get a girl with only ten thousand pounds, you want to find out that he is mercenary’” (27.8-9). Elizabeth points out to her aunt that tying marriage to money like this just makes the entire population hypocritical: Wickham can’t marry her because that would be “imprudent.” But when he goes after an heiress, he gets called “mercenary”,” i.e. a gold-digger. When Elizabeth likes someone, however, as much as she liked Mr. Wickham, she seems to take more care in herself: “She had dressed with more care than usual, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart, trusting that it was not more that could be won in the course of the evening” (18.90). This can be interpreted in two ways: Elizabeth only cares when it’s convenient for her, and the fact
that she took more care than usual implies that she rarely ever gets her hopes up, which can be seen as a good and bad thing.