(and also for Equal time – Darcy got his own post for D, and Elizabeth deserves her own post for E :-)]
Elizabeth Bennet, one of my favorite heroines of all time! Maybe she doesn’t kick ass like Katniss or solve mysteries like Harriet Vane, but she manages to push the boundaries of her narrow social sphere, with grace, style, and humour.
Elizabeth is bright, spirited, witty, and kind. She’s also pretty – not as beautiful as her celebrated sister Jane, perhaps, but quite appealing, as Mr. Darcy reluctantly admits.
“…no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.
To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying….he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”
Elizabeth is admirable, but not perfect. She’s too pert for Bingley’s fashionable sisters, she defies propriety by “scampering about the country” — walking miles alone to visit her sick sister — and she enjoys music but doesn’t practice enough to be truly “accomplished.”
She does prefer books to cards, which is seen as a fault by Mr. Hurst, but Darcy considers that (in general) a woman should improve her mind by “extensive reading.”
Elizabeth is the “prejudice” in Pride & Prejudice, because she misjudges Darcy. After reading his letter, where he explains the truth about Wickham and his sister, she is stunned.
“She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
‘How despicably have I acted!’ she cried…..‘Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.’”
Frankly, I’ve always thought Lizzie was perfectly justified in disliking Darcy, who behaved with such rudeness and arrogance. It seems hardly fair to blame her for overlooking his admirable qualities, considering that he did such a good job of concealing them.
It is another sign of a worthy heroine that she can learn from her mistakes, but not dwell on them. “You must learn some of my philosophy,” she tells Darcy when she eventually accepts his second, much-improved proposal. “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
So…who is your favorite version of Elizabeth Bennet?
Greer Garson in the 1940 MGM movie, with Laurence Olivier?
Elizabeth Garvie, in the 1980 BBC miniseries, with David Rintoul?
Jennifer Ehle, in the 1995 BBC miniseries, with Colin Firth?
Keira Knightly in the 2005 movie with Matthew Macfadyen?
Or maybe your favourite incarnation of ‘Elizabeth’ turns up in one of the contemporary riffs on Pride & Prejudice:
Or Jemima Rooper in Lost in Austen, as the Pride & Prejudice fan who exchanges places with Elizabeth, goes back in time to fictional Georgian England (!)…and falls for Elliot Cowan’s Darcy?
Elizabeth Garvie was wonderful in the 1980 miniseries, and for many years I couldn’t imagine anyone better – but I was blown away by the 1995 miniseries. Not only was it a gorgeous production, but I thought Jennifer Ehle was the quintessential Lizzy. She is still my personal favourite.
Who is yours?
Who would you cast as Elizabeth Bennet in the next version of Pride & Prejudice?