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Elizabeth Bennet (Lizzy)

The second daughter of the Bennets who is lively, intelligent, witty and sensible.

‘I must confess,’ writes Jane Austen, of Elizabeth Bennet, ‘that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.’ Letters, II, p. 297 (to Cassandra Austen, 29 January I813).

Elizabeth is the first of the daughters we meet and it is soon obvious that she remains the favorite of Mr. Bennet.  We empathise with her inwardness, the time she spends alone, how she thinks, gives her a sort of allure. That out of that time, the time she spends reading, the time she spends thinking, how her mind works, how she notices and remembers and feels are given a very special glow in the book. And that glow eventually will become a sort of sexual glow and while at first when you see when Darcy sees her, he doesn't notice that but slowly when he knows her, he sees that immediately.

Because of his initial rebuff she feigns a strong dislike of Mr. Darcy, which develops into an antipathy but eventually she falls in love with him.

On her first snub by Darcy:

Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.

Elizabeth was far from suspecting that she was herself becoming an object of some interest in the eyes of his friend. Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty: he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But 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. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, 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. Of this she was perfectly unaware: to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.

He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others.

What’s to say Elizabeth Bennet won’t one day be as sore an embarrassment to Fitzwilliam Darcy as her mother is to her father?  Her intelligence for one thing.  All Austen’s heroines are sharp; some are of quicker wit than others, but all see through the pretence and pretension around them, even when it involves members of their own immediate family.

Darcy on Women:

A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved." 

"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."

Elizabeth:

"I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any."

Elizabeth expresses some rather gloomy views on humanity to Jane:

‘Do not be afraid of my running into any excess, of my encroaching on your privilege of universal good will. You need not. There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense. I have met with two instances lately; one I will not mention [is Bingley’s ‘want of proper resolution’]; the other is Charlotte’s marriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!’

Elizabeth, like other women throughout ages lacks power.  Here is COLM TOIBIN on the ABC Book Show:

Only mediocrity is developed, you know, and... So it's marvellous about Austin that she simply sticks to the point, that she has this business. And what she's doing within it is establishing this idea of solitude, of what happens to the self alone and that the more the self feels and the more deeply the self feels, the more that will emerge on the pages' seriousness. She's arguing for a sort of moral seriousness arising from solitude in someone who's ostensibly powerless. So that even though she's not dealing with heroes, with battles, with wars, with large issues of commerce or politics, within the novel she's establishing the idea that the novel's job is to move inwards and is to deal with the mind and how the mind works and is to allow a certain sort of mind to glitter, to shimmer….

A Discerning judge of Character

Elizabeth has good reason to credit herself with the ability to discern people and situations extraordinarily well: she understands her family perfectly, knows William Collins from the first letter he writes, comprehends the merits and deficiencies of the fling leys almost at once, appreciates Lady Catherine de Bourgh at first meeting. Her failures are with ‘intricate’ people who moreover stand in a relationship of great intimacy to her: Charlotte Lucas, George Wickham, and Fitzwilliam Darcy. And the book is given an added dimension because it shows that intimacy blurs perceptions: intelligence fails if there is insufficient distance between mind and object.

After refusing Darcy and then reading his letter she experiences self discovery or self recognition in the tradition of Oedipus or Lear:

She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. — Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, and absurd.

‘How despicably have I acted!’ she cried. — ‘I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation!

— Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind.’ 1

In this dramatic moment of self-revelation she has the honesty to see that there may be some justice in what Darcy has said about Jane, for ‘she felt that Jane’s feelings, though fervent, were little displayed, and that there was a constant complacency in her air and manner, not often united with great sensibility’.

Strength of Character

Elizabeth, willful and resolute, does not allow people to push her around; she stands up to them. The first time is when Mr. Darcy takes advantage -of the fact that she is home alone with a headache to burst in on her and declare that despite the inferiority of her connections he is in love with her. Elizabeth takes a deep breath and answers:

In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that such an obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot. I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly. I am sorry to have occasioned pain to anyone. it has been most unconsciously done however, and, I hope, will be of short duration.

Commanding her feelings and marshaling her thoughts on this occasion costs Elizabeth so much that when Darcy has gone, she cries for half an hour and then takes herself off to bed.

Again, when she refuses to assure the intimidating Lady Catherine de Bourgh that she would never marry Mr. Darcy, she needs all her courage and presence of mind. Lady Catherine rebukes her;

Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this. I am almost the nearest relation [Darcy] has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns.

Unabashed, Elizabeth replies:

But you are not entitled to know mine; nor will such behaviour as this ever induce me to be explicit.

Germaine Greer – Jane Austen and the Getting of Wisdom
Austen’s heroines are middle class, ordinary with no special advantages of looks or education or wealth and yet they are heroes. The battles they fight are the battles of every day They struggle for self control in agonising circumstances.  They turn aside so that other people can’t see the hot tears that star eyes. For hot tears do start into their eyes: Austen’s heroines are all passionate, all proud, all sensitive They must deal with the common trials of every young woman’s life, bullying, disappointment, misunderstanding, and most unbearable helplessness to influence the course of events. Though 190 years have passed since Austen’s death, women’s emotional lives still present the same challenges.    


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