Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Character and Personality of the Heroine in "Pride and Prejudice"

An Attractive Woman, With a Lively Disposition
Elizabeth Bennet finds a mention in the very opening chapter, but all we learn here about her is that her father is more favourably inclined towards her than her mother. Soon afterwards we find her attending an assembly at which a gentleman by the name of Mr. Darcy expresses a rather unfavourable opinion about her appearance.
When his friend, Mr. Bingley, suggests that Mr. Darcy should dance with Elizabeth whom Mr. Bingley describes as very pretty and very agreeable, Mr. Darcy gives a reply which is overheard by Elizabeth and which greatly offends her. Mr. Darcy's reply is that this girl is just tolerable so far as her looks are concerned and that she is not handsome enough to tempt him. The dislike, which Elizabeth conceives so early in the story for this man because of a disparaging remark that he has made about her, persists for quite a long time. In fact, this dislike soon deepens into a hatred because of various reasons. This dislike, which is not baseless, and the hatred which follows soon afterwards but which does not have a very sound basis, constitute the "prejudice" which may be regarded as a prominent trait of her character, at least in the first half of the novel. Actually, Elizabeth is physically by no means unattractive or unhandsome as Mr. Darcy thinks. Soon afterwards Mr. Darcy himself recognizes the fact that Elizabeth has alight and pleasing figure, and that she has a pretty face with beautiful dark eyes the expression of which lends a great charm to her face. So far as Elizabeth's disposition is concerned, she is by no means sour or sullen. In the author's words, she has a lively, playful disposition. Towards the end of the novel, Mr. Darcy, on being asked by Elizabeth what it was that had attracted him to her after his initial unfavourable impression, replies that it was "the liveliness of her mind" which had impressed him most. Nor is there any doubt that Elizabeth has a ready wit which she shows in the course of her conversation with various persons in the story. She has a quick mind and a sharp intelligence; and she has a more than ordinary conversational ability. Although much lower in social standing than Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, she can hold her own while talking to them. She never feels at a loss for words even in such elegant company as these gentlemen and also Mr. Bingley's two sisters. And she has the courage to differ with these persons who occupy much higher social positions than she does. For instance, when Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are talking about the accomplishments which a woman should possess, Elizabeth says that she has never seen a woman possessing all the accomplishments enumerated by Mr. Bingley. She says that she has never found such capacity, such taste, and such elegance united in one single woman. Nor does Elizabeth feel awed by the conceited sisters of Mr. Bingley or by the arrogant Lady Catherine. She can even poke fun at a man like Mr. Darcy in such a sly manner so that he does not perceive the mockery in her words. For instance, she tells Miss Bingley that Mr. Darcy has no defect at all in his character, and that Mr. Darcy himself admits that he is free from all defects of character. Now, this remark by Elizabeth is a sarcasm directed against Mr. Darcy, though Mr. Darcy does not become aware of it. She can even make a joke at her mother's cost. When Mrs. Bennet expresses her unhappiness at Lydia 's departure from the house after a brief stay there with her husband, Elizabeth says to her mother: "This is the consequence you see, madam, of marrying a daughter. It must make you better satisfied that your other four are single." And Elizabeth has not only a keen sense of humour but also much sense (meaning wisdom). Here is a gem of a thought which she speaks to Mr. Darcy: "Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
Her View of Mr. Collins
Elizabeth is an excellent judge of character. She is able to assess the worth of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Bingley's sisters early in the story, and she also quickly understands the character of Mr. Collins. Without having met Mr. Collins, and after listening only to the letter which he has written to her father, she expresses the opinion that Mr. Collins seems to be an "oddity" and not a sensible man. Her opinion of Mr. Collins is confirmed when she meets him, with the result that, when he proposes marriage to her, she refuses him without the least hesitation, though her refusal is couched in polite language. When he reiterates his proposal, she again refuses him, this time more firmly. She has formed a rather low opinion about the intelligence of Mr. Collins who seems to her to be a sort of clown. Although her mother scolds her in strong terms for having refused a good offer of marriage, she does not change her mind and feels stronger when her refusal of Mr. Collins's proposal is supported by her father. She has such a low opinion of Mr. Collins that she feels shocked when her intimate friend Charlotte agrees to become his wife. On being told by Charlotte that she has accepted Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage, Elizabeth cries out: "Engaged to Mr. Collins! My dear Charlotte, impossible!" Later she describes him as a man who has not one agreeable quality, and who has neither manners nor sense to recommend him. Indeed, Elizabeth has been thinking that no decent girl would accept a proposal of marriage from Mr. Collins. In view of her opinion of Mr. Collins, and also in view of the manner in which Mr. Bingley has abruptly terminated his relationship with Jane, Elizabeth now forms a rather cynical view of human nature. Speaking to Jane, she says: "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. " Elizabeth's opinion about Sir William and his daughter Maria are also in line with her thinking as indicated in these lines. When she sets out with Sir William and Maria for Hunsford, their company is not really agreeable to her because she thinks both of them to be "empty-headed" persons. Elizabeth enjoys the absurdities of the human character, but the absurdities of Sir William no longer interest her because she has long been accustomed to them. She enjoys the absurdities of Mr. Collins a little longer. And of course his absurdities include his extravagantly flattering manner of speaking about Lady Catherine.
Her Misjudgment of the Character of Mr. Wickham
In spite of her maturity of judgment and of her exceptional intelligence, Elizabeth fails to understand the character of Mr. Wickham. Like everybody else, she is fascinated and charmed by his handsome appearance, his pleasing manners, and his winning talk. In fact, she half falls in love with Mr. Wickham. She regards every word that he has said about Mr. Darcy as true. In fact, Mr. Wickham's charges against Mr. Darcy deepen Elizabeth's dislike of that man and create an additional prejudice in her mind against him. So impressed does she feel by Mr. Wickham that she would most probably have accepted a proposal of marriage from him in case he had made one to her. Afterwards, of course, Elizabeth is sadly disillusioned about Mr. Wickham's character.
Her Attachment to Jane
Elizabeth is deeply attached to her family, and more particularly to her father and to Jane. For Jane especially, she harbours feelings of the deepest tenderness and affection. She shares Jane's every mood. She feels happy when Jane is happy, and she feels gloomy when she finds Jane in a gloomy mood. She feels very happy when there is every sign that Mr. Bingley would propose marriage to Jane. But she feels very distressed when soon afterwards Mr. Bingley leaves for London and does not communicate with Jane for several months together. During this period of Jane's despondency, Elizabeth is always striving to cheer her up.
Her Views about Her Father and Her Mother
She is her father's favourite; and, though she too feels a deep affection for him, she is not blind to his faults. For instance, she thinks it highly objectionable that her father should behave towards her mother rudely because she thinks that her father's bad treatment of her mother would have most undesirable effects on their daughters. She is fully alive to her mother's faults also. In fact, her mother's manner of talking embarrasses her very much on various social occasions. She also finds much truth in Mr. Darcy's view that Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet's younger daughters always talk and behave in a most undignified manner.
Her Understanding of the Nature of Lydia
Elizabeth shows her deep concern for her family when she receives news that Lydia has eloped with Mr. Wickham. She gets this news when she is staying at Lambton with her uncle and aunt; but on receiving this news she decides at once to rush home in order to give whatever comfort and consolation she can give to the members of her family. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who share her anxiety, thereupon also decide to cut short their holiday, and come back with her to Longbourn. On the way Elizabeth offers to her aunt a penetrating analysis of the mind of Lydia and the character of Mr. Wickham who has lured her away. Elizabeth tells her aunt that Lydia had for the last one year or so been giving herself upto nothing but amusement and vanity, and that she had been allowed by her parents to spend her time in the most idle and frivolous manner. Thus Elizabeth here indirectly blames her parents for having neglected their duty in keeping a watch over Lydia. Even when Lydia was about to leave for Brighton in the company of Mrs. Forster, Elizabeth had urged her father not to allow Lydia go to away from home. She had warned her father that Lydia, being an irresponsible type of girl, might come to harm if she were allowed to go to Brighton. Her father had paid no heed to Elizabeth's advice, with the result that Elizabeth's prediction proves to have been right. Elizabeth now also tells her aunt that, although Mr. Wickham has every charm of person and manner, yet he has actually been living the life of a profligate man. Thus, here also we get evidence of Elizabeth's having a mature judgment and a capacity to understand events and situations.
The Development of Her Relationship with Mr. Darcy
The most important aspect of Elizabeth's life is, of course, her relationship with Mr. Darcy. Initially, Elizabeth feels a dislike of Mr. Darcy who had made a disparaging remark about her to Mr. Bingley. This dislike, or we may call it prejudice, soon deepens into hatred when Mr. Wickham gives her a long account of the injustices and the wrongs which, according to his version, he had suffered at the hands of Mr. Darcy. At this stage we, as well as she, are deceived by Mr. Wickham's account, which is totally false. When, later, she learns that Mr. Darcy had prevented Mr. Bingley from marrying her sister Jane, she begins to hate Mr. Darcy even more than before. In other words, her prejudice against Mr. Darcy deepens still further. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, has gradually been falling under her spell and, when she is staying at Hunsford, he makes a proposal of marriage to her. She immediately and unhesitatingly rejects this proposal. However, when Mr. Darcy hands over a letter to her, answering all the charges which she had levelled against him, she feels compelled to modify her view of Mr. Darcy, even though this letter too is written in the same insolent manner in which he had made his proposal of marriage to her. Her reading of this letter marks a turning-point in her attitude to Mr. Darcy. Her prejudice against Mr. Darcy had earlier reached such proportions that she had begun to entertain thoughts of marrying Mr. Wickham, and, later, of marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. However, now she feels drawn towards Mr. Darcy because she finds that he is not essentially a bad man, and that his only fault was pride which too now seems to have considerably diminised. The courteous and kind manner, in which he behaves towards her at Pemberley, and at the inn at Lambton, further softens her towards him. She now begins to think that her rejection of his proposal of marriage had been a mistake. She now feels convinced that Mr. Darcy is exactly the man who, by virtue of his temperament and his abilities, would have suited her as her husband. The service which Mr. Darcy had done to the Bennet family by bringing about the marriage of Lydia and Mr. Wickham too has greatly influenced Elizabeth's new attitude to him. Then comes her confrontation with Lady Catherine. In this interview, which is perhaps the most gripping scene in the whole novel, Elizabeth rises to the stature of a true heroine. Already, we have formed a highly favourable view of her abilities, attainments, and intelligence; but now we find that she is a most intrepid[1] woman who cannot be cowed by a haughty and bullying woman like Lady Catherine. Elizabeth gives bold answers to all Lady Catherine's questions, and fearlessly rejecs all her suggestions which are aimed at preventinga marriage between her and Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine's questions and her suggestions have clearly indicated to Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy is most probably thinking of proposing marriage to her. And, when Lady Catherine soon afterwards meets Mr. Darcy and gives him an account of her interview with Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy gets a clearidea of Elizabeth's having softened towards him and of her inclination to accept a proposal of marriage from him. And so Mr. Darcy goes to Longbourn and makes his proposal of marriage to her. She gladly accepts the proposal. Mr. Darcy's pride has been humbled, and Elizabeth's prejudices against him have melted away. And now Elizabeth regains her playfulness, and gives clear evidence of it even in his conversation with Mr. Darcy who is by nature a grave man. She asks him what it was that had attracted him to her even though she had been uncivil to him. And his reply is that he had been attracted to her by the liveliness of her mind. She thereupon proceeds to give him an analysis of his own mind, and the reasons which had made him fall in love with her. She tells him that too much civility and deference from people had begun to bore him, and that he had been feeling disgusted with the women who had always been eager to please and humour him, till she entered his life. She points out to him that he had found her to be a different kind of woman, and that he had therefore felt attracted towards her. This analysis of Mr. Darcy's mind by Elizabeth does much credit to her intelligence. This analysis tallies with the account which Mr. Darcy had himself earlier given of how he had been a selfish and proud man all his life, and how she had been instrumental in curing him of his defects.
One of the Best-Loved Heroines in English Fiction
Elizabeth is undoubtedly an adorable woman. She is not only a heroine but a memorable heroine whom it is difficult to forget. Indeed, she is one of the best-known and best-loved heroines in English fiction. She was a favourite of Jane Austen herself. In fact, one of the reasons for the vast popularity of Pride and Prejudice is the portrayal of Elizabeth in it. Apart from the liveliness of her mind, which is the quality that chiefly appealed to Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth is distinguished by her sheer goodness of heart and her outspoken nature. Her heart is as transparent as a crystal. There is not the least touch of trickery or cunning in her nature. Any kind of manipulation is alien to her nature. And, then, she has a healthy, wholesome mind. She is able to laugh at human absurdities, and she is capable of making witty and amusing remarks.

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