Elizabeth Bennet: Austen’s Headstrong Heroine


Pride and Prejudice CoverWhile fictional characters can never replace real-life role models and inspiration, protagonists of books, television shows, and movies have the ability to impact one’s life all the same. Literature has played a large part in my childhood and adolescence – I’ve been in the middle of a book ever since I could read – so, understandably, the characters of my favorite novels have had just as big of a role. For this reason, I love The Feministas theme this week on favorite female protagonists. The posts so far, as well as the posts to come, all highlight heroines that have made a lasting impression on each of us and the feminist movement, a prompt that required quite a bit of thinking on my part.

My fellow bloggers have shared a number of noteworthy characters, many of whom star in fantasy or science fiction works. My own choice in a protagonist hails from a different, but no less enjoyable, genre: Elizabeth Bennet of the literary classic, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Although I have only read two of Austen’s books {I highly recommend Emma in addition to P&P!}, I found her prose so impressive, her humor so sharp, and her social commentary so engaging that I have no problem naming Austen one of my favorite authors, even under my limited exposure. And while Emma Woodhouse is an entertaining and interesting character herself, Elizabeth will always hold a dear place in my heart. Truly, couldn’t we all use a bit more Lizzie Bennet in our life?!

Elizabeth BennetPride and Prejudice opens with the famous line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” So sets the ironic tone for the rest of the novel, in which Elizabeth, a young woman and forward thinker of a middle class family, meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, a well-to-do gentleman whose arrogance cannot go unnoticed. Austen’s most famous work was a forerunner, arguably the very first, of romance novels, and those who have yet to read it can still imagine how the relationship between the two title characters ends. Personally, I could read Pride and Prejudice for a third time and not be tired of the story or watch the film {the Keira Knightley version only, of course} again without complaint – I’m a proud Austen fan, if you couldn’t tell.

One might say that Elizabeth does not advance the movement for women’s rights, but I would argue otherwise. She’s stubborn, yes, but Lizzie is also fiercely loyal to herself and to others. She is quick to judge, sure, but she is also smart and eager to learn. She’s flawed, but most importantly, she learns from and attempts to fix her mistakes. Her list of admirable actions and qualities is long, strengthening my belief that it is wrong to judge Lizzie as a feminist by today’s societal standards. One has to look at the state of women’s rights in the regency era to recognize Elizabeth’s power and impact as a heroine; doing so will show you that she is, by far, one of the best fictional feminists to look up to.

Strong female characters of magical, unreal worlds are important {i.e. the wizards of Hogwarts or a tough, glamorous assassin}, as they show that no matter where one lives or works, gender equality is necessary. I, however, adore Elizabeth and protagonists of other realistic fiction stories because the struggles they face as characters, as women, and as people can be directly related to the audience’s life. I have little doubt that both the author and the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice would identify as feminists in today’s society; Jane and Elizabeth would surely want equal rights for all.

Do tell: Are you a Jane Austen fan? Do you think Elizabeth is a good choice for favorite fictional feminist? Who would you pick as your favorite female protagonist?

Happy Sunday!

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