Everyone’s Favorite 19th Century Woman

I’m not quite sure what it is that makes an iconic literary character.

There is no set guideline, no way to truly measure the greatness of one character over another. That being the case, after pondering the thought, I decided to ask a number of my friends who they would call their favorite fictional females. Their responses covered a wide span of genres and authors.

Their answers ranged from modern day creations like Hermione Granger and Kahlan Amnell (of Harry Potter and Legend of the Seeker fame respectively), to classics such as Wuthering Heights’ Catherine Earnshaw and Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. Every person had their own reasonings for choosing their favorites. But there was one surprisingly consistent result.   

In the end though, one author and indeed one character, appeared on nearly all of their lists. 

[img_assist|nid=73|title=Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=320|height=400]Jane Austen and despite the time that has passed since she wrote her classic novels, they have only grown in popularity over the years. Everyone has a soft spot for a good romance and a happy ending, and Jane Austen provided all that with a touch of intrigue and humor that can be hard to find even today. 

Creating characters that people can relate to and cheer for was a particular talent of Jane Austen's. Even her lesser known stories likeNorthanger Abbey and Mansfield Park featured intelligent, curious, and determined women who refused to sacrifice self simply to conform to society’s expectations. But when the subject of Miss Austen’s most famed heroine comes up, Fanny Price and Catherine Morland simply couldn’t compete with Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett. 

Pride and Prejudice is a book filled with lively characters, from the well-meaning but scheming Mrs. Bennett, her earnest and timid daughter Jane, and the plain and pragmatic Charlotte Lucas. The Bennetts are a family made up five beautiful but vastly different daughters, a mother who is desperate to see her girls well settled in marriage, and a father who loves them all despite their tendency to drive him up the wall.

All four sisters are intriguing characters on their own. Jane represented all the things a woman was supposed to be: beautiful, shy, graceful and well mannered. Mary Bennett is the Regency equivalent of a nerd. Lydia was much like all the young girls making their first exciting debuts into society, more concerned with having fun than considering the consequences of their actions.    

But no one has seemed to capture the hearts of readers all over quite like Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth is one heroine that is not afraid to speak her mind, even in the presence of people of a higher stature. Certainly the notorious Mr. Darcy considered himself in a superior state of living. Too many times I think people define Elizabeth solely through her relationship with Mr. Darcy. While he definitely plays a large role in shaping who she is to become at the end of the story, Miss Bennett is by no means dependent on Mr. Darcy.

If her mother had anything to say about it, no doubt she’d describe Elizabeth as a headstrong and willful girl, but it is those same qualities that make her such a wonderful character. In an era like the Regency period, women were supposed to be seen and not heard. They were to marry well, please their husbands, have children and continue on the family legacy. They certainly weren’t supposed to speak their minds, traipse about the country without a care to their appearance, and especially not demand to marry for nothing less than love.  

The main reason why people love Elizabeth Bennett? She’s spunky. She’s not giddy and silly like her younger sisters, but she isn’t one to sit idly by and take life as it comes either. She stands up for her family whom she loves dearly. 

Plus she is capable of the one thing I myself can’t seem to manage: admitting when she’s wrong. And it definitely doesn’t hurt that she gets the guy in the end.

Elizabeth has her flaws. She can’t play the piano very well. She isn’t the most refined or accomplished lady. She is far from what society would have deemed perfect. But she is also loyal and honest, loving and a bit of a romantic. Readers love characters that remind them a bit of themselves, or who they would like to be. Elizabeth Bennett is something of an everywoman, all while being distinctly her own woman, and that is what makes her such a beloved character. 

 


Written by Jami Parks

Images are property of Focus Features in conjunction with Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Working Title Films and Scion Films.

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