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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet

on May 19, 2021

How Elizabeth Bennet Conformed to her Society’s Standards and How She Did Not

Elizabeth Bennet is a conventional country girl whose life revolves around family and social obligations. She believes local gossip and hearsay, enjoys parties and balls, and socializes with the military officers stationed at the nearby village with her younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia. When her mother schemes to get her older sister, Jane, married to the wealthy Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth participates in the plot. She reads, plays the piano, enjoys nature, and does all the things that country girls do. Elizabeth is different, however, because she “has something more of quickness than her sisters.” Elizabeth likes to observe and analyze the people and situations around her.

As a member of the lower landed gentry, Elizabeth understands the importance of marriage, money, and social position. When Mr. Collins asks Elizabeth to marry him, she defies her mother and social expectations by declining. She cannot bring herself to marry someone who cannot make her happy. When Charlotte Lucas turns around and accepts him, Elizabeth is disgusted by her friend’s mercenary reasons for marrying him. She doesn’t share Charlotte’s view that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”

Elizabeth forms a negative first impression of Mr. Darcy and believes all the bad gossip she hears about him. She always reminds him of his bad manners when she sees him, and he does likewise to her. When Darcy finally reveals his love to her, she becomes indignant, points out his flaws, and rejects him — once again, defying family and social expectations. Even the entailment of her father’s estate cannot sway her.

Mr. Wickham entertains Elizabeth, makes her laugh, and appeals to her sexual attraction to him. He is so charming that, if he had money, Mrs. Bennet would heartily approve of a marriage between them. Elizabeth believes all the negative information Wickham imparts about Mr. Darcy and all the positive hearsay she hears about Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth is finally forced to realize Wickham’s bad character after reading Darcy’s letter. She take s a good, long look at herself and admits that “till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Elizabeth recognizes the large social gap between Jane and Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy and herself. She admits to her sister, Jane, that “we are not rich enough, or grand enough, for them.” She is embarrassed by her family’s bad manners and behavior on more than one occasion. She embarrasses herself when she walks to Netherfield Park and presents herself with a muddy dress and shoes. Miss Bingley describes her behavior as “conceited independence.” She understands Darcy’s objections to her family. But her sole concern is with happiness, not wealth and social position.

When Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts Elizabeth about an impending engagement to Darcy, she responds, “And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?” And when Lady Catherine admonishes her to be sensible, she says, “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.” Clearly, love and happiness are not dependent on wealth and social class to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

As Elizabeth learns more about Mr. Darcy, his honesty, character, and responsibilities, she begins to conform to his expectations for her. Finally, she reveals to her sister, Jane, “that we are to be the happiest couple in the world.” Concerned, Jane tells her to “do anything rather than marry without affection.”

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. Donald Gray. New York: Norton, 2001.

Dawn Pisturino

September 27, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Right Reserved.


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