Characterization of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, is an authentic character, allowing readers to identify, sympathize, and grow with her. Unfortunately, Austen does not create a match for Elizabeth who is her equal in terms of characterization. Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth's sometime adversary, beloved, and, finally, husband, is not so carefully crafted as she, for his character is somewhat undefined, made up of only mystery, inconsistency, and conventionality.
Elizabeth is, initially, quick to make judgments and just as quick to hold fast to those preconceptions. In effect, Elizabeth represents both aspects of the novel's title, being both proud and prejudicial. It is not these factors, then, that endear her to readers, but rather the depth of her character in that she develops into a more even-minded person with a rare capacity for self-awareness. For though at one time she has the highest regard for Mr. Wickham and a low opinion of Mr. Darcy, later, though it is her "greatest misfortune" (Austen 61), Elizabeth amends her former thinking by "feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced and absurd" (135). It is evident that she matures into a fully developed woman who can admit, "'Till this moment, I never knew myself'" (135, emphasis mine).
Mr. Darcy is truly an enigma. Though he is apparently handsome, his physical attributes are nondescript; readers may learn more about this powerful figure's person and tastes from the description of Pemberley, his grand estate. If Pemberley is indeed an extension of, or a reflection of, Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth's pondering that "to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!" can be interpreted that 'to be mistress of Darcy might be something' (156). The question is, what might that something be?
"The shadowy Darcy" is at once a compelling presence in the novel (Auerbach 346), but a mysterious one as well. Reaching nearly mythic proportions, his capabilities are far reaching, but ambiguous; Elizabeth wonders at "how much pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow!--How much of good or evil must be done by him!" (Austen 159).
Then there is the mystery of his pride. Is he? or isn't he? readers question. His pride is an issue from the start: "for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased . . . He was the proudest most disagreeable man in the world" (8). Yet as the novel comes to its conclusion, Mrs. Reynolds states that "though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it" (164), Mrs. Gardiner writes, "He has been accused of may faults at different times; but [obstinacy] is the true one" (207), and Elizabeth finally pronounces him as having "no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable" (242). Yet Mr. Darcy himself acknowledges his pride and says, "'By [Elizabeth], I was properly humbled'" (237)....