Elizabeth as a Woman of Independent Mind in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
In Jane Austen's novel 'Pride and Prejudice', Elizabeth Bennet is
shown to be an opinionated, "headstrong" young woman. Her
unconventional independence challenges the 19th century stereotype of
high society women, who tended to conform to the expectations of
society. Though her prejudiced judgement of others fails her
sometimes, Elizabeth has "a lively, playful disposition, that"
delights "in anything ridiculous".
Although different in character to most women of her society,
Elizabeth still manages to express much propriety in the presence of
company. During the dance she shares with Fitzwilliam Darcy, her
temper is put to the test. His earlier declaration that Elizabeth was
"not handsome enough to tempt" him manages to offend her, though she
is "not formed for ill humour", therefore laughs it off as if she were
telling a tale. Elizabeth displays the same decorum in the presence of
the Bingley sister's. Though she dislikes them, she does not show this
in their presence. During her visit to Rosings, Elizabeth meets with
Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Upon being asked, "what is your age" by Lady
Catherine, Elizabeth replies politely that with "three younger sisters
grown up" she is hardly entitled "to own" it. Elizabeth's indirect
answer is evidence of her taking offence, but also of her ability to
conceal it with much propriety. Elizabeth's refusal to marry Mr.
Collins because her "feelings forbid it", much to the dislike of her
mother, depicts her independence and inability to be intimidated. Mr
Bennet's regard to Elizabeth holding "something more of quickness than
her sisters" discloses her intellect, while Jane's despair brings out
her compassionate nature.
Elizabeth realises the importance of appropriate etiquette, and
displays this during her vain attempts to apologise for her mother's
rude remarks towards Darcy. Though unsuccessful, she takes great
responsibility in upholding her family name in the presence of those
who think otherwise. Elizabeth is also keen about nature, using her
perceptive eye to marvel at its beauty. Her fondness for reading is
great, and she is always able to "amuse herselfâ€¦with a book". Her
ability to sing and play the piano is most "pleasing", as the
"entreaties" of "several" would suggest.
Though she parallels her female acquaintances in many ways, Elizabeth
still possesses a unique spirit, portraying her to be a woman ahead of
her time. For instance, when she arrives at Netherfield house,
Elizabeth astounds her sister's hosts. Covered in several inches of
mud, she arrives at the household to visit her elder sister Jane. The
Bingley sisters, shocked by her appearance, perceive Elizabeth to lack
decorum, and judge her to have "nothing, in short, to recommend her".