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The Bildungsroman And The Big Screen: The Coming Of Age Of Elizabeth Bennet

2770 words - 11 pages

The female bildungsroman, also known as the bildungsromane, is known as a sub-genre of novel where the novel's subject is, "the development of the protagonist's mind and character, as [s]he passes from childhood through varied experiences…into maturity and the recognition of [her] identity and role in the world" (Abrams 112-113). The character of Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen's celebrated novel Pride and Prejudice is one such bildungsromane heroine. The reader is given insight into the psychological development as she matures over the course of the novel. According to Critic Esther Kleinbord Labovitz some important thematic elements of the bildungsroman genre are that, "it describe[s] the process of development and education of a single protagonist…leaving him at the threshold of maturity... Throughout the course of the novel the inner life of the protagonist and his self-realization become and important element along with the unfolding of the whole person" (3-4). Elizabeth Bennet fits many of these traditional bildungsroman characteristics. She begins the novel as a clever, but somewhat immature protagonist. While she initially revels in her powers of discernment, she later learns that she has allowed prejudice and her own pride to blind herself to reality. Her ‘education’ and ‘maturity’ are the principle focus of the novel.
Sadly her journey to self-realization is often ignored in favor of focusing the attention on the romance between her and Mr. Darcy. This romance, however, would not have been as powerful without acknowledging the intellectual growth and emergent maturity of Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth, in Austen's novel, finds the path to her adult identity by questioning her own assumptions and undergoing a philosophical paradigm shift. To illustrate this I shall discuss relevant passages from the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I shall also analyze how three modern film adaptations deal with the maturation of Elizabeth Bennet-- focusing on the ways they recognize the power of Austen’s coming-of-age narrative and its importance to the plot, independent of the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth. The three modern adaptations that I will discuss are as follows: Pride & Prejudice (2005) directed by Joe Wright, Bride & Prejudice (2004) directed by Gurinder Chadha, and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) directed by Sharon Maguire.
Elizabeth Bennet overcomes many obstacles on her journey to adulthood. The most profound obstacle she overcomes, however, is her own prejudices driven by her initial inability to perceive the truth of the people around her, people such as Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Her prejudice too often blinds her to many salient facts. In the novel and the films, Elizabeth is the audience’s window into the world. The novel centers itself, excepting few brief narrative interludes, almost exclusively on Elizabeth and her observations. The movies do this as well: Bridget Jones’s Diary is interspersed by voiceover narration...

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