Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 11, 2008

PBS Pride & Prejudice profile: Elizabeth Bennet

Since PBS' Complete Jane Austen series is now showing the modern classic miniseries of Pride & Prejudice for the rest of February,I decided to have character profiles of both the leading lady and gentleman of Jane Austen's most beloved novel(along with a tribute to many of my favorite supporting P&P players)posted here. After all,a review would be redundant and taking a good long look at these literary legends could shed some light on why they have endured thru out time.

Elizabeth Bennet is usually on the top ten list of admirable literary heroines and first choice when it comes to picking favorite Austen female characters. It's a little ironic,since she is not only the second of five daughters but also courted by her annoying cousin Mr. Collins as a runner-up selection upon his discovering that elder sister Jane has already taken another man's eye.

Elizabeth(called "Lizzy" by family and friends)is always first in her father's eyes and with her big sister Jane,who is her best friend and her emotional opposite in many ways. Where Lizzy is sarcastic and cynical about life,Jane hopes for the best and looks for the good in others.

Lizzy's importance in such a large and at times,noisy,family is neatly showcased at the beginning of the miniseries,which introduces the Bennets and sets up the social and financial circumstances that will dominate their roles in the drama yet to come. In other hands,this would be rather overwrought material but with Lizzie's good humor(which she shares with her father),the burden is considerably lightened:

Lizzie's bond with her father,the mocking but good hearted Mr. Bennet,is unlike many of the parent/child relationships depicted in that time period. In many ways,it is clear that Mr. Bennet sees her as the son he never had,crediting her intelligence and at times talking to her as an equal.

While Lizzie does love her mother,Mrs. Bennet and her matchmaking hysterics are hard to deal with,let alone get some heartfelt maternal advice from. One of my favorite moments of both the book and this adaptation is when Mr. Bennet puts in his two cents regarding Elizabeth's refusal to marry the ridiculous Mr. Collins. Many fathers in that time and place would've taken Mrs. Bennet's side but instead,Mr. Bennet takes a most revolutionary stand:

However smart and sensible Lizzy may be,she is rather quick to fall for Wickam's sob story about the so-called cruel treatment he recieved from Mr. Darcy. Granted that Darcy's cold nature made it a tad easy to believe him to be such a villain but even Jane has her doubts about him and she's one of the most trusting souls you'd ever met.

If you think about it,Wickam is extremely chatty about his woes despite proclaiming that he could never "expose" Mr. Darcy due to his respect for Darcy's late father. Fortunately,her Wickam flirtation doesn't get Lizzy into the kind of trouble that Lydia ultimately landed in but it does prove that she's just as vulnerable as her younger sisters when it comes to being sweet talked:

As to her dealings with Darcy,the love/hate vibes are loud and clear. Even tho she is determined not to like him,Mr. Darcy is too intense and intriguing to ignore. Part of her attraction to him is based on his seemingly humorless demeanor,which provokes her to engage him in verbal combat in the most unlikely of circumstances such as their dance at the Netherfield ball.

Their battles become more brutal when Darcy first proposes to her;he does start out well but with his insults towards her family(just after Lizzy discovers that he helped to break up Jane and Bingley),her ire towards him can not be contained. While Wickam's name is brought up,it's really the injury done to Jane and Darcy's open disdain for her relations that really tick her off and you can't help but cheer her on even while you want the two of them to fall in love:

By the time Darcy proposes to her again,both of them know more about the other and have learned to not be so hasty in their earlier judgments. The ending of the story is truly a happy one because Elizabeth has found a man who is worthy of her in the best sense. He respects her mind and has grown to respect her loyalties to her loved ones,as well as appreciating her "fine eyes".

Elizabeth has not only made a good financial match,she has made a great stride forward for women everywhere by insisting on settling down with her soul mate and not having to pay for it with tragic results(and no,I don't see Lydia's bad marriage as a fee-face it,that girl was always going to hook up with a loser). It's not hard to see why Elizabeth Bennet is the ideal Austen girl,and a role model for many other women both fictional and real,to follow.

Next week,I'll be focusing on Mr. Darcy,the ideal Austen male. Colin Firth was not the first actor to bring him to life but he is pretty much the pin-up boy for P&P and Austen fangirls. Yes,that includes me too-not made of stone,people!:


Robin Brande said...

I LOVE this version of P & P so much! Yeah, the mother's voice is totally grating, and some of the other casting is a little . . . eh, but Mr. Collins is perfect. And Lizzy and Darcy are the best ever. Can't wait to hear you talk about my dream date Colin Firth!!

lady t said...

Thanks,Robin-I'll do my best to honor Colin Firth and not pollute the shades of Pemberley:) Lady Catherine would be quite put out!