Musings on Elizabeth Bennet

We are so fortunate at Jane Austen's House to have such passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers. Even while our doors are closed, they continue to share stories, pictures, and insights from their experiences at the House and on all things Jane Austen - many of which we'll be featuring via our website, social channels and our newsletter in the weeks to come. Volunteer Nicola Scarlett kicks off this series with her 'Musings on Elizabeth Bennet', exploring her favourite Austen character.

There cannot be another heroine in the whole canon of English literature to match Elizabeth Bennet. She was stunningly modern, and that has to be one of her enduring fascinations. What woman doesn’t revel in the put-down of the haughty Darcy, even if Colin Firth did make him so desirable? Because Darcy assumed Elizabeth would fall over herself with gratitude for his oh-so-magnanimous offer of matrimony. How many of us let the feelings of others ‘wholly unconnected with us’ dictate our actions?

Not Elizabeth. ‘I am resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness’, she says to Lady Catherine – and in an era when family loyalty and family fortune could be bound together in the marriage prospects of one or other daughter, how many daughters would have the courage of an Elizabeth to say that? This is why she turns down Mr Collins. This is why she turns down Darcy, without a second thought for the vast advantages he could bring to her family.

Look further and you see who it is who supports her in this. None other than the father we’re led to believe was weak. Look further than that weakness and we can see a parent telling Elizabeth he will never see her again if she marries Mr Collins; we can see one that says, ‘let me not see you unable to respect your partner in life’ when he learns that partner is to be Mr Darcy. He, too, is uninfluenced by wealth and position when it clashes with happiness. It is the father who created the daughter; Austen, as usual, surprising us all with her sublime perception.