The opening line of the novel “A single man in possession of a large fortune” sounds a tad bit sexist especially as I simultaneously read a facebook post on ‘Pink Revolution’ whose tag line reads as “We are increasingly becoming like the men we wanted to marry” hence we ourselves are becoming rich and successful, well read and talented, much like Mr. Darcy whose vast estate held much more attraction at a time when women solely depended on men for a living. This also explains Ms. Austen’s obsession with marriages, intrigues and minute details of courtships and constant plans to find a “good” catch.
Marriage is closely intertwined with another theme of the book “inheritance”. The girls were not the rightful heirs of their father’s property which was to pass to a male cousin, Mr. Collins, much to the dismay of their mother. And here “inheritance” translates into “class” as the daughters left without any source of stable income in case of an eventuality had to depend on marrying into wealthy, well established and connected families.
This need for dependence and submission to their fate, which they did not have any other means to fight and conquer is at conflict with Elizabeth Bennet’s strong will to remain independent in her thoughts, not succumb her pride to the whims of the society, not give up her opinions and morality to please the elite, to base her union on love and not parsimonious motives, to disregard authority and disrespect those who “mortified her” despite their superior situation in life. It is precisely these qualities that make her character so invincible.
The fact that Elizabeth prefers to fall in love with a poor military officer Mr. Wickham and shows abhorrence for moneyed Mr. Darcy bears testimony to her strength. She also particularly disparages Mr. Collins for showing un-discerning, irrational obedience to his employer, Lady Catherine. She does not hesitate at all in answering back Ms. Bingley and Mrs. Hurst when they attempt to insult her. She is perfectly at ease walking 6 inches deep in mud and showing up in a dirty petticoat, not giving up her pleasure in exercise for social conformity. Her deep interest in books and reading does (in the words of Mr. Darcy) reflect on her desire to “constantly improve her mind”. Her choice of suitors is defined by her benchmarks.
Elizabeth is also acutely aware of her disadvantages in life in an embarrassing mother, two ill-bred sisters, Lydia and Kitty, and other ill-suited relatives yet she for once does not let her alliances define who she is or her preferences and likes. In fact, her indomitable persona can be summed up in this one quote “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
Her only failing is her “prejudice” and that’s why Ms. Austen first decided on calling the book “First Impressions”. This book is in fact a romance based on the recurring, central themes of “pride” and “prejudice” displayed by its the two main protagonists.
Even today Ms. Elizabeth Bennet with her wit, humor, intelligence and defiance strikes a deep chord with modern women like myself. Yes, I now prefer trials of a troubled yet self-sustaining individual like Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre over her. But Ms. Bennet was also unconventional in her own way, portrayed as more conservative and traditional than Ms. Eyre but still different enough in 1813 when the book was first published and she was formally introduced to the world.
Jane Austen herself remained a spinster but the sympathy, concern, practicality and honesty with which she wrote books with marriage as their central theme is astonishing. In fact, marriage was an excuse used by Austen for her commentary on other societal flaws and realities, like the position of women, familiar ties, inheritance, class divisions and its hypocrisies, and also its prejudices and pride which sometimes descended into arrogance and contempt. Transformation that her native England was undergoing is also reflective in the themes she weaved in her works.
Why Pride and Prejudice strikes a chord with many like myself is because of its inherent simplicity, the same simplicity which is unique to its heroine Elizabeth Bennet, she is unassuming and unaware of her own charm and power to captivate, and that is what makes her even more attractive!
So, through this post I pay my tribute on the death anniversary (18th July, 1817) of a very dominant voice in literature, Ms. Jane Austen by reveling in her most adored heroine from her most widely read classic.
By Twisha Twisha