The Feminism of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
Back in the Victorian Era, the British society was ruled by Queen Victoria, yet the society was a male centered thinking society. The book of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen satirized the 19th-century British society through contrasting Elizabeth to other following characters: Caroline Bingley, Jane Bennet, and Charlotte Lucas. Each of them represented stereotypes of traditional women who adapt themselves to fit the society for seeking marriage. The feminism of Elizabeth differentiated her from rest of the characters and stated the strong independence of women during the Victorian Era.
First of all, Caroline Bingley represented the type of woman that was educated according to the expectation of the society, but she doesn’t have too much of academic achievements. Caroline mostly focus on fulfilling her role of women of the society, such as playing piano or drawing. However, when Caroline heard Mr. Darcy stated his expectation for women, Caroline added, “How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” (Austen 42-43). Caroline’s reaction to Mr. Darcy’s expectation was the perfect example where a Victorian Age woman tried to impress a man. Caroline tried to adapt herself to a form where Mr. Darcy would find her attractive and to meet his expectation. On the other hand, Elizabeth is fascinated with intellectual pursuits, but she doesn’t receive the proper education that a woman should possess. “‘Has your governess left you?’ ‘We never had any governess’ ‘No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing.’” (Austen 126). This conversation between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth displayed that fact that most families in the country hired governess to educate the girls, but the Bennets didn’t hired one before. Governess were hired to teach the youngest girls reading, writing, and arithmetic, while teaching older girls French conversation, history, and geography. Also, the eldest girls were required to learn skills such as drawing, playing piano, dancing and deportment (British Library). Although Elizabeth wasn’t properly educated by a governess, but her display of erudition was considered an unfeminine behavior, since men wouldn’t appreciate women to have more knowledge than them. While Caroline fulfill her role of being a less intelligent woman, Elizabeth wasn’t afraid of showing her intelligence to Darcy.
Second, Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s sister, represents the typical Victorian-Era woman. Jane was beautiful, incredibly polite, and shy. During the Victorian Era, shyness was considered one of the expected traits a woman should possess. (Pride, Prejudice, and Shyness). Throughout the novel, Jane remained very shy according to the society’s expectation. When Jane and Mr. Bingley first met at the Meryton Ball, Mr. Bingley was attracted to Jane’s beauty and sweetness, but her following indifference almost caused to her to lose the love of Mr. Bingley. As Mr. Darcy wrote to Elizabeth about why he is against the relationship between Jane and Mr. Bingley, “Her look and manners were open, cheerful and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening’s scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment.” (Austen 150). Jane’s affection for Mr. Bingley was hidden because she was shy, moreover, is because the society expected her to be.
Thirdly, Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte Lucas was a sharp contrast between Elizabeth and the traditional Victorian Era women. When Charlotte told Elizabeth about her engagement to Mr. Collins, she said, “I am not romantic you know, I never was. I ask only a comfortable home – and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.” (Austen 98). Charlotte’s pursue of marriage reflected the fact that she married Mr. Collins because he could provide her with connection, social status, and a comfortable home, which was what the society expected women to pursue in a marriage. Women pursued marriage because it would provide them with financial sense rather than sexual or emotional satisfaction (Hughes). Despite Charlotte doesn’t have much feelings for Mr. Collins, she believed he could provide her with financial secure in the future. Although Elizabeth understood why Charlotte would make such decision, but on the contrary, she would never forfeit her own happiness for financial reasons. The views of marriage between Elizabeth and Charlotte marked the feminism of Elizabeth, who wouldn’t be compromised even if a man with great wealth offers her a marriage proposal. This explains why Elizabeth turned down Mr. Darcy’s first proposal; Elizabeth believed Darcy couldn’t give her the happiness she intended to have (Austen 147).
In conclusion, by contrasting three different stereotypes of characters in the novel, Jane Austen emphasized the feminism of Elizabeth where she boldly presented her intelligence, assertiveness, and independence throughout the story. While other characters tried to adapt to meet the expectation of the society and to seek marriage, Elizabeth demonstrated how a woman could remain her feminism and also secure a husband.
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