Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet – courageous or insecure?

Illustration by Philip Gough, Pride and Prejudice, Macdonald & Co, London (1951)When coffee was over Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her other nephew; till the latter walked away from her, and moving with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte, stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance. Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenient pause, turned to him with an arch smile, and said — 

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? But I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.” 

“I shall not say that you are mistaken,” he replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.” Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 31 

This is one of my favorite moments in Pride and Prejudice. We see Elizabeth testing her hold over Mr. Darcy as she plays piano at Rosings; taunting him with her confidence. Jane Austen was so skilled at character development. Elizabeth is saucy and outspoken, “expressing her opinions decidedly”, but I have often thought that instead of being courageous and spirited, she was actually insecure, using her sharp mind and sparkling wit as a defense. An unconventional thought. Mr. Darcy may have already figured her out. He thinks she professes opinions that she does not really believe – just to taunt him. A sign of insecurity. ;)

* Illustration by Philip Gough, Pride and Prejudice, Macdonald & Co, London (1951)

urn flourish 

12 thoughts on “Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet – courageous or insecure?

  1. I’ve often wondered why Mr. Darcy said, “…find great enjoyment in occasionally expressing opinions which, in fact, are not your own.” It just didn’t seem to add up with his high regard for her. Your thoughts on this gave me something to think about…I’ll have to chew on it a while!! It really is too bad we can’t ask the creator of the story!

    But tell me, don’t you grow somewhat weary of this ever-flowing Jane Austen material? I mean, I’m an Austen admirer but all these “add-on’s” are tiring!! There are so many different sequels that I simply stopped reading them…for more reasons than one. Having said that, I’m positive you wouldn’t the appreciate an assignment I wrote lately called: “Too much (Jane) Austen.”

    I enjoy your site. Never taken the time to comment. I’ve wanted to occasionally, but it’s always harder when it’s someone you don’t know…one never knows how your perspective will be received.

    Blessings!

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  2. Brooke & Lisa, thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments.

    Lizzy is such a facsinating creature – so multi-layered. Many of Austen’s characterizations are so real, I can see traits in people and friendships I have encountered. Recently, I have been thinking about Lizzy a bit deeper because I know someone who is like her. Well almost.

    She is very intelligent, sparklingly witty and always seems to have the right thing to say at the right moment. It is a bit intimidating to meer mortals such as myself who get left in the dust. She can get a crowd laughing faster than a flea on speed, and what she does to men who challenge her is numbing. They are drawn to her, but at the same time terrified by her. Moths to a candle.

    This past holiday season we were at a party with friends and there she was with a crowd around her at the piano. One guy called her out and told her she played the Christmas song incorrectly. Her retort was that was how she wrote it. Reams of laughter from the crowd and total attraction by the guy. It reminded me of the Lizzy – Darcy piano moment in P&P. My other friend turned to me and said in confidence that this bravado by our friend was all an act to hide her insecurity. Uncertain if I agree. She pulled it off so effortlessly, but so did Elizabeth.

    Darcy seems to have her number – claiming that she expresses opinions that are not her own. The line implys that he has been closely watching her and remembering her comments. This is flattering to her in a way, but terrifying in another. A man of his consequence is paying attention.

    Others have called her remarks in this scene as teasing. But I do not feel she is being the flirt. At this point she is not attracted to Darcy and has nothing to loose by her flip remarks. This sparing is for her own enjoyment, and possibly to put him off guard and protect herself. This seems like confidence to me, and not insecurity. But there’s my friend, a Lizzy in the flesh, throwing out barbs like lightening bolts and enthralling her captors. Over acting or over confidence can be a shield to insecurity, so I am not convinced that Lizzy could not be insecure in this circumstance.

    Lisa – I have read quite a few Austen sequels, some great and some not. I do not grow tired of the new material. There is always the chance that a new author will get it right. I am the eternal Austen sequel optimist. I will however conceed that I have become over the years more accepting of another author’s interpretation of Austen’s characters if it is respectful and believable.

    In regard to my not appreciating your essay on “Too much Austen”, after reading and writing about my favorite author intensely for years, there has been more than one occassion when I have said it myself, and then taken a holiday! Please do not be afraid to voice your opinions here. Austen fans may be passionate about their ‘Jane’, but opinions contrary to our own are not admonished. Propriety is always the rule.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

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  3. I always felt the scene above referred back to the night at Lucas Lodge:

    He began to wish to know more of her, and as a step towards conversing with her himself, attended to her conversation with others. His doing so drew her notice. It was at Sir William Lucas’s, where a large party were assembled.

    “What does Mr. Darcy mean,” said she to Charlotte, “by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?”

    “That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer.”

    “But if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. He has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of him.”

    I’ve never looked at it as insecurity, I believe it was impertinence for impertinence sake. But I also think she knew Darcy was attracted to her. Of course her conscious mind wasn’t aware of it at all – but her subconscious: another matter entirely – not that I think for a minute Jane Austen “went there” on purpose.

    Interesting topic. You are right, Lizzy is so multi-layered that one could probably write a fascinating Master’s thesis on her inner conflict and “sweet-natured” brand of passive-aggressiveness as relates to birth order and socio-economic factors in Regency England.

    You first. :-)

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  4. I know there are lots of Austen ‘add ons’ out there – but spare a thought for the poor authors (and their families who put up with it) who are compelled to write them. Try as I might I can’t stop – I enjoy going to ‘Austenland’ so much – perhaps one day I will find a cure for this addiction, but hopefully not just yet.
    Nothing can beat the real thing, I agree, but it doesn’t stop me wanting to ‘converse’ with Jane’s characters.

    Gorgeous illustration, by the way!

    Jane

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  5. I love the Phillip Gough illustration. I found this scene an excellent instance of the repartee that Lizzy and Darcy are likely to embark on for the rest of their lives: mentally keeping each other on their toes and exercising their wits simply for the pleasure of doing so. In addition, their double entendres keep their messages private to each other, even as they talk freely in front of another person.

    Jane Austen is a master at constructing such dialogue.

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  6. I understand, Jane! The story is so fascinating we are all tempted to know more about Austen’s creations…thus setting the stage for all these sequels, essays and film reproduction. I love, love, love BBC’s adaption of P&P. The more recent one I won’t vouch for!

    Meanwhile, Laurel Ann, keep up the good work. You spot is in my favorites!

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  7. Hi Jane – as writer and an artist – I’m sure you noticed that the illustrator Philip Gough gave Darcy a bit of ‘Dandy’ outfit with the pink coat and white trousers in the illustration! Not your traditional interpretation.

    I love his illustrations for this Macdonald edition of the novels. They are colorful and different than other artists. Not unlike your own.

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  8. I’m blushing now – thank you. I’m very jealous that you have the P&P illustrations of Philip Gough’s – I haven’t seen them. I hope you will post some more!

    Lisa, I love that P&P version too – and even the ones that aren’t so good I will take the time to watch – I’m very sadly addicted.

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  9. I always read it as Lizzy’s insecurity. Add to that the quote brought by Elegantextracts, and also this one from Netherfield (chapter 10):

    Elizabeth could not help observing, as she turned over some music books that lay on the instrument, how frequently Mr. Darcy’s eyes were fixed on her. She hardly knew how to suppose that she could be an object of admiration to so great man; and yet that he should look at her because he disliked her was still more strange. She could only imagine however, at last, that she drew his notice because there was a something about her more wrong and reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in any other person present. The supposition did not pain her. She liked him too little to care for his approbation.

    After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her —

    “Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?”

    She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence.

    “Oh!” said she, “I heard you before; but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say “Yes,” that you might have the pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance a reel at all — and now despise me if you dare.”

    “Indeed I do not dare.”

    Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry;

    Her reaction is quite ridiculous. If she weren’t insecure she’d easily decide that he simply liked her, and if she really didn’t care she’d either ignore it or use it to her advantage. Yet she does neither. She’s simply scared that he might not approve of her. She reacts to him with the assumption that he cannot possibly like her and only wants to make fun of her.

    I do think that she’s teasing him, she admits as much herself in chapter 11. She says that it’s to punish him, but I do think it’s flirting in a way. There is only one way to stop her insecurity, and that is by making him approve of her. When we laugh at people we love it’s never bad or hurtful. If Darcy could be made to like her she wouldn’t have any reason to be afraid of him. I’m not saying he’d have to love her the passionate kind of love, but it’d be enough if he loved her as one loves one’s friends.

    In chapter 6 she said it’s Darcy’s satirical eye she’s so afraid of. She knows that he could poke fun at her as much as it’d please him, and she’s afraid he’s doing just that. As you said she’s using her sharp mind and sparkling wit as a defence. Note that she never reacts this way to anyone else. Although she has her milder manner she uses with Jane and others in her family, usually to dismiss sad thoughts or difficult topics, her sharp version of wit is all for Darcy.

    She never teases Wickham or Colonel Fitzwilliam (with the one exception when Fitzwilliam tells her he won’t marry her and she wants to refute her embarrassment), and simply avoids Collins at all cost. She endures Sir William Lucas with much grace. This kind of sharp teasing and intimate understanding she shares only with Darcy.

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  10. Pingback: Easter in Pride and Prejudice « Mending My Own Pen

  11. Favourite quotation

    “You mistake us, Mr Wickham. Merriton is abreast of everything. Everything except insolence and bad manners. Those London fashions we do not admire.”

    Fabulous!!!!

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