Austen at Large: The Flaws & Perfections of Miss Eliza Bennet

Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice (1979)

As many people who read this blog each week may know, Elizabeth Bennet is my favorite heroine. She is witty, caring, intelligent, honest, and bold. All characteristics which though I myself may not possess, I respect them in characters, as well as in people. In Elizabeth Bennet I do not see an idealized woman, yet I find her perfect. She has flaws, real ones, which I think makes her such a power and realistic character. Elizabeth Bennet would be the type of girl that I think many people would want to be their best friend. (Though we would not want the same fate as Charlotte) Elizabeth’s true beauty comes though in her dialogue and through her witty conversations with Charlotte, her father and Mr. Darcy and her ability to laugh at herself, a trait Mr. Darcy has not picked up yet. Elizabeth remembers “that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin” (Chapter 58). I feel like Eliza Bennet is one of those rare great characters who everyone can feel some connect to and who everyone likes. I dont think I have ever meet anyone who dislikes Elizabeth (though I would love to meet someone to argue it). I have seen her described as too critical and such, but I do not see that as a fault. I think it makes her more realistic and therefor more satisfactory that she has faults like being a little to judgmental. It only makes me love her more for them.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice (1995)

In thinking about Elizabeth Bennet this week I was trying to think of characteristics and instances in the book where we see these being personified. Her cynicism is one of my favorite aspects of her personality. She says things that I wish I either had the guts to say or the wit to think up. Perhaps my favorite quote of Elizabeth is,

The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense” (Chapter 24).

I don’t know about everyone else, but I think this statement works as well in the 21st-century as it did in her own. In fact this might be one of my favorite Jane Austen sayings because I quote it so much.

Grear Garson as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice (1940)

Elizabeth’s strength of character is another reason why I respect her. She stands up to Darcy and defends her sister Jane and Wickham. Yet she still can admit when she has been wrong. When Mr. Darcy proposes and Elizabeth’s rejects him the first time, she doesn’t just say no, (in today’s world she might say “HELL NO“) but she stands up to him about wrongs he has done. It takes and great strength of character and confidence to confront such a power man as Mr. Darcy. She later also stand up for herself against Lady Catherine. Both times Elizabeth is encountering someone more powerful than herself, yet as Elizabeth puts it, “My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me” (Chapter 31).

Though Elizabeth has the courage to stand up for herself, she also has the strength to know when she has been wrong, though it might take her a little while to figure it out. The fact that Eliza can disclose her faults makes her a real woman to the reader. Eliza admits,

but vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself” (Chapter 31).

This is perhaps one of my favorite moments in the book because I feel like we really get to see into Eliza. She has the realization of her misjudgment and accepts it acknowledging her faults along the way. I see this moment as one of the most powerful for Elizabeth as a character and in Jane Austen with writing this. The intuition is astounding in this passage because Jane Austen seems to have the innate ability to look into Elizabeth’s soul and understand its workings even concerning things like her vanity.

Aishwarya Rai as Lalita Bakshi, Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Though Elizabeth has the courage to stand up for herself, she also has the strength to know when she has been wrong, though it might take her a little while to figure it out. The fact that Eliza can disclose her faults makes her a real woman to the reader. Eliza admits,

but vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, never knew myself” (Chapter 31).

This is perhaps one of my favorite moments in the book because I feel like we really get to see into Eliza. She has the realization of her misjudgment and accepts it acknowledging her faults along the way. I see this moment as one of the most powerful for Elizabeth as a character and in Jane Austen with writing this. The intuition is astounding in this passage because Jane Austen seems to have the innate ability to look into Elizabeth’s soul and understand its workings even concerning things like her vanity.

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride & Prejudice (2005)

With Eliza Bennet I see a character that though not perfect by any means she is some form of an ideal. But perhaps this “ideal woman” has shifted through time from the Jane Bennet, “angel in the house” type woman to the Eliza Bennet. Eliza is feisty, clever, smart and honest yet she is also critical, cynical and judgmental at times. These “bad” qualities, I will not count as such. I don’t think they are necessarily an evil I think they are her insight. But perhaps this is yet again my prejudice for Eliza Bennet coming through. I just find her to be so extraordinary. I told one of my friends last year that she was “such an Elizabeth Bennet“, then to only say “and you dont know what a big complement that is coming from me“. She remarked “oh yes I do” : ). I just loved that she picked up on how much I admire Elizabeth and that she understood the comment for what it meant, that I saw her acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses of herself and still being able to laugh at herself. Eliza might not be everyone’s ideal heroine or woman but I agree with what Jane Austen wrote about her when she said, “I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know“.

Until next week,

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

7 thoughts on “Austen at Large: The Flaws & Perfections of Miss Eliza Bennet

  1. I love Elizabeth because she was so human. There is something about her that represents each of us. Rather it was her “disposition to laugh often” or her compassion for Wickham when he confided his “sob story” to her. Or the undeserved respect for her silly mother and the simple-minded Mr. Collin’s. The way she held her head high when challenged by the haughty Miss Bingley or Lady Catherine. The pain she felt when she refused Darcy because she knew what it had costs him to come ask for her hand. She might not have loved him but she felt for him keenly after she learned the truth about Wickham.

    She’s forgivable even though she’s critical. She might be judgmental but it usually holds merit. She’s confident and unafraid in who she is even when in the society of people who were “high and mighty”. In comparison to Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine, she was the true lady. Really, she had more tact and manner then they did.

    Well, it all your fault that I’m off to bed late! I decided to check in with Austenprose before shutting down my computer. I usually visit here before going to bed and end up staying to long! I can’t keep up with all the articles written!

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  2. Lovely post, and EB is a wonderful heroine and role model for all the reasons you mention. However, there are those who take seriously her remark to Jane about first coming to care for Darcy when she saw his beautiful grounds at Pemberley and say that while she may not be mercenary, she is practical to a fault. Any thoughts on that?

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  3. A lovely post, Virginia. I did meet one Austen fan who hates Elizabeth, and as Austen predicted herself, I can’t tolerate her!

    I agree that with all her flaws Elizabeth is a perfect character.

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  4. When I first read Pride and Prejudice I sometimes forgot the setting of the story just because I recognize almost all of the characters’ traits. How many of us have met a Mr Collins, been blinded by a Whickham or even been swooned by a haughty and reserved man? Even Mrs Bennet, though she is a handful, represents every mother in the world.

    I was struck by Lizzy in so many ways. The passage you quote of her not being content with the world is a thought I have every single day since the age of 13. Maybe I am too cynical, and that’s almost her only trait I recognize in me (I can be prejudiced as well, especially if I am passionate about something). I feel identified with Mr Darcy and it seems that, just like him, I aspire to acquire some of Lizzy’s qualities.I love Lizzy because she seems to be true to herself, even if she is wrong (she later sees her faults, as you have so rightly written).

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  5. I love Elizabeth, but sometimes I feel as if she is just as arrogant as Mr. Darcy. She seemed to have a lack of tolerance for the flaws of other people. I’ve noticed that the only people she is close with are those she deem perfect or near perfect in character. Nor is she very good at accepting advice. This is very apparent in the way she ignores both Jane and Charlotte’s advice that she should keep an open mind or show some kind of restraint in expressing her feelings about certain individuals.

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