Elizabeth Bennet: “As delightful a character as ever appeared in print.”

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:  

Jane Austen was very proud of her heroine Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, shortly after publication, she shares her confidence in her creation.   

“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”. 29 January 1813 

Her boast was not shallow. Now considered one of the most popular characters in English literature, Elizabeth Bennet is admired by many and emulated by few.

As with most of the characters in Austen’s novels, we do not know much detail of her physical appearance, understanding only that she is a reputed local beauty with fine eyes; leaving the readers imagination to fill in the rest. What we do know about her is her character, and that is what is so admirable. Intelligent and quick-witted, she has “a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.” I can think of no other personality attribute that I admire more. Mr. Darcy comes to agree with me also, admiring her easy playfulness. 

“Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticise. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness. Of this she was perfectly unaware; to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.” Chapter 6 

Illustrators and movie makers have attempted to capture that sparkling wit and fine eyes on paper and in film with varied degrees of success. One interpretation I find delightful is this illustration by Robert Ball, from the 1945 edition of Pride and Prejudice published by Double Day, Inc., Garden City, New York. Elizabeth is captured at that self actualizing moment in the novel when she has just read Mr. Darcy’s “Be not alarmed, Madame” letter, and proclaimed “Till this moment, I never knew myself.” The expression on her face is a mixture of pain and embarrassment; — emotions which we had yet to experience in our self confident and pert heroine before. Illustrator Robert Ball has provided a lovely yellow frock, which would please Jane Austen. “I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow.”  She is indeed, the most delightful character who was ever in print.

Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, austenprose.com

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth Bennet: “As delightful a character as ever appeared in print.”

Add yours

  1. Thanks for sharing this Laurel Ann! – a great passage of a man falling head over heels in love. I love Ball’s illustrations as well – they don’t get enough attention…


  2. Thanks for bring this passage to light! It’s one of my favorites–really shows how Darcy began to fall for her. I love Elizabeth for her playfulness as well, she’s a great character.


  3. The dress this Elizabeth was wearing seems much more elaborate than the ones featured in 1995 tv series. She seems as fashionable as the Miss Bingley in the tv series. Is there a reason, hmm…

    Steamy Darcy


  4. I was kind of wondering about that, too. She looks so fancy. And honestly, she seems too free spirited to wear bonnets with that much frill. Hehe. :P


  5. She’s my favorite Austen heroine, though I do not think that this illustration depicts her as I see her, which is more plainly dressed and tomboyish. The illustration reminds me of Mary Crawford, not Lizzy.


  6. Oh Laurel Ann, I forgot to mention that I like all of Ball’s illustrations EXCEPT the one of Mr. Darcy, which has him looking like a prancing dandy – it’s just awful!


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