One of the reasons I love Pride and Prejudice so much is because of the character of Elizabeth Bennet. Even though I’m more of a Mary Bennet in real life, Elizabeth is the woman I always wanted to be.
She’s smart and pretty (although not handsome enough to tempt some men); she’s also witty and optimistic. She knows when to speak up and when to hold her tongue.
But the aspect of Elizabeth Bennet I like most is her inner strength, which Jane Austen demonstrated in so many ways throughout the novel.
For example, Austen symbolized Elizabeth’s strong independent streak by having her embark on solitary walks—sometimes with a purpose; sometimes just to enjoy the out-of-doors.
And Austen showed Elizabeth’s strength of character when she rejected Mr. Collins’ offer of marriage, even though Elizabeth knew how much her family’s future could be improved if only she agreed to the marriage.
Elizabeth was strong in her convictions, too, even though they were sometimes misguided. Her prejudice against Mr. Darcy gave her the strength to resist his attempts to conciliate himself to her in Hunsford, when any other woman would have been wildly flattered by his attentions (I’m looking at you, Caroline Bingley). But not Elizabeth. She never sought his good opinion, and she strongly and vehemently rejected Darcy’s first marriage proposal.
And once she learned of Wickham’s perfidy, Elizabeth’s humility and strong self-awareness helped her realize she had been wrong about Darcy all along.
Elizabeth had physical strength, too. Throughout the novel, she’s a young woman in action—taking care of Jane at Netherfield, visiting Charlotte, sparring with Darcy, and keeping her younger sisters in check.
But the one time in the novel when Elizabeth is faced with the biggest crisis of her life—Lydia’s elopement with Wickham—strong, independent Elizabeth can do nothing about it. There is no action she can take to fix the matter. Her wit and decisiveness won’t save the day.
Even as her world crumbles about her and she feels the mounting shame of her sister’s behavior, Elizabeth realizes she can do nothing to change the situation. She must stay at home and wait, and hope that others—her uncle and her father, namely—will be able to find Lydia and Wickham and make them marry, and thereby save the family from scandal.
This week, when I was mentally tossing around ideas for this post, I realized how much I sympathize with Elizabeth’s literary predicament. It’s almost a parallel for what we’re all going through right now. Like her, we have to stay at home and wait, and trust others to do make the right decisions on our behalf. Like Elizabeth, many of us are on watch for daily news updates from the people who are on the front lines, managing the crisis:
Every day at Longbourn was now a day of anxiety; but the most anxious part of each was when the post was expected. The arrival of letters was the grand object of every morning’s impatience. Through letters, whatever of good or bad was to be told would be communicated, and every succeeding day was expected to bring some news of importance.
Like Elizabeth, I’ve been devouring news reports and updates. Sometimes the news is sad and frightening; sometimes it’s hopeful, and I can see glimmers of a light at the end of this lockdown tunnel.
But mostly, like Elizabeth, I’ve learned to trust others; to find comfort in knowing there are people diligently working get us through this crisis and help us get back to the lives we once led.
I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. Please leave a comment and share how you spend your time waiting for quarantines to be lifted. Do you watch the news? Do you stay hunkered down in your house? Have you discovered new hobbies (or resurrected old ones) to help you pass the time? I’d love to know!