Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet Stands Up For Herself

Elizabeth shows resolve (until taken by surprise) in refusing to dance with Darcy. She politely declines when invited by Sir William Lucas and by Darcy himself.

And even more remarkable than her rejection of Mr. Collins are the harsh words she speaks in reply to Darcy's proposal:

I might as well inquire... why, with so evident a design of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character?... do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?... From the very beginning – from the first moment, I may almost say – of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike....

This is an explosive outpouring from a young woman who has spent time daily with the gentleman and, superficially at least, behaved politely, charmingly and wittily in his company.

Another man she puts firmly in his place is Wickham. She reveals that she knows the truth about him but, as he is by now her brother-in-law, she behaves charmingly, shaking his hand.

Equally impressive is her refusal to be overawed by the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. At Rosings she stands up to her ladyship's insolent questions. Noting Lady Catherine's astonishment, Elizabeth realises she may be the first person to have dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence. Later she routs Lady Catherine at Longbourn. 'This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire,' says Lady Catherine, 'can never take place – no, never, Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now, what have you to say?' Elizabeth replies:

Only this – that if he is so, you can have no reason to suppose he will make an offer to me.

After more exchanges, she brings matters to a conclusion with:

You have insulted me in every possible method. I must beg to return to the house.