The Women of Pride and Prejudice and A Chance to Win

Wednesday, Mary looked at the interactions and connections of the men of Pride and Prejudice. Today we look at the women.

If I were to write a post containing a detailed analysis of all the women in Pride and Prejudice, it would be long enough to have us all still reading it on Monday. Jane Austen built a wonderful world of women in a story that centered around the relationship between a man and a woman. Here is a look at some of the main ones and how they molded Elizabeth Bennet’s character.

The Mother

Ah, Mrs. Bennet, the woman so comically ridiculous and so blindingly obsessed that we can’t help but feel sorry for her family. As a modern reader, it’s difficult to imagine a life where getting your daughters married off is of utmost importance, but that is the existence Mrs. Bennet lives daily.

A mother seeks to make life better for their children. To care for them, prepare them for the future, raise them to care for themselves and their own families. Is the Bennet sisters did not marry, their futures were debatable indeed.

There are many times where we see glimmers of this worry from Mrs. Bennet. One could argue that she goes about her mission in a nonsensical manner, causing her daughters to react to her single-mindedness in various ways, but at the end of the day it cannot be doubted that Mrs. Bennet loved her daughters and wanted the absolute best life possible for them.

Lizzie reacts to her mother’s machinations with disbelief that is sometimes quiet and other times not. She maintains a level of outward respect for her mother that is admirable considering how preposterous she finds Mrs. Bennet’s attitudes and actions.

The Sisters

Elizabeth is the second of five sisters. It is easy to see how that family structure affected Lizzie’s thoughts, demeanor, and behavior.

Her older sister, Jane, is her best friend and her idol. Without being able to truly look up to her mother, Lizzie instead admires the sweet and quiet Jane. At first Jane appears to be a bit weak. Her quiet nature and desire to see good in everyone could be seen as fragile, but as she deals with the family scandals and the departure of Bingley, the reader sees a strength beneath the gentleness.

Mary and Kitty always seemed a bit lost to me, as if they were still searching for their place in the family. It is pure speculation on my part, but I always thought Mary’s bookish seriousness might have been an attempt to gain the attentions of her father, similar to how Lizzie had done naturally. Kitty, in turn, tried to relate to her mother the way the youngest did. Neither seemed very successful, leaving them a bit on the fringes. Kitty is rarely seen doing anything without Lydia and Mary’s social awkwardness is almost painful to read.

Last, but certainly not least in Elizabeth’s life, is Lydia. As the youngest, Lydia has likely been coddled from the day she was born. She has also absorbed their mother’s obsession with men and marriage. Lizzie sees Lydia as little more than a silly flirt and can be seen indulging her sister much like she indulges her mother – with little true respect, but also little outward censure. I think this is part of why Lydia feels that everything will turn out well when she is in London with Wickham. She had never known anything else.

The Friend

Charlotte Lucas is part of Lizzie’s life from the early stages of the book. I believe Charlotte is in place to be the voice of practical society. She views marriage as a necessity for a woman to secure her future. Love is not of great importance to her.

This is a stark contrast to Lizzie’s determination that only the deepest of loves would induce her to matrimony. We need this contrast and this voice of practicality in order to see just how different Lizzie is. Contemporary readers of Jane Austen’s novel were likely to see life through eyes more similar to Charlotte’s than to Lizzie’s.

Yet Charlotte’s closeness to Lizzie and her practical viewpoints are part of what allows Elizabeth to see things differently as well. When visiting her married friend at Rosings, Lizzie begins to see the benefits Charlotte found in making such an arrangement, even if she could never stomach it herself.

The Enemies

What would a great book be without a great villain? And if ever there were two women readers loved to hate, they would be Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

By the time Caroline comes on the scene, we have already attached ourselves to Lizzie. Caroline’s dismissal and beratement of our heroine makes us want to see her fall. While she never truly receives an on page comeuppance, its almost more fun for the reader to imagine her dealing with the family dinners and parties once Jane and Lizzie marry Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy.

As for Lady Catherine, we almost wouldn’t have a story without her. The link she creates between Elizabeth, Mr. Collins, and Mr. Darcy as well as the results of her presumptive call on Elizabeth towards the end of the book, serve to move the story along in ways that it could not do otherwise. She is not a woman to be overlooked, however, and demands the reader’s attention, even when we would rather focus on Lizzie and what she is doing. It makes it all the sweeter when Lizzie gives her the cut direct and walks away from her.

The Others

Other women play significant roles in the story as well, like Georgiana Darcy and Elizabeth’s Aunt Gardiner. Georgiana plays a distinct role in breaking down Elizabeth’s bad impression of the young lady’s stoic older brother. Any man who loves and cares for a younger sister like that cannot be as cold as Elizabeth’s first impressions made him out to be.

Aunt Gardiner is somewhere between friend and mother figure to Lizzie. They take in Jane and Lizzie at separate points in the book, leading the reader to believe that Mrs. Gardiner has tried to step in and alleviate some of the exuberance of Mrs. Bennet.

What do you think of the female dynamic in Pride and Prejudice? Austen’s amazing ability to craft characters that fit nearly every type of woman and mold them together in a single story is one of the things that makes this book so enjoyable.

Public Domain Image

This week we’re giving away a lovely copy of Pride and Prejudice. The book is hard cover with a ribbon book mark. The pages are rough cut to simulate the cut edges an original print would have had after binding. All comments on this week’s posts will be entered in the drawing. Must have a United States mailing address in order to win. Winner will be announced August 19, 2013.