In Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth as a main character, is indeed controversial and possesses an independent spirit and mind. The novel, set in the Gregorian period, illustrates the social boundaries and the expectations of women at the time; both of which Elizabeth defies, albeit not always intentionally. She is a rational, freethinking woman with a “lively, playful disposition.”
To understand the character of Elizabeth better, we must too acknowledge the author as somewhat controversial for her time, writing satirical novels about society and marriage in general; themes which come across in all her novels. Just as Mr. Knightley in ‘Emma,’ is the mouthpiece, so is Elizabeth, to an extent, in Pirde and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s heroines, such as Emma and Elizabeth, both display the same traits, i.e. indifference to marrying for money. Indeed, Elizabeth understands the irony of her society, which judges people firstly, and perhaps solely, on their financial status.
“…Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place…”-Mrs Bennet.
Elizabeth is not only independent in her views on love, but also in her home life. She is closer to her father, and is respected by him, both of which was unusual in those days. She does not necessarily respect or like her mother, who is the epitome of the view on women in society; arranging and plotting to get her daughters married to wealthy men.
“Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!” -Mrs Bennet
Elizabeth is an extremely independent and intelligent woman, and, this, being one of the things Mr. Darcy admires and later loves her for, ensures that she will, no matter if she marries or not, remain as such. Elizabeth is not partial to marrying for money rather than for love, and though her financial situation would be reason enough for her to marry for those reasons, she is adamant and strong willed when it comes to her decisions. She refuses Mr. Collins, a marriage that would have secured the financial security of the Bennets, and the Longbourn estate. Mr. Collins is sure that he would not be refused, stating how beneficial it would be to both, but we see not only is Elizabeth unperturbed by such logic, but is also quite amused and slightly appalled that he would insinuate she would marry for such reasons.
“I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them… You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so-Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation.”-Elizabeth
It is safe to say that Elizabeth is intelligent enough to be aware of her own independent nature, and would not suffer either party the results of such a union. Elizabeth is indeed shocked at Charlotte Lucas, her intimate friend’s acceptance of Mr. Collins’ proposal, because though she knows that Charlotte is more practical in her views of marriage, she feels that it is impossible that anyone could marry without love.
“She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage.”
Elizabeth is also independent in the fact that she will not do what is expected of her, in her role in society, and in her own home and situation, and that she would sacrifice all in order to satisfy her views on love and life in general.
Mr. Darcy brings out Elizabeth’s feistiness and determination. She walks to Netherfield, feeling the embarrassment of her sister Jane, due to her mother’s refusal of the carriage, which no other woman would have dared done in that time. We don’t know if she does this solely because she really does enjoy the walk, as she says, or whether it is defiance against Mr. Darcy and his class.
Elizabeth later refuses Mr. Darcy’s offer to dance, which, though he is proud and disliked, was an act frowned upon by society, as he is well above her station, and as Mr. Darcy’s dislikes dancing in general, it would have been seen as a great honour. However, the ultimate show of independence is when Elizabeth refuses Mr. Darcy’s proposal of marriage. She is shocked at the spontaneity of his proposal. His proposal, however, is not helped by the bluntness, and almost rudeness of it, and the lack of romance. Elizabeth, who is adamant on marrying for love, would never accept such a proposal, even if she were on good terms with Mr. Darcy.
“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?” -Elizabeth.
Elizabeth thus, shows an independent mind, in different ways, such as in her firm ideals on marriage and love, and her actions, such as the refusal of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy. She is the mouthpiece for Jane Austen’s witty and satirical views on society, and, though she eventually relents and marries Mr. Darcy, though for love, it is certain that she will remain and independent wife.