I have many fond memories of my mother and I watching many a movie depicting adaptations of Jane Austen’s whimsical novels. Movies such as: Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. We watched them over and over, and sometimes in succession on weekends. Even when I was young, however, I was always far more drawn to the story of Pride and Prejudice, of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, than that of Emma Woodhouse, or the Dashwood sisters. And, no, not just for Matthew MacFayden’s piercing blue eyes, or the fact that Keira Knightley was (and still is) one of my favorite actresses: In fact, the other day I found myself unable to place a finger on why I preferred Elizabeth Bennet’s story over the other two. Of course, I had to rewatch them!
Each female character Austen creates has her own uniqueness about her: There are no character repeats amongst her novels. Let’s be honest though, Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood is a little over-dramatic. Not to say it isn’t rightly so, as any heartbroken 17-year-old girl would be. Her older sister Elinor, the one most followed throughout the novel and film, is sweet on a Mr. Edward Ferrars (a shy, and also secretly engaged man). But Elinor always puts her own wishes aside: She takes it upon herself to be the steady one for her distraught, widowed mother, and her two sisters, Marianne and Margaret. In the end, Mr. Ferrars is released from his secret engagement and (timidly and awkwardly) declares his love for Elinor.
In Emma, I see Miss Emma Woodhouse as a little controlling: thinking herself to be somewhat of a matchmaker, she believes she knows just who her friend should marry (despite her friend already having eyes for a perfectly kind and doting farmer, Robert Martin). And when it comes to her own romantic happiness, she believes her crush, Mr. Knightley, to be in love with her friend and is therefore upset. When he contrastingly says that he loves Emma, Harriet, whose emotions have been strewn about three different ways by now, is left to be comforted by a second proposal from Mr. Martin. With so much “who likes who” in Emma’s story, it felt like I was back in high school!
Now, none of this is to bash Jane Austen. I largely admire her writing. She bravely tackled the delicate and confusing subjects of love, marriage, and womanhood for her time in a way that few others could.
However, I cannot be convinced otherwise: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are, what I believe to be, the boldest characters to ever come from Jane Austen’s novels. They are both outspokenly opinionated, charismatically stubborn, and hasty to judge. But for all their faults, they act only from the true passion of their convictions. Their story weaves the most incredible character developments of two people who, from the first moment Mr. Darcy laid eyes on Elizabeth, struggle to fight some (refreshingly) obvious sparks between them.
At first, Mr. Darcy judges Elizabeth’s family to be imprudent and inappropriate, stopping his friend from proposing to her older sister Jane. However, as Mr. Darcy finds himself becoming increasingly attracted to Elizabeth’s charm and intelligence, he has the audacity to propose to her. When Elizabeth refuses, citing his pride and her sister’s heartbreak at fault, Mr. Darcy recognizes Elizabeth’s fierce loyalty to her family, and the fact that he will never win her with his current behavior. He sets about making things right: saving her family’s reputation by salvaging a runaway daughter, setting right a bad rumor circulated regarding his supposed maltreatment of an old family friend of his, and working to show Elizabeth his gentle, loving, and tender side. Elizabeth accepts his series of amendments and, later, a tender re-proposal.
They both had to learn the error in hasty judgment; her, in prejudice, and him in pride. They misjudge each other, and challenge each other off, but, ultimately find that they have a few common faults: fierce loyalty, and passion: bold, unremorseful passion.
On the couch with my mom, somewhere between the poetic way Elizabeth first tells Mr. Darcy exactly where to stick it, and when he tenderly says, “My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever”…I found inspiration for my voice as a writer.
So, my parting thoughts to you this Valentines are to love honestly, love openly, and for Austen’s sake: love boldly.