A Young Man’s Fascination with Ms. Bennet

One of my favorite books I read growing up was Pride and Prejudice, although I read other novels by Jane Austen, the story of the Bennet family stayed with me the most. Utilizing a source of media written well before I read the book offers potential complexity in determining the intended use of Pride and Prejudice, but the continued popularity of the story since publication through modern times suggests a universal appeal.

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Early nineteenth century England (the setting for Pride and Prejudice) certainly had different views about men, women and society, but one can still extrapolate perhaps the original intent of this media source. The role of family and the endless worries of securing a husband to ensure a financially stable future represent the main focus driving Austen’s story. Mrs. Bennet the every frantic mother of five daughters sees her duty as finding a proper husband for each of the Ms. Bennet’s. Traditional marriage and a traditional family remain the desired goals throughout the story, however there are elements of a rebellious nature that are in contradiction with what is expected of a young lady. Elizabeth or Lizy Bennet embodies the more progressive and defiant qualities present, but not encouraged in the behavior of young women.

Similar to the word association done in class with Davy Crockett, Davy and Lizy possess characteristics such as strong moral compass and desire to go against the rules. Quoting from Mary Douglas, the Girffin article points out that a joke is “only an exhilarating sense of freedom from form in general” (Griffin 110). When Davy is challenging the authority of the army leader by leaving the camp to see his wife, he jokes with the soldier about to light the cannon with “careful, don’t burn yourself”. Lizy displays similar acts of defiance by inserting humor in front of people of considerable higher rank such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh or in order to show the power of her sex with Mr. Darcy. While there are elements of spontaneity and disorder, Pride and Prejudice still ends with popular traits of civility and expectations. Lizy, while certainly more independent than most other ladies ends up in a heterosexual relationship with Mr. Darcy. Additionally while hidden sexual tension may be seen or inferred by the reader, the story itself and movie representations do not showcase explicit sex at all, the most we see is a kiss.

As a young male teenager I suppose I should have focused on Mr. Darcy as exemplary of a brooding yet proper gentlemen who while not overtly sexual (let’s just put aside the post-swimming lake scene in his undergarments) still remains a strong masculine force in the movie. I was certainly drawn to Mr. Darcy albeit for different reasons (more out of attraction), but Lizy and her wit proved to be the most interesting for me. I saw qualities that Lizy showcased that I wanted to see in myself. A commitment to family and a desire for a partner certainly appealed to me, but I enjoyed her surprising intelligence and strong confidence in herself more.

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Griffin in his conclusion notes that children’s play “also contains a countersocial potential; it may be used to express the child’s feelings of outrage…over the pressure to conform to rules that constrain instinctual life and frustrate personal desire” (117). Just as Lizy saw frustration in the code of conduct expected of her, I too desired a broader definition for a young man. I didn’t see it as wrong that I was identifying more with Lizy Bennett just because we represented different genders. Most of the friends who read Pride and Prejudice were girls so most agreed with me about seeing Lizy as the best character and wanting to emulate her. However, just as I saw more connection with the opposite gender I still remember one or two girls who liked Mr. Darcy the most. While they did not dislike Lizy and the Bennet sisters, they were drawn to Mr. Darcy’s reserved and calculated nature. Media sources certainly start out with an intended use for specific people, however as experience shows the act of watching, reading, listening to media can create complex reactions.

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3 thoughts on “A Young Man’s Fascination with Ms. Bennet

  1. LOVE this post, Nathan. It definitely speaks to the ways in which identification can be rooted so much more in *character* — as opposed to gender/sex. I especially love how you point to the way that girls, too, don’t necessarily identify exclusively with the much-lauded Lizzy Bennett. Do you feel like you still identify/admire Lizzy, even today?

  2. I definitely still admire Lizzy (enhanced by re-watching the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice with Ehle and Firth). As I’ve gotten older and with dating becoming a bigger part of my life, I’ve tried to imitate her resolve and playfulness with potential partners.

  3. I saw this post and had to read it, being a HUGE Pride and Prejudice fan myself. I loved what you said about Lizzy, and how witty and intelligent she was portrayed in the book/movie adaptations, and I thought it was interesting when you said that you thought you were meant to identify with Mr. Darcy more. When I read the book, and even other books by Austen, I felt that she definitely included VERY strong female characters, but also very admirable male characters. I found myself identifying with both of them, which also seems like the opposite of what is expected. Especially in Pride and Prejudice, I found that I could relate to the reserved and honorable side of Mr. Darcy, while I admired Lizzy’s spirit, and her loyalty to herself and her family. In this way, I definitely agree with Annie in saying that it was more about the character than the gender or sex of the person. Perhaps that is an element of Austen’s work that makes me love it so much!

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