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Over the Thanksgiving break, I decided to pick up an old favorite, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I've read this book a number of times, and every time I read it, I find something new I didn't notice or that I forgot about. Pride and Prejudice is about the Bennett sisters, specifically the second eldest, Elizabeth Bennett. Because they have no brother, once their father dies, his fortune and their home will go to their closest male relative, their cousin Mr. Collins. In order to avoid homelessness and complete destitution, the girls must make good marriages. Unfortunately, living in the English countryside doesn't give them a whole lot of options. They feel very fortunate when, in a stroke of luck, a wealthy gentleman moves into a neighboring mansion. Elizabeth's sister Jane immediately falls for their new neighbor, Mr. Bingley. Unfortunately, with Mr. Bingley comes Mr. Darcy, whose pride and haughty nature make him unpopular in the countryside. Elizabeth immediately dislikes Mr. Darcy. It would be safe to say she can't stand him, so imagine her surprise when he asks her to marry him! Elizabeth rejects him on the spot, but as the story goes on, she starts to wonder if maybe she didn't make a terrible error in judegment. Is Mr. Darcy really so bad? You'll have to read it to find out.
So, why, you may ask, do I love Pride and Prejudice so much? Well, it's because of Elizabeth Bennett. She might not seem like it by today's standards, but for her time, she's a rebel. To me, she’s the original feminist working within the confines of her society to bring about change. Elizabeth doesn’t just accept her lot in life with complacency. Instead she’s feisty. She speaks her mind. She turns down marriage proposals even knowing that her future is uncertain because she wants something better for herself in her life. She tells Mr Darcy, "You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it," (131). Harsh.
She stands up to wealthy heiresses who don’t know how to mind their own business, such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lady de Bourgh says to Elizabeth, "Miss Bennett I am shocked and astonished. I expected to find a more reasonable young woman." She says this because Elizabeth refuses to just bow down and do what she says. Lady de Bourgh isn't used to people standing up to her, but Elizabeth takes the challenge without batting an eye.
However, Elizabeth knows when she’s made a mistake and she takes responsibility for them. For example, when she learns that she's made a mistake in supposing Mr. Darcy to be a prideful man and realizes that he's actually quite honorable, she spends the remainder of the novel trying to make amends for it. In a word, she’s awesome and a role model for girls both now and in the 1800s.