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Home » , » Elizabeth Bennet - A Studier of Character
Elizabeth Bennet, shares with her creator Jane Austen a humorous interest in the people around her. Despite her youth and the limitations of a rural society, Elizabeth is a busy "studier of character" and she tells Bingley that "intricate characters are the most amusing". Ironically, the comedy of errors arises out of the fact that though Elizabeth is confident of her ability to read character, she fails in understanding the characters and motives of intricate people.

As far as the simple characters are concerned Elizabeth has good reason to credit herself with the ability to discern people and situations extraordinarily well. The simple characters have no surprises for Elizabeth, and consequently none for us.

She understanding her family perfectly. She is aware and embarrassed by the vulgarity of her mother, the listless pedantry of Mary, the frivolity and empty-headedness of Kitty and the dangers of Lydia's flirtations. She becomes conscious even of the cynical irresponsibility of her father. She comprehends the conceit and pretentiousness of the Bingley sisters beneath their mask of affability. She knows Mr. Collins to be an affected fool from the first letter he writes to them and is not cowed down by the formidable Lady Catherine. She is aware, too of the pleasant ingenuity of Jane.

Her Failure in Understanding Intricate Characters:

Indeed, her failures are with the intricate people who stand in a relationship of great intimacy to her: Charlotte Lucas, George Wickham, Darcy. Elizabeth makes these errors because 'intimacy blues perception, intelligence fails if there is insufficient distance between mind and object'.

Elizabeth fails in understanding Charlotte because she is her intimate friend even though Charlotte has given enough indications of her opinions on marriage. Discussing the Jane-Bingley attachment Charlotte says, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance" and dismisses totally the need to know or even like the person one is to marry. But Elizabeth does not believe this statement and even tells her, "you would never act in this way yourself" and hence is shocked when Charlotte accepts Collins's proposal. Now for the first time she begins to see Charlotte as she really is : "and felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again" and confineds in Jane her firm belief of the 'inconsistency of all human characters'. Elizabeth fails in understanding the intricate Charlotte, who is sensible and intelligent and yet ready to overlook love and settle for economic security in marriage. Elizabeth's affection for Charlotte obscures her usual clarity and depth of understanding and blinds her to the demerits of her friend.

With Darcy of course, Elizabeth fails completely. She does not give herself a chance to know how she really feels about him. Their first encounter is comically disastrous. Darcy refuses to dance with her commenting that she is "not handsome enough to tempt me". Despite her apparently light hearted dismissal of the incident, Darcy's slight has hurt Elizabeth's vanity and initiated the prejudice she will nourish against him. Thus, at Netherfield Park, when she finds Darcy staring at her with apparent fascination, she misinterprets it totally, imagining that she drew his notice because there was something wrong and reprehensible about her.

It is her prejudice against Darcy infact which leads her to be taken in by another intricate character ------ George Wickham. With his pleasing manners and charm, Wickham fools Elizabeth totally. She fails to see him as the rouge that he is and given her prejudice, she is only too ready to believe Wickham's tale of being wronged by Darcy. The reader, if he is careful enough can see that Wickham cautiously tries out the ground before he slanders Darcy's character. He asks Elizabeth whether she is acquainted with Darcy and she in her blind prejudice indiscreetly reveals, " I think him very disagreeable " and this is what prompts Wickham to tell her of Darcy's cruelty to him. Yet Elizabeth is not aware of his deception and totally deceives herself, allowing herself to be charmed by his smooth social facade. The incongruities inherent in Wickham's account of the injustice he has suffered at Darcy's hands and the gross impropriety of his revelation are quite obvious and had the episode involved any two persons except Darcy and Wickham, she would have noticed them. Being intimately involved as she is, she errs and errs fatally.

It is only on receiving Darcy's letter that she realizes she has been "blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd" and this dramatic moment of self-revelation gradually brings about a total awareness of reality. She comes to know Wickham for what he is ---- a charming, dissembling, unprincipled flirt. And she begins to comprehend Darcy as exactly
 
"the man, who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her."


Elizabeth, coming from a background which has little moral standards ---- her mother is stupid and her father has ironically withdrawn from his natural responsibility for his family's moral welfare ---- has to rely on her own taste and commonsense and decision, and she is too sure of herself. Generally, her opinions of people are proved right in the case of simple characters but she fails in understanding the intricate characters and it is from this that the comedy of errors arises.
Elizabeth Bennet - A Studier of  Character


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