Who wanted to be Lizzie Bennet? Not me, aged 10, that's for sure. I wanted to be elder sister Jane, who was beautiful and good. She thought the best of everyone, even when Miss Bingley was being a total cow. Even then, I felt dimly, this was going to be beyond me, and therefore something to aspire to.
The great appeal of Jane Austen (and I know this week she is being dissected to death, so sorry) is that she has a heroine for every woman. Emma for those who know it all but mean well, Elinor for the sensible but suppressed, Marianne for the no-one-understands-me drama queens, Catherine for the blundering but brave and Fanny for those who consider themselves unseen yet are far stronger than they imagine. My friends and I used to spend hours dissecting which-Jane-Austen-heroine-are-you? (Having said that, no one ever volunteered that they were Fanny. Ever.)
All of us, though, really secretly wanted our friends to say admiringly, "you know, you're just like Elizabeth Bennet." She is the gold star of Austen heroines, and I could see that once I'd got over Jane Bennet's beauty and kindness as qualities to survive on. Lizzie has lashings of bright eyes, spirit and wit, enough to deal with those twin hags of Pride and Prejudice, Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine De Burgh. But she's not so pretty we can't relate to her, and her life. Who hasn't got turned down by the hot guy who seems to really fancy himself ? Who hasn't had the kind of suitor in Mr Collins that we have to practically fake our own death to get rid of? And who hasn't fallen for a total tool? (You're lying if you say no.) Lizzie's initial attraction for Mr Wickham and spurning of Mr Darcy, choosing the glamorous over the good, is the story of women the world over.
That said, I think Mr Darcy only acquired his ker-fwaaaar quality off the back of jumping into that lake in the BBC version in 1996 (some new readers to 'P and P' are surprised that doesn't happen in the Austen version, and to be honest, she was missing a trick) and the subsequent hiring of Colin Firth for Bridget Jones's Diary. However, this is the reason why we can celebrate 'Pride and Prejudice' two hundred years later. The characters all exist today. Mrs Bennet would be the kind of mother splashed across the Mail with the headlines " I spent 20,000 on my daughters plastic surgery" - accompanied by Kitty and Lydia ( though Lydia would end up living a Chantelle Houghton lifestyle in her Ugg boots, making a living of supermarket magazines.) Miss Bingley would almost certainly live in Fulham, and work in publishing. Jane would marry Prince William.
As for Lizzie Bennet, I like to imagine she'd be an entertainment journalist, who would suddenly realises that Ryan Gosling's just shy, not standoffish, when he dives in a pond to cool off in front of his large stately home. Hey, you're welcome to come visit us at Pemberley any time.
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