Kemmerly 1 Rowan Kemmerly Professor Jacobson English 224 12 November 18 This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True Early on in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley unknowingly points out the absurdity in the requirements for a 19th-century woman’s artistic and intellectual proficiency: “It is amazing to me, how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished, as they all are…I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished” (Austen 38-9). This observation begs the question of what it really means to be “accomplished”: if all women clamor to be described this way, and are, how could anyone truly set themselves apart from the crowd? Darcy is right in his response to Bingley that on top of the laundry list of typical societal requirements for success, a woman “must yet add something more substantial” (39). But he does not yet understand that this supplement cannot be obtained through merely “the improvement of her mind by extensive reading”. As Elizabeth Bennet will eventually prove to him, personal achievement (and in turn, attractiveness) needs instead something of independence and confidence. Elizabeth sets her own standards for “accomplishment”, based around a high regard for self-awareness, and steadfastly enacts them throughout the entire duration of the novel. She does exhibit moral development, which her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, helps to guide her through. However, she is more stagnant of a character than Darcy, beneficially so, and eventually becomes able to use her flaws to her advantage. Kemmerly 2 In the configuration where Darcy and Elizabeth initially embody the two titular characteristics, respectively, many of Elizabeth’s attributes can be defined by her own kind of pride, which I believe has the ability to be just as impactful as her prejudice. Elizabeth obviously represents the ultimate self-reliant heroine with a mind of her own, but she can sometimes take this veneration for independence a step too far, unjustly projecting her need for it onto others. Elizabeth’s relationship with Charlotte is irrevocably damaged when the latter marries Mr. Collins because Elizabeth cannot be empathetic enough to understand that they have different but equally respectable intentions in marrying. She sees Charlotte as “disgracing herself” (123) by marrying Mr. Collins, and selfishly believes that Charlotte would’ve been better off staying alone (for the rest of her life, inevitably) rather than marrying a man who, however ridiculous, could provide her with material security. And before Darcy reveals Wickham’s true character, Elizabeth goes so far as to believe that Wickham is justified in wanting a “mercenary” marriage, even though that goes against what she thought about Charlotte’s similar situation, saying that she “did not quarrel with him for his wish of independence” (147). Mr. Bingley also becomes subject to Elizabeth’s scrutiny when she discusses his ostensible abandonment of Jane with her aunt. Mrs. Gardiner attributes Jane and Bingley’s separation to mere accident, but Elizabeth responds to this harshly: “An excellent consolation in its way, but it will not do for us. We do not suffer by accident” (138). As Bingley is perhaps more free to act as he’d like with his money and life in general than any other man in the novel, Elizabeth looks down on him for becoming susceptible to his sisters’ (and as we later realize, also Darcy’s) meddling. Elizabeth’s confident assertion that she and her favorite sister “do not suffer by accident” also highlights another one of her flaws. Even though Elizabeth and her cousin Mr. Collins essentially have nothing in common, they share the trait of often believing themselves to hold Kemmerly 3 more importance in the world than they actually do. Mr. Collins’ constant grandstanding about his connection to Lady Catherine reeks of conceit—he was singled out as more deserving than anyone else on the planet to serve his near-divine patroness. Obviously Elizabeth’s egotism manifests itself on a much smaller scale, but it is recognizable nonetheless. Her language when speaking with her aunt implies a certainty that she and Jane are somehow less deserving of unfortunate romantic outcomes than anyone else because of their inherent goodness, moral rectitude, and relatively unprivileged background. Mrs. Gardiner doesn’t try to downplay Elizabeth’s disappointment, but merely aims to put it in perspective: “I am sorry [Jane’s match with Bingley] went off. But these things happen so often! A young man, such as you describe Mr. Bingley, so easily falls in love with a pretty girl for a few weeks, and when accident separates them, so easily forgets her, that these sort of inconstancies are very frequent” (138). But this affirmation of normalcy doesn’t impress upon Elizabeth straight away—she maintains that Bingley’s love for Jane was “violent”, even though Mrs. Gardiner points out how hackneyed and hyperbolic of a phrase that is. Regarding her relationship with Wickham at the time, Elizabeth again admits that she sees herself as exceptional. Even though Wickham has shifted his interest from her to Miss King, she supposes that this is only due to Wickham practically being attracted to her 10,000 pounds. “Her heart had been but slightly touched, and her vanity was satisfied with believing that she would have been his only choice, had fortune permitted it” (147). This observation initially seems to bear a resemblance to Lady Catherine’s boasting that she knows for a fact her daughter Anne would be incredible at piano if only “her health had allowed her to learn” (172). But Lady’s Catherine’s assertion comes from a place of entirely undeserved, blind adulation for her coddled daughter. What is important about Elizabeth’s admittance of vanity is that she is being candidly open and not trying to hide away her (very Kemmerly 4 human) thoughts, however self-indulgent they may be. Elizabeth also describes how she hasn’t sought attention in this situation with Wickham, professing, “I cannot say that I regret my comparative insignificance. Importance may sometimes be purchased too dearly” (147). She will not take his defection to heart and can understand that it’s perfectly okay to not always be the most important person to everyone she’ll encounter in life. This eventual recognition of “insignificance” is a crucial aspect of Elizabeth’s personality. She sets herself apart from other women by being extremely conscious of the fact that in many ways, she is actually the same as other women. For one, she can comfortably divulge her own shortcomings. After Mrs. Gardiner keenly is “rendered suspicious by Elizabeth’s warm commendation of [Wickham]” (140), Elizabeth heeds her caution to not fall in love with a man who would not be able to support her financially, but only conditionally. “How can I promise to be wiser than so many of my fellow-creatures if I am tempted, or how am I even to know that it would be wisdom to resist? All that I can promise you, therefore, is not to be in a hurry…in short, I will do my best” (143). “Doing our best” is all anyone can strive for, in the end, and Elizabeth is no different. And although she often ends up enumerating her faults more so than her merits, she still doesn’t ever undervalue her own worth and capacity. A passage from the middle of the novel, in which she describes her ability to play piano, illuminates this particularly well: “My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault— because I would not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any woman’s of superior execution.” (171) Kemmerly 5 She says “to be my own fault” with such calm assurance that it doesn’t feel like she’s admitting failure. And she isn’t—Darcy even agrees that she doesn’t sound bad at all, yet has spent her time cultivating her personality and skills in ways that are truer to herself than obsessing over piano practice. On the whole, Elizabeth embraces mediocrity as a means to achieve selfawareness, which in turn rewards her with happiness and personal success. She goes against the circumscriptions society has laid out for her, but not just for the sake of being recalcitrant, and never wholly selfishly. The aforementioned passage is what Elizabeth offers up as an analogy to Darcy explaining that he does not have the talent of “conversing easily with those I have never met before” (171). This is not exactly a confession of social anxiety, however—what Darcy describes is a lack of motivation to please and flatter people in a fake manner. Here, some very telling similarities can be drawn between the two protagonists. Darcy observes, “We neither of us perform to strangers”, effectively describing an integral part of their mutual attraction. Both Elizabeth and Darcy follow their own moral compasses, which prove malleable in positive ways, and aren’t overly influenced by the expectations of their families and friends. Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth in large part due to how she presents herself to the world as unabashedly imperfect, and Elizabeth is attracted to the prospect of marrying Mr. Darcy because she sees him as indefinitely improvable. If Elizabeth were perfect and fully accomplished, she would have no need to or room to grow in a married relationship, and no incentive to help her partner grow as well. Elizabeth proves again and again that it’s possible to simultaneously possess a strong sense of self-worth and the ability to self-deprecate to a healthy degree. And the self-worth she feels is different from Mr. Darcy’s “pride”—it comes from a place of respect, not a sense of Kemmerly 6 societal superiority and entitlement engrained since birth. Beyond working past her proclivity for prejudice, which is definitively marked by her reading Mr. Darcy’s letter and realizing, “Till this moment, I never knew myself” (202), Elizabeth’s fundamental character remains essentially the same from the beginning of the novel to its end. It is her determined persona that ultimately leads her and Darcy to matrimonial happiness, specifically through her interactions with Lady Catherine at the end of the novel. Lady Catherine asks, “You are then resolved to have him?” to which Elizabeth responds, “I have said no such thing. I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or any person so wholly unconnected with me…neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude have any possible claim on me, in the present instance.” Elizabeth’s speech here is a powerful testament to her commendable self-reliance. I don’t believe that Darcy would’ve necessarily had a strong enough will to propose a second time if Lady Catherine had not inevitably complained to him about (what she saw as) Elizabeth’s reprehensible behavior. He eventually explains, “I knew enough of your disposition to be certain, that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly” (347). Elizabeth is notably stronger than Darcy in this relationship, and she ultimately achieves happiness not exclusively through marrying him, but rather through the process of self-discovery and commitment to her own values that gets her there. Kemmerly 7 Works Cited Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Edited by Vivien Jones, Penguin Books, 1813.