In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Elizabeth is an intelligent, strong, inspiring woman, despite the limits of her time. When I began reading this novel, I was astounded by the differences between society then and now. Women were truly treated as property, and their lives mainly revolved around marriage from a young age. Marriage was a way for women to move up socioeconomically, and was certainly not principally based on love. However, in this novel, Elizabeth begins to fall in love with Mr. Darcy. They challenge one another intellectually, and both have a kind spirit and social etiquette. Unfortunately, Lady Catherine, an upper-class woman who is also Mr. Darcy’s aunt, does not approve of their union. Before they even get engaged, Lady Catherine travels to Elizabeth’s home, to advise, nay direct Elizabeth not to marry Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine’s behaviour is despicable, not to mention insulting to Elizabeth and her family. And all because Lady Catherine wants her own daughter, Mr. Darcy’s cousin, to marry him instead. She essentially says that she will not leave until Elizabeth promises her that she will not get engaged to Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth’s response to this rude and forceful statement is as followed:
“And I certainly never shall give it. I am not to be intimidated into any thing so wholly unreasonable. Your ladyship wants Mr. Darcy to marry your daughter; but would my giving you the wished-for promise make their marriage at all more probable? Supposing him to be attached to me, would my refusing to accept his hand make him wish to bestow it on his cousin? Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application have been as frivolous as the application was ill judge. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. How far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.” (p. 304-305)
In this response, Elizabeth achieves everything I would long to say in a similar situation. She presents herself as articulate, respectful, and brave. She defends herself, and her honour to a woman who is disrespecting her on the highest level. In the 18th century, this was quite uncommon behaviour on both sides. As far as I’m aware, society was conducted in a very civil manner, and respect was always given when deserved. One, especially a woman, would rarely speak out of turn to defend oneself. This is something that makes my skin crawl. Although they were conditioned to being proper, silent, and reserved, I could not imagine a world in which I could not stand up for myself or voice my opinions. However, I would have likely conformed in this case, due to societal pressure. But not Elizabeth. She demonstrates her respect for herself and her family. She proves that women could be powerful in this time. She’s truly an inspiration, and I aspire to speak as eloquently and persuasively as she did in this passage.