Growing up I went through an extended awkward phase that lasted approximately 11 years. I was short, near-sighted, chubby, and spotted. To say I was an ugly duckling would be a gentle euphemism and probably a bit of an understatement. In order to survive my adolescence, I learned to accessorize wisely, developed a sarcastic sense of humor, and pretended like I didn’t care. Like, literally. About anything. At all. I also read a lot, developing a special affinity for books about girls who, like me, were smart and were not beautiful, books about girls who were both funny and socially awkward.
Two of my all-time favorite characters were none other than Anne Shirley and Jo March, our most recent Ladies in Waiting heroines. Anne and Jo both had a unique way of seeing the worlds they inhabited. They each spoke un-romantically about being the least pretty girl in the room. They were bright, articulate and imaginative. I carried them each in my heart for a long time and rejoiced whenever I found new female characters that were, as Anne would say, kindred spirits. This month, it is my pleasure to celebrate some of them with you.
Kindred Spirit #1: Elizabeth Bennet
Belongs to: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
The second of the Bennet family’s five daughters, Elizabeth Bennet is pressured by her family to make a marriage of convenience in order to provide economic security for herself and her large family. Elizabeth is a notable heroine because while she is not the most beautiful or the most talented of the Bennet sisters, she makes the most successful match in a novel wherein the central action is built around the pursuit of matrimony.
Elizabeth Bennet is also a romantic; while her family wants her to make a marriage in order to save their family estate, Elizabeth wants to marry for love. Her relationship with the wealthy, handsome Mr. Darcy, who snubs her upon their first meeting because she is not pretty enough to dance with, is the stuff modern chick-lit is made of. Seriously…Bridget Jones and that Shopaholic girl would be nowhere without my Lizzie!
A series of missed opportunities and misunderstandings plague Elizabeth and Darcy throughout the novel, many of which showcase Elizabeth behaving badly. Elizabeth frequently speaks her mind, only to regret it moments later. She is sometimes judgmental and is often a harsh critic. In other words, she is refreshingly human and imperfect. As a kid who ate and breathed books, meeting Elizabeth Bennet was important. Literature, particularly literature intended for young women, tends to be peopled with female characters I couldn’t relate to or didn’t like, insipid girls who were unrelatable because they were beautiful or rich or did everything they were supposed to do (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Wakefield). They didn’t look like me, sound like me, or have my problems. Somehow, Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman dreamed up several centuries before I was born, was more like me than the modern day female heroines I rolled my eyes at.
“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”
“Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing after all.”
“‘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 practising.’”
Would be friends with: Kristy Thomas (President and founding member of The Babysitters Club); Daria; Clarissa Darling (“Clarissa Explains it All”)