Quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
An essay-like post centering around the protagonists of Pride & Prejudice and Little Women. Based on observations and analysis of the original novels, not the film adaptations.
Two of classic literature’s most beloved heroines are none other than Elizabeth Bennet and Jo March, penned by Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. These two characters, brought to life on the page with their beauty, charm, intelligence, and namely, their outspoken opinions that reflect on the world around us, were written during a time when women had significantly fewer rights than they have now. The authors’ characters were truly embodiments of their voices, and these incredible women chose literature to express themselves in this way.
Elizabeth Bennet is headstrong, opinionated, and bold. She is determined to marry for love, and not for riches or status. Her mother disagrees with this thinking, and many others did at that time. Nevertheless, Elizabeth doesn’t let anyone change her opinion on what a true, happy marriage is.
Jo March is tomboyish, ambitious, and has quite the temper. She desires to become a well-known author, and maintains a loving bond with her mother and sisters, despite some bumps and bruises. Jo at first refuses to marry, for she longs to be close to family forever, in distance and not just heart.
As time goes on, Elizabeth navigates a complicated relationship with the proud Darcy while Jo struggles to adjust to major changes in her life. Both learn several important lessons along the way, including acceptance, fairness, and adapting.
Pride & Prejudice and Little Women both tackle the topics of 1) going outside of the norm, 2) being yourself, and 3) following your heart with constraint.
As discussed above, both Elizabeth and Jo have ideals that are not shared with society, but they don’t let that stop them. In Elizabeth’s case, she gets love and wealth with Darcy, while Jo gains happiness and stability with Bhaer. These two manage to not let society’s rules restrain them, thus being who they want to be and keeping their identity. The two novels acknowledge that Elizabeth and Jo were able to follow their heart while still maintaining etiquette and manners. This is especially important, for it does not only matter if one makes their mark, but how they make it as well.
Sisterhood is of course a common theme, and a large motivator for character actions and decisions. In these two books, all the different sisters embody different types of women, all with unique outlooks on life. Jane and Meg follow the traditional wifely pattern that was in vogue at the time. Elizabeth and Jo defy the norm, as discussed earlier. Mary and Beth are musical and sensible. Kitty and Lydia are flighty and playful, and are more wont to approach serious subjects with a dangerous lightheartedness. Amy initially struggles with being selfless, yet is able to rely on herself in adulthood without needing to depend too much on other factors (although she appreciates the idea of marriage).
I shall quote two passages from Pride & Prejudice and Little Women respectively, in the hopes that it can further illustrate what I wish to convey.
Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.
A little gray-coated sand bird came tripping over the beach ‘peeping’ softly to itself, as if enjoying the sun and sea.……..“Dear little bird! See, Jo, how tame it is. I like peeps better than the gulls. They are not so wild and handsome, but they seem happy, confiding little things. I used to call them my birds last summer, and Mother said they reminded her of me–busy, quaker-colored creatures, always near the shore, and always chirping that contented little song of theirs. You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone. Meg is the turtledove, and Amy is like the lark she writes about, trying to get up among the clouds, but always dropping down into its nest again. Dear little girl! She’s so ambitious, but her heart is good and tender, and no matter how high she flies, she never will forget home. I hope I shall see her again, but she seems so far away.”
Aren’t these passages simply beautiful? In poetic ways, they speak to us about brave, spirited, unique women — and all who want the best in life…to reach their castles in the air…
Now…a testament to great writing is when authors can make the readers think about the characters long after the book has fallen out of their limp hands and daydream about the fantastical world they have shut the covers on. But another testament is the authors’ abilities to deliver morals, teach life lessons, and tell the stories of all the people whose voices cannot be heard…through the creamy pages and black ink of their novels. And I believe both testaments are satisfied by the timeless classics of Pride & Prejudice and Little Women.