The best of Jane Austen
This semester, I dedicated much of my reading time to Jane Austen, a requirement of my literature course. I leafed through “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Mansfield Park” and “Persuasion.” From my studies, I figured, why not dedicate a column to her best characters. I’m sure people will care about my opinion. Hopefully, you all do. A quick disclaimer is that I have yet to read “Sense and Sensibility,” so none of the characters from that novel are included on this list. Also, there are spoilers if you haven’t read the novels yet.
1. Elizabeth Bennet (“Pride and Prejudice”)
Elizabeth Bennet soars to the top of the list, respectively, due to her strong sense of self-awareness. In my opinion, she still serves as an important role-model for women today. Though her reading of the world is flawed, Elizabeth consistently exerts self-respect, as opposed to most of the other characters in the novel. She doesn’t get with the guy until he has changed. She is fearless and independent, with a touch of sarcasm, rendering her one of Austen’s strongest and humorous heroines. To be honest, every time I take one of those Buzzfeed quizzes titled “What Literary Character Are You?” I get her. I like to take that as a compliment. A notable quote of hers is: “I thank you for my share of the favour, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.”
2. Fitzwilliam Darcy (“Pride and Prejudice”)
In all honesty, Fitzwilliam Darcy is the man of everyone’s dreams. He has it all: the money, the estate, the looks and a way with words. When I say that he has a way with words, I mean that, he takes up about 10 pages in the novel with one letter. Despite his consistent rambling, he is also the one male that experiences the most growth in any of Austen’s novels in a good way. One dynamic character structure Austen creates helps Darcy him all the more realistic as he wins Elizabeth Bennet’s heart (and all of ours). A notable quote of his is: “You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”
3. Emma Woodhouse (“Emma”)
Emma Woodhouse tops as number three on this list, holding a special place in my heart. If you haven’t read “Emma,” you’ve most likely watched “Clueless,” a loose adaptation of Austen’s novel starring Alicia Silverstone. Emma is a charming and caring heroine, though a bit of an airhead, who spends much of her free time playing matchmaker to oh-so-lucky bachelors. She is another one of Austen’s independent women, being rich and in much control of her father’s estate. She has no desire to be married and doesn’t need a man to take care of her. In fact, she spends her life taking care of her father, which is what differentiates her from the other heroines. She means well but sticks her nose into too many peoples’ business. I can’t help but love her for it, though. Her nosiness not only brings her entertainment, but us as readers. A notable quote of hers is: “I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other.”
4. Isabella Thorpe (“Northanger Abbey”)
She’s not the smartest woman on the list, but Isabella Thorpe is certainly one of Austen’s most entertaining characters. She is shallow and will give up almost anything for a rich husband and perfect lifestyle. Her passion for dancing, laughter and fashion make her a realistically drawn teenager. Though she is more of an antagonist, she brings all the humor to “Northanger Abbey,” saving the whole novel. In fact, every single thing that she says or even thinks is overall ridiculous. I can’t tell you why she is the way that she is, but I love it. Her most notable quote is: “I have always forgot to ask you what is your favourite complexion in a man. Do you like them best dark or fair?”
5. Harriet Smith (“Emma”)
Harriet Smith is one of Emma Woodhouse’s bachelorettes in Austen’s novel. Unlike the other Austen characters on this list, she doesn’t necessarily have her own opinion. She is dragged around everywhere by Emma, who desires to help improve her chances of moving up on the social ladder. Though she lacks a mind of her own, she is a lovable character due to her innocence and ridiculousness at some points. She is genuinely sweet, and we almost feel bad for her throughout the novel because of her luck. The poor girl can’t catch a break with men. She falls easily and handles break-ups not so well. I still rooted for her. Her most notable moment is when she shows up to Emma’s home with a parcel full of trinkets that she stole from Mr. Elton, one of them being a used bandage, to burn in order to get over him. Hopefully some of us found that relatable.
Honorable Mention: Mrs. Elton
Honest to God, this woman is so insane that I could not refrain from including her. She is so irritating that it is, ironically, entertaining to read. She has an inflated self-worth. By that, I mean she is that one prissy aunt you have to tolerate at family events, the kind who always turns the conversation to herself because she thinks that she’s the center of the universe. No one can stand her and her Queen-B persona in the novel, except the reader. I personally enjoy her because of her clash with Emma, who also tends to believe that she is the center of the universe, or at least of Highbury, England. There is never a dull moment with this one.
Jane Austen was, indeed, far ahead of her time as a writer. I didn’t quite realize how relatable her characters were still today until I picked up one of her novels. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that feminist writers like Austen have helped to shape history not only for writers but for the world: her works (and characters) will never quite go out of style.
Lauren Fitzgerald, a senior, studies English. She is the Arts and Entertainment Editor of Le Provocateur.