11:00 am EDT, February 4, 2016

Here’s why Jane Austen’s characters are timelessly relatable

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is putting a new twist on a Jane Austen favorite, but these heroines don’t need a stake in hand for us to love them.

Forget martial arts, we don’t need to add anything to these Jane Austen leading ladies for them to capture our hearts. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies turns the Bennet sisters into monster-fighting badasses, but perhaps the hesitation of some audiences to get on board with this admittedly highly enjoyable film is because the original characters feel so timeless to us already.

So which of her famous heroines is the most relatable? Don’t worry, we’ve got the answer for you…the only problem is, we all have a different answer. We’ve stated our case, and we’ll let you decide.

Elizabeth Bennet from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – Marama Whyte

One of the shining moments of — let’s just go all out — of my life occurred when I took one of those generic “which character are you?” quizzes. You know the ones; you’re bored at work, you spot it on Facebook, you answer a few questions, choose your favorite color and your favorite potato, and are allocated a Pride and Prejudice character. Two of my friends took it and both got Charlotte Lucas. I was beginning to think it was all an elaborate prank, and that the definitely unwanted Lucas was the only possible result. And then I got Elizabeth Bennet.

Now no one wants to be told that they’re Charlotte Lucas, but there was more to my smug pleasure than simply “winning” the quiz. I have loved Austen’s books for as long as I can remember, and Elizabeth has always been at the centre of that.

jane austen heroines elizabeth bennet

Long before she became the brand new Buffy, as she will be in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Elizabeth Bennet was my favorite of Jane Austen’s women. Now, a lot of people want to be Elizabeth because of her gruff and grumpy love interest, but that was never a part of it. Forget Darcy, it was Elizabeth who was well read, charming, intelligent, and spoke her mind without hesitation — all aspirational qualities, to my young mind.

Of course as I grew up, the Elizabeth I knew grew too. Elizabeth goes through a large change in Pride and Prejudice, and I too saw that her quick judgement was not always her most enviable quality, and that compromise is not a completely dirty word. Rather than lessening my love for Lizzy, her willingness to accept her flaws only made her all the more admirable. I love most of Austen’s characters, but I truly like Lizzy. We all want to be her, and if we can’t be, we at least want to be around her — wonderful, frustrating woman that she is.

Elinor Dashwood from ‘Sense and Sensibility’ – Laura Byrne Cristiano

Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility is the sense half that the tile refers to. Elinor has a firm grip on reality. She knows exactly what her circumstances are likely to be upon the death of her father, and she takes action. Every other person in her family is either too grief stricken to help, living in a fantasy world where everything will be fine, finds it all too distressing to ponder the future, and/or is simply too young to help. Elinor puts her own life on hold, because she knows that the survival of her mother and sisters depend upon her. She has to be mother, sister, guardian, and the voice of reason, even if that makes her at times unpopular.

What I love about Elinor is that she just gets it done. She knows that no one else is about to step up, so she doesn’t wallow, instead she knows she can make it all work. Every time something goes wrong Elinor is the one with the clear head. She can handle medical emergencies or tell off a disreputable suitor. She can manage the household income, and still find time for her family.

jane austen heroines elinor dashwood

When Elinor experiences heartbreak, she stays strong because she knows that her family needs her. She doesn’t have the luxury of falling apart, or grieving publicly. This isn’t to say she feels nothing, quite the opposite. She loves very deeply, but she’s private, and doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. In short she is a survivor who fortunately does get exactly what she wanted at the end of the novel when her suitor sees the error of his ways. Even if he didn’t, though, Elinor would have been fine without him.

Catherine Morland from ‘Northanger Abbey’ – Brittany Lovely

Is there no better thrill than getting lost in a good book? While reading is one of the great joys of my life, there is always that dreadful moment waiting to snap you back into reality. Perhaps that is why Catherine Morland is my favorite of Jane Austen’s leading ladies. An avid reader removed from her novels for an extended holiday with a few unsavory characters, Catherine employs her imagination to transform her new dwelling in Bath into her own gothic novel.

Catherine has a hard time interacting socially, often misinterpreting simple conversations while trying to appropriately assign everyone a place in her literary scenario. Personally, I would much rather spend some social engagements sorting the gathered party into Hogwarts houses than try to make small talk. But just like in Catherine’s world, that type of behavior is misconstrued as having a naive understanding of the world. She is excused for her lack of social upbringing as she constantly apologizes, most of the time after having said the most inappropriate things.

jane austen heroines catherine morland

Catherine’s wild imagination, weaving farfetched ideas of the truths behind Northanger Abbey and Henry Tilney, may render her laughable to some. That is part of Austen’s design. Catherine is the lens through which Austen created a gothic parody. She outgrows her childish obsession with mysteries chests, haunted castles, and romanticized villains, only to see that people are not limited by the words out down on the page to describe them.

Her given suitor, Henry Tilney, is nothing to scoff at either. He embraces Catherine’s interest in the written word and holds her opinions in high regard. That can not be said of all Austen’s men. Looking at you, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Lizzy is great, and Fanny Price is fine, but I’d much rather escape into Catherine’s head and see a world of filled with mystery and possibility.

Fanny Price from ‘Mansfield Park’ – Jen Lamoureux

While all of Jane Austen’s female characters speak to me in some way there is something unique about Fanny Price. At the age of nine Fanny is sent to live with her uncle, Sir Thomas and aunt, Lady Bertram and their four children. Of course there is the odious Mrs. Norris who is also Fanny’s aunt. Perhaps my love of Fanny comes from the fact that even though she is thrust upon her wealthy relatives and she is always reminded of her place she still finds a way to be kind.

Fanny never tries to live outside the place she is given in the family and is frequently reminded by Mrs. Norris that she is not equal to her cousins Maria and Julia. Even when faced with conflict Fanny doesn’t shy away from her beliefs. At one point Fanny is offered marriage, by a very eligible bachelor, but she knows that his intent is not pure and refuses him. This shows the inner strength of Fanny, even when she is pressured by her family and biggest confidant, Edmund, Fanny remains true to herself.

jane austen heroines fanny price

Unlike other Austen heroines Fanny is quite and a bit shy. She does not jump off the page like Lizzie Bennett or Emma Woodhouse instead she sits on the fringes observing those around her. This allows Fanny to understand those around better even if they do not understand her. I enjoy this about Fanny’s characters and it makes her incredibly interesting.

Sadly, there has yet be an adaptation of Mansfield Park that actually fits the complexity of the book. Fanny is often not portrayed as she is in the book or other characters become caricature of themselves. However, of the two adaptations I have seen I think both are equal in what they lack. Although the 1999 version does have Jonny Lee Miller so that does help push I a little ahead of the 2007 BBC version.

Which Jane Austen heroine is your choice?

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