Happy New Year!
In honor of the New Year, I figured I would post about two of my favorite Jane Austen characters (okay, who am I kidding, they are two of my favorite overall literary characters as well): Emma Woodhouse from Emma and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
I like to think that Emma and Elizabeth, or Lizzy as she’s often referred to, would be good friends. Both are smart, witty, and social. Both get involved at one point with guys who turn out to be liars. On the surface, they can appear to have a lot of the same character traits. Yet…
Emma is a homebody whereas Lizzy is not. Although Emma is social, she is tied to her home and to her father, so much so that she tells Mr. Knightley that can’t marry him because it would hurt her father too much to have her move away from him. Meanwhile, Lizzy travels with her aunt and uncle and moves to Pemberley after marrying Mr. Darcy.
Despite Emma being higher up socially than Lizzy and being more wealthy (at least when they are both single), I would say Lizzy actually has more physical mobility since Emma does not travel except on her honeymoon. This lack of travel on Emma’s part is in large due to her care of her father who is constantly worrying. I give a lot of kudos to Emma for her patience with her father, but I give more kudos to Lizzy for making her own decisions without worrying about how her parents might react (example: her rejection of Mr. Collins).
Lizzy is also more grounded than Emma, perceiving the world in a way that demonstrates more of an awareness about society than Emma has. Does Lizzy try to persuade her friend Charlotte Lucas to call off the engagement to Mr. Collins because Lizzy does not particularly care for Mr. Collins? No, Lizzy does not. Emma, on the other hand, practically holds up a neon sign to let her friend Harriet Smith know what she thinks of the idea of Harriet marrying Mr. Martin; as a result, Harriet rejects Mr. Martin the first time around, potentially ruining her social prospects. Both Emma and Lizzy can be naive when it comes to the society around them; however, given Emma’s elevated position this lack of awareness is more pronounced.
There are certainly more differences when it comes to these two. Lizzy comes from a large family; Emma has a sister, but seems to suffer from only-child syndrome at times. Lizzy is perhaps the more mature of the two characters whereas Emma has moments of immaturity such as her insulting behavior towards Miss Bates when they are on an outing in the county (again, lack of social awareness – poor Miss Bates really is poor Miss Bates). What makes me love both of these characters so much though is that they both have great hearts. Emma feels awful once she realizes the mistakes she’s made and seeks to remedy them immediately. Lizzy understands how she let her bias cloud her better judgement. To me, these two are some of the most “real” characters in the world of Jane Austen, characters I identify with within myself and with others (and those others are often my close friends).