Monday, September 24, 2007

Being Elizabeth In A Lydia World

Allow me to step on my literary soapbox for a moment. There are few books I really love, and even less of which I think well. The more I read in the literary world, the more I am dissatisfied with it. Too many pages are not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Pride and Prejudice is one of the few chick-lit books I feel comfortable reading. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s work is a classic of gigantic proportions. Countless writers have quoted Austen and attempted to mimic her style (as I unashamedly do now.)

However, it is not her style that brings me back for more Pride and Prejudice. The characters are what catch my imagination—notably that of Elizabeth Bennett. She’s been dubbed the best female character ever penned, but I think I’ve stumbled onto an overlooked truth about Miss Elizabeth: she is incomplete. It wasn’t Elizabeth’s sparkling personality that carried Austen’s book into history. She’s actually quite dull by herself. What made Elizabeth a superstar in classic literature was her foil.

A “foil” is a literary term meaning, “One that by contrast underscores or enhances the distinctive characteristics of another.” A foil is a character possessing traits that are opposite from the main character, therefore illuminating the main character’s fine qualities.

What immortal Jane Austen character have we forgotten? None other than Lydia Bennett. Wild, boisterous, flirtatious and immature—Elizabeth’s youngest sister is only remembered for being, well, horrible. We don’t like this character. To put it kindly, she’s annoying; but at the core, Lydia lacks modesty.

To some, “modesty” is another antiquated word from Austen’s era. To others, it may be commonly used but rarely understood. Properly defined, modesty is the special combination of unpretentiousness and