We dream of them. We want to be them. We wish they were our best friend. Or our partner. And sometimes, we wish we could shake some sense into them.
They are Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes. Each of them has a flawed humanity, but each also has a unique and special quality—an Austen superpower, if you will.
Which is why they are so eminently relatable. Like them, we too are flawed. And like them, we have those same superpowers. They may be hidden away where we cannot see them, but they are there neverthless. All we have to do is believe.
How do we do that? By following the lead of Austen’s leading ladies and men, who dig down deep within themselves to access their own superpowers.
In this first of a series of posts, we turn to the heroine who is perhaps the most beloved of all: Elizabeth aka Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.
What are Lizzy Bennet’s superpowers?
1. the ability to have a cheerful attitude and sometimes even laugh in the face of humiliation and disappointment.
2. the ability to recognize and admit that she has been as proud and judgmental as the person she condemned for those same qualities.
Let’s discuss Superpower 1 first. This is a tricky one, because at first, Lizzie only actually affects cheer on the surface. We first see her trying it out at that assembly ball where she overhears Darcy saying she isn’t pretty enough to dance with.
Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she tells her friends about it as if it’s the most amusing bit of absurdity in the world. Which would be fabulous, if she were truly unruffled. But the fact is, Darcy’s rejection forms the basis of Lizzie’s longstanding dislike of him. And her longstanding prejudice against him.
She is a little more sincere in her cheerfulness after Wickham dumps her for the newly rich Miss King, approaching the situation with a philosophical attitude that “handsome young men must have something to live on, as well as the plain.”
Superpower 2, however, is straight-up legit. After hating Darcy for his prideful attitude and his ruining her beloved sister’s romantic prospects, Lizzie comes to realize that she had pretty much misjudged Darcy the whole time. And that she, in fact, was as proud as she had judged Darcy to be.
She was blind to Wickham’s true character because he flattered her vanity, while hating Darcy because he didn’t want to dance with her. Thus she had failed to see that Wickham was the true villain while Darcy was a good-hearted man of high moral principles. Who also happened to be a snob with less than stellar social skills.
Once she realized this, admitted it, and was humbled by it, she found the biggest superpower of all: true love. Because in Austen, super-honest self-examination always leads to lasting happiness.
So how can we cultivate Lizzie’s superpowers? For starters, we can contemplate a a few pithy quotes from Pride and Prejudice and see what we can relate to:
Volume 1, Chapter 11, in which Lizzy’s talking to Mr Darcy about the possibility of her finding something in him to laugh at (saucy wench that she is):
“I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.”
Volume II, Chapter 25, in which Lizzy’s Aunt Gardiner is talking to Lizzy about Jane’s romantic disappointment:
“Poor Jane! I am sorry for her, because, with her disposition, she may not get over it immediately. It had better have happened to you, Lizzy; you would have laughed yourself out of it sooner.”
Volume II, Chapter 36, after Lizzie reads Darcy’s letter and has a very rude awakening:
“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”
Volume III, Chapter 57, in which the whole laughing at people thing comes back to haunt Lizzy. Here’s Lizzy’s dad telling her of a rumor that she and Mr. Darcy are engaged, and how absurd he thinks that rumor is. Which Lizzy definitely does not find amusing:
“Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life!”
There’s a ton of Austen wisdom embedded in Lizzie’s metamorphosis. And with all that contemplation and self-examination we’re doing just by contemplating those quotes, we deserve a reward, don’t you think? Because we don’t need to settle for quotes alone. Why not treat ourselves right and read the whole book?
Oh, you haven’t read it yet? My goodness, are you in for a treat.
Ah, you’ve read it before? Well why not read it again? Come on, you know you want to as much as I do. No matter how many times I’ve read it.
Because in Jane Austen, there’s always something new to be revealed. Which is her superpower.