WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?
Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.
HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?
Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!
(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)
THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE AUSTEN HEROINE? OR HERO?
It’s always exciting to write a guest post for one of my favorite blogs and today – as I take over hosting duties on a Classic Remarks post (!) – I get to write about something truly iconic. Jane Austen is an author with legions of fans through the ages. She has her own category at the PCA/ACA conference on popular culture every year. There’s so much to her and to her work. Getting to chat about my favorite Austen heroine then is stepping into vast and sacred literary waters. I’m excited! Are you excited?! I KNOW. Let’s just jump right into it.
Who’s my favorite Austen heroine? Lizzy Bennet. She’s in Pride and Prejudice. Have you heard of that? I read the book. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, too. And I’ve seen the Keira Knightly film a lot, but I’ve never watched the Colin Firth one because it’s a miniseries and that feels like too much of a commitment.
Now, you may be rolling your eyes because I’ve picked arguably the most widely known of all Jane Austen characters from the most widely known of all Jane Austen novels. You may even be wondering if I wrote this piece the day it was due – with ideas flowing from my mind immediately onto the typed page before being emailed to Briana and Krysta. Both of those presumptions would be true. But Lizzy’s still my favorite and I’m ok with that. And here’s why.
It’s a pretty iconic story. Plucky young heroine has to chose between security and following her heart. She makes the bold choice, throwing aside societal convention, and love finds a way! Happily ever afters all around! It’s so good it’s the inspiration for like seven different Hallmark Christmas movies (one involves pets (and I think a pet hotel (but, full disclosure, I only see the parts that are on when I visit my parents (or brother (or aunt (or cousin (or Grandma when she was alive (or anyone/everyone else in my family who watches Hallmark Christmas movies nonstop from October through the New Year (so while I’ve not seen any from start to finish I’m kind of a tangential expert on Hallmark Christmas movies (and nested parenthesis (not to brag))))))))). Pride and Prejudice is a classic for a reason. Lizzy Bennet is a classic for a reason. And I dig the story and I dig her character.
I think though, as the internet has allowed us to find large pockets of fans who share our obsession about the things we love, making the minutiae we adore seem more mainstream, sometimes we feel bad about liking the main character (or maybe I’m projecting). It can feel like loving the most minor of side characters with a passion that yields an encyclopedic knowledge of them somehow proves you’re “a real fan,” or at least a better one. And that’s simply not true. Don’t get me wrong – I love the deep dive. I can still name more He-Man characters than I can algebraic functions (Mech-a-Neck! Stinkor! Teela!). I absolutely respect (and am kinda in awe) of the knowledge how the kid at Little Caesar’s puts me to shame with his knowledge of Doctor Who, both Classic and Nu. And I MAY’ve bought collections containing dozens (and dozens :8) of Harley Quinn comics once I watched her animated show on HBO Max and decided I wanted – nay, needed – to know more about her. So I love all that! But encyclopedic knowledge of side characters and minute plot points doesn’t prove my love of something. It just shows I’ve read a lot of it…or that my brain remembers cartoons more than math…or both.
All this is to say, in a room of diehard Austen fans and seasoned Austen scholars, I could feel a bit intimidated to say Lizzy Bennet is my favorite Austen heroine. Or, I could feel a bit intimidated to say Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel – and that it’s the only one I’ve ever read. But I shouldn’t be! I’m not claiming encyclopedic knowledge. I’m just saying I read a Jane Austen novel and Lizzy was my favorite character.
Plus, I’d argue this is how it should work or at the very least Jane Austen would be stoked to hear this. To say I love the main character best is another way of saying the author did their job really well. I’ve identified with the main character! I relate to them! I’m inspired by their journey!
And Lizzy Bennet is fantastic. And she’s inspiring. And I love her for it. I think many of us stay in relationships we shouldn’t because they’re safe. As a result, we sort of coast by. We settle. We’re happy…but never as happy as we could be. Things could be better. Our needs could be met with greater attention. Yet, looking for all that can be scary. Why walk away from something that is good enough? Why walk away from something stable? Why give up the dream of the married-with-kids-in-a-nice-house that culture tells us is the real goal? Why risk all of that just to follow something as mysterious and potentially ephemeral as our heart?
Lizzy shows us why in an example that has echoed down through the centuries. Why give up something safe and stable to seek the mysterious desires of the heart? Because we’re worth it.
The fact that Pride and Prejudice is such an enduring classic, seeing so many revisions and retellings and sequels and prequels says something. It says the story speaks to us. I’d argue part of the reason it speaks to us is because, deep down, we know we’re worth it. Lizzy’s a heroine who gives us permission to follow our hearts and offers a model as to how we do it. And for that, she has my heart and respect and I’m proud to admit it…no matter how mainstream an answer that may be ;D.
Michael J. Miller writes and rambles about comic books and comic book movies (not to mention Doctor Who and Star Wars and whatever else randomly pops into his head) on his blog My Comic Relief. He teaches theology at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA – including classes on Star Wars as modern mythology and the intersection of comic books and social justice. Should it be your thing, you can also find him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief but he tweets sporadically at best because social media can be exhausting.