I have recently been enjoying the movie versions of Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, and they reminded me of a conversation I had with my roommate last year. We were chatting about Jane Austen novels, and how people relate to them, and she came out with what I thought was a pretty spot on assessment.
“Everyone thinks they’re Elizabeth Bennett, but they just aren’t.”
She’s right. We want to believe that we’re the pretty, smart, witty one, who loves to read and take long walks and in the end always finds her Darcy. We forgive Elizabeth her pride and vanity because we love her so much—we want to have as good a reason as she does to be proud. I stumbled upon Jane Austen rather late into my teenage years, so for me it was more Jo March who I always aspired to emulate, but it’s exactly the same.
So if we want to be the Lizzie’s and Jo’s of literature, but know in our hearts we can’t be…then who are we really? One of the many dreaded Facebook quizzes that’s been circulating is “Which Famous Character from Literature are you?”—I took it and got Jane Eyre. No offense, but if I know I’m not Jo, then I definitely know I’m not Jane. Another, which attempts to narrow this question, is “Which Shakespearean Character are you?” but I think that makes it even more difficult. Now I remember how much I would also love to be Beatrice from Much Ado, or Hermione from Winter’s Tale.
The horror of these questions is realizing in the end you’ve grown up to be Lydia, not Lizzie, or Helena, not Hermione. (Of course, the notion that you’ve grown up at all is itself horrifying.) Is there, perhaps, some middle ground? Some character that no one dreams of, but that in the end would be perfectly acceptable?
I wish I could think of one.