The Unconventional Elizabeth Bennet

In Jane Austen’s World Ms Place gives an excellent commentary on Elizabeth Bennet’s march to Netherfield to look after her sister, reminding us just how unorthodox the heroinne of Pride and Prejudice was, liable to attract the ridicule of much more than the Bingley sisters.

Reading the post it reminded me of the consistency of the necessity of leisured women to conform to some norm or other–be it a white complexion or a thin figure–sometimes to the point of self destruction.

Just recently looking around a ‘little black dress’ display at the Brighton museum was wonderfully stimulating as they were using lovely curvaceous manikins to show them off. In the next room (in an older and unrelated display) there were some more modern manikins–very, very different. Now that we have got back to what is in some respects a more balanced situation with middle class women better integrated into the economy and public life, you would have hoped that all of this would have just gone away. And maybe it has to some extent–there is a big disconnect between the street fashion of women showing their midriff and the size-0 mania in the celebrity world.

Maybe we have just become more fragmented about this, and with the recent brave confession of ex-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s bulimia, the problems with the objectification of the body are no longer a purely female issue.

But the general point of confronting fashionable nonsense remains. It is easy for us to identify with Elizabeth Bennett today but maybe her antithesis, Fanny Price, may provide us with a more worthy challenge.

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