Midway through Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet arrives at a moment of self-awakening which, notably, results from the influence of someone else: Fitzwilliam Darcy. For critic Susan Fraiman, this complication amounts to no less than, as she titles her article, "The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet." From this moment forward, according to Fraiman, Elizabeth Bennet ceases to think for herself. She submits to Darcy as to a second father, relinquishes her trust in her own judgments, and thereby suffers a "loss of clout."1 This pivotal moment comes because, after Elizabeth has rejected his proposal, Darcy justifies himself in a lengthy letter. It is true that Darcy claims that he has not, as Elizabeth has charged, separated Elizabeth's sister Jane from Jane's suitor, Mr. Bingley, "regardless of the sentiments of either" (127); neither has he inappropriately cut off Wickham, his childhood companion and son of his late father's steward, from a promised career as a clergyman.2 Darcy's version of events challenges the talent in which Elizabeth prides herself most: her ability to judge character. Yet Fraiman maintains that "Darcy's letter saps [Elizabeth's] power to comprehend": that is, that Darcy's logic undermines Elizabeth's own and, furthermore, that Darcy designs his letter to "inflict" pain on Elizabeth. By allowing Darcy's logic to supercede her own, and receiving with "enthusiasm" the pain that he inflicts, Elizabeth accepts this "humiliation."3 Although Elizabeth comes to agree that Darcy's previous actions were indeed justified, Fraiman incorrectly assumes that this transformation "disables" Elizabeth's capacity to arr...
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...eth's tribulations and subsequent accomplishments cannot be deemed as a symbol for women's liberation, her flawed character faces an even bigger battle: a fight against the weaknesses of human nature. She, as are we, is prone to the gender-neutral weaknesses of prejudice and vanity, yet by recognizing and responding to these all-too-human failings with level-mindedness and dignity, she shows us a way out.
1. Susan Fraiman, "The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet," excerpted in the Norton Critical 2nd edition of Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, ed. Donald Gray (New York and London: Norton, 1993), 377.
2. All references to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are from the Norton Critical 3rd edition, ed. Donald Gray (New York and London: Norton, 2001).
3. Fraiman, 382.
4. Fraiman, 382.
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