Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is celebrating its 200-year anniversary this year, and is still regarded as one of the country's favourite novels, coming second place in the BBC’s Big Read mission to find the nation’s best-loved book.
To mark this occasion, students at Durham University have dramatized the text, clearly implying that the story of Elizabeth Bennett is just as relevant for the modern day student as it was for the Georgians. Perhaps if we allow Austen’s novel to be didactic, we might learn much from her heroine.
Leo Mylonadis, the director of the new play, believes that we should aspire to be like Elizabeth because of her keenness to learn: "Education more often in our society comes from taking the initiative to learn more or go beyond, instead of being taught the whole of the material, which is mirrored in how Lizzie grew more knowledgeable than her contemporaries due to her thirst for knowledge." Lizzie inspires students to look beyond the boundaries of what must be learnt, and to explore the realms of the unknown.
As well as this, students can take a leaf out of Lizzie’s book when it comes to social occasions; she is always polite, respectably dressed and incredibly diplomatic, despite having to contend with embarrassing friends and family members. In this way, she is able to master the art of social climbing, and is accepted into social circles beyond her status.
It is no secret that students are used to a little scrimping and saving, and Elizabeth Bennett proves that the challenge of a frugal lifestyle needn’t hold you back. Despite her shortage of funds in comparison to the likes of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she adapts to her surroundings by choosing charm over chequebook, allowing her wit and vivacity to serve as payment for the hospitality of others.
Miss Bennett should be the student’s first liaison for relationship advice. Emily Beech, who plays Lizzie’s Aunt Gardiner in the student adaptation, states that ‘although the modern student may be thinking of careers rather than cake tiers, Elizabeth’s character remains translatable to our lives’. Not only is she able to escape the creepy clutches of Mr. Collins, but also her measured feelings towards Mr. Wycombe mean that she does not become imprudently attached to the wrong man. Lizzie might tell the lovesick that it is worth persevering if at first your advances are spurned: even Mr. Darcy was rejected initially!
However, Elizabeth is such a rounded and engaging character due to the way in which her virtuous qualities are inextricable from her flaws. Lizzie battles with her prejudice of Mr. Darcy throughout the novel. Her ultimate acceptance of him is a lesson to all that first impressions may not be accurate, particularly when there is huge pressure to meet new people in an alien environment, as is the case when beginning university.
As well as this, the cunning George Wycombe fools Lizzie into believing lies about Mr. Darcy. Although her trust can be seen as an endearing quality, this also acts as a warning against gossip and reminds us that we should wait for evidence before condemning the accused. As an intense social environment, university is the ideal breeding ground for gossip, but Lizzie’s experiences teach us to avoid such profitless pastimes.
Stunned as Elizabeth Bennett might be, were we to drop her into university in 2013, she would have the correct qualities to adapt to the environment, once she had recovered from the shock of discovering women in tertiary education. Austen’s character is so beloved because of her timelessness of heart and it seems only natural that her life lessons are applicable to students today.
If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, do so immediately. Rush out to the bookshop, order it on Amazon, download it to your kindle, or all of the aforementioned. Elizabeth Bennett is a character who stays with you beyond the realms of the literary.
Durham students can see the play from 24 – 26 February 2013 performed in The Great Hall of the Castle, produced by Castle Theatre Company. To book, click here.