Have you ever experienced have an Elizabeth Bennet moment? Or, more specifically, an Elizabeth-Bennet-defies-Lady-Catherine-moment, the experience of “saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it.”*
Or maybe you didn’t say what you meant to say; maybe you just thought it.
When I was eighteen, I fell in love, dropped out of college and ran away to live with my boyfriend, who was at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. After a year or so, we decided to get married. David was home for the summer, and I flew back to his parents house (which to me looked like Pemberley in Connecticut) to talk over marriage plans. His parents had made it abundantly clear that they disapproved of me and our living arrangements, and I felt shy and insecure as I sat holding David’s hand in their well-appointed living room, his mother shaking with rage at the idea that her son was marrying a college drop-out from a broken family. His father, the kindly physician, offered an explanation.
“If you were from Circle Beach or went to Smith”— Dr. Crowley smiled apologetically — “things would be different.”
It was painful to sit in that room, thick with tension, and face these people who felt I wasn’t good enough to marry their son. But of course I wasn’t really there and this wasn’t really happening. What was happening was that I, Elizabeth Bennet, the brilliant heroine of Pride and Prejudice, was standing up to the arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the scene where she confronts Elizabeth with a rumor that she is engaged to marry Lady Catherine’s wealthy and distinguished nephew, Mr. Darcy.
Lady Catherine: “If you were sensible of your own good, you would not wish to quit the sphere, in which you have been brought up.”
“In marrying your son, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentlemen; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal,” I shot back.
“True. You are a gentleman’s daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.”
My father was a noted scientist; David’s father was a respected physician. So far we were equals. But who was my mother? An uneducated woman, the daughter of Italian immigrants (his family were mostly descendants from the Mayflower), a divorcee with a dubious mental history (she had suffered a nervous breakdown when I was fourteen).
Ultimately, we did get married and David’s parents went on disapproving of me. As far as they were concerned, the woods of Pemberley were indeed polluted. But although I never won them over, I’ll will never forget that difficult conversation in their living room, and how Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bennet helped me get through it.
Please drop us a comment and tell us about your Elizabeth Bennet moment!
*Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) to Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail.