This is an essay prompt from my literature class:

"The women in Jane Austen's novels are more life-like than men". How far is this comment applicable to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice?

What makes Elizabeth Bennet "life-like"? Is she considered more life-like just because she has a definite arc? Because Mr. Darcy also has his moments where he apparently misjudged Jane Bennet as unfit for Mr. Bingley. Is the essay prompt trying to suggest that that usually men in Austen's works are cardboard figures? Or simply that Austen employs better nuances in forming female characters?

  • @GarethRees, the problem with the revision3 edit's wording which you've retained in your rollback is that it's asking us what the lecturer/tutor wants, which of course is impossible to answer. It would be better for it to take a direct stance: e.g. "Is Elizabeth the flaw in the argument that women in Jane Austen's novels are more life-like than men? Isn't Elizabeth less nuanced than, say, Darcy?" The intention for our site (as opposed to the essay-setter) is to pose a useful question that can elicit an authoritative answer. Is it worth me editing the question as I've outlined? Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 6:53
  • @Chappo: Yes, if you feel that the question remains too closely tied to the original essay prompt, then please edit it. I left the prompt in as a bit of background, on the grounds that people writing answers may find it helpful to know where the question comes from. Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 9:42

1 Answer 1


I consider the Elizabeth Bennett character "wooden" by modern standards. She is not as expressive as a modern heroine would be. But she speaks and acts in a manner appropriate for a lady of her time and station.

Within that context, she was "lifelike" by the more restrained standards of her time. She exhibits a full range of feelings and emotions. Ultimately, what makes someone "lifelike" is largely defined by the social mores of the time they live in (not those of the reader). A few people manage to live and act outside "the social mores of their time" but not many.

There could be one (or both) of two explanations for Elizabeth being more "lifelike" than men. 1) Upper class 19th century English women were still more expressive than similarly situated 19th century English men. 2) Jane Austen, being a woman, did a better job of depicting Elizabeth than say, Darcy.

  • Hi Tom, welcome to Literature SE! Could you edit your answer to back up your claims with evidence? What are the "modern standards" and why do you judge her to be wooden? What were "the standards of her time" and why do they make her lifelike? Why does life-like-ness vary according to period? What is the "full range of feelings and emotions" and how does she exhibit them? Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 20:08
  • @GarethRees: Expanded the first two paragraphs to address your comments.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 20:13

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