Comparing Two Literary Characters
Comparing Two Literary Characters
Two literary masterpieces, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Madame Bovary by Flaubert Gustave, strike a chord in hearts of many literature-loving females mainly because of their intriguing lead characters - Comparing Two Literary Characters introduction. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen masterfully paints a picture of a lovable yet imperfect character – Elizabeth Bennet, who has a mind of her own and can assert her individuality and happiness as she is shown interacting with a diverse range of characters ranging from her sweet or misbehaving sisters to a domineering mother, to pompous suitors and intolerable female members of the bourgeoisie class. Emma Bovary, the main character in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, likewise moves around in 19th century middle class society, and pins her hopes and happiness on the men she encounters. However, they do not live up to her idealistic expectations, so she attempts to divert her energies in social activities but ends up more depressed than ever. Disappointed with those whom she expects to shower her with love and affection, and disillusioned with what life has to offer, Emma lets despair engulf her and lead to her tragic fate. Madame Bovary reaches a tragic climax as Emma is depicted desperately trying to cling to the last straw of hope – through a male character Rodolphe – in the hope of disentangling herself from a financial and emotional mess, but miserably fails. “Her situation now appeared before her like an abyss” (Flaubert 309), as the author wrote, foreshadowing a subject dealt with by other literary masterpieces – of the female lead character facing her ruin or ending her life.
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In contrast to Emma’s gloomy fate in Madame Bovary, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is full of perkiness and optimism. Lizzy, as she is called in the novel, is a sprightly lady brimming with candor and wit, traits which do not go unnoticed by the men who become drawn to her. As Fitzwilliam Darcy acknowledges towards the end of the novel, it was the liveliness characterizing the mind of Lizzy, rather than her impertinence (Flaubert 418), which really captivated him. Lizzy is also far from being a pushover. For example, she blurts out, “I am not to be intimidated into any thing so wholly uunreasonable” when Lady Cathering de Bourgh tries to make Lizzy obey her wishes. Jane Austen’s heroine, Lizzy, represents the educated class who is strong enough not to let herself be a victim of circumstance, the way Emma in Madame Bovary turned out to be.
Emma Bovary may also be described as a self-absorbed individual who sees people – and the word – in such a negative light that the readers end up despising her. In contrast, Lizzy Bennett is portrayed as someone who cares for her own kin, making her a character that readers can easily empathize with. This is evident, for instance, in the line: “her spirits were in a state of enjoyment; for she had seen her sister looking so well as to banish all fear for her health” (Austen 176). As for Madame Bovary, readers are able sense the irony when the author depicts Emma’s intense ardor for her lover, on one hand, and her cold indifference for her family. Emma displays constant irritation for her own child Berthe, and a mocking stance towards her dim-witted husband Charles, who is so dense he is unable to see through his wife’s detestable character.
It may be said that Emma mirrors women of the genteel era who enter into a marriage of convenience and become irresistibly drawn to extramarital liaisons or affairs that are frowned upon by society. Emma’s repulsion for her husband, Charles, and her passionate sentiments for her lovers are vividly described in the novel, thereby building up her character as a woman who is depraved. A large part of such a personality may be attributed to the fact that life’s circumstances have not been kind to her, and she exhibits an all-consuming dissatisfaction with life. She is easily influenced by external forces, coupled by an intense craving for affection, that she deludes herself into thinking that the men she links up with will be the heroes who will whisk her away into a happier and more meaningful existence. It is this idealistic mindset that feeds Emma’s discontent with the people surrounding her and life in general. In Madame Bovary, Emma’s attraction for Rodolphe is depicted as being beyond her reasonable control, as gleaned from the line, “Something stronger than herself kept driving her to him” (Flaubert 160).
Emma Bovary’s unrealistic perceptions on love, in some way, also lead to her downfall. “Love, she felt, ought to come all at once, with great thunderclaps and flashes of lightning… it didn’t occur to her that rain forms puddles on a flat roof when drain pipes are clogged…” (Flaubert 97). Lizzy Bennet likewise has idealistic views about love and relationships, but compared to Emma, she is far more grounded on reality. Unlike Emma who uses sex to gain favor with men, Lizzy resorts to her natural charms and wit and goes only for the man she has come to love. While Lizzy Bennet may detest some of the other characters of Pride and Prejudice, including Mr. Darcy, initially, she sees their good points, too. Lizzy Bennet is a woman of composure, and it shines through whether she’s speaking with men who have a romantic interest in her, or women of overbearing bourgeoisie attitude, or parents who are so obsessed with the idea of marrying off their daughters to men of means. Moreover, while she can be strong-willed and vocal about things that do not suit her tastes, principles and beliefs, Lizzy is soft at heart. When Mr. Darcy proposes marriage using an approach that grates her senses, she feels a certain sense of outrage, yet “she was at first sorry for the pain he was to receive” (Austen 210). Lizzy is emblematic of other middle class women who must act in refined, civil manner even when slighted, and who are left to carve their own destiny – particularly on love, relationships and marriage — using their own free will and positive traits.
Austen, Jane. Pride & Prejudice. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Gustave, Flaubert. Madame Bovary. New York: Bantam Dell, 2005.