Who makes the most compelling heroine***?
This is not about which is the better story, but rather which of these girls is most to be admired for their character and outstanding achievements.
Let’s begin with Elizabeth Bennet, who is admired for standing up for her ideal of love even when doing so puts her at a decided disadvantage by turning down the marriage proposals of Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy. She is applauded for not compromising on this most personal of matters having to do with love and marriage. In view of the time and culture that she lived in, as well as having the constant urging of her mother, her example makes us hope we would do the same for love today. Like the song What I did for Love says: ‘I won’t regret what I did for love.’
As brave as Elizabeth’s actions were, there was also a certain safety in the course she chose. Consider: she had a family that loved her, her best friend was her older sister, and her father cherished her company. Mr. Bennet was not nearing death, so the consequence of not marrying right away was still some time off in the future. Yes, young ladies did routinely marry younger than she was at that time, but her friend Charlotte, who was seven years older than Lizzy, was still unmarried, and seven years for a twenty-year-old is still a long time—the possibilities and prospects associated with the youthful mind can be endless. So, that begs the question, was she being more safe than brave in the course she took? Was she really a hero ... a person of distinguished courage, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities?
Turning to Jane Eyre, she is but ten years old when we are introduced to her, being raised, as we all know, in a home where she is despised and treated cruelly. And yet, at this tender age she stands up for herself to her aunt and embraces the challenge of a new life in a school far away from the place she has called home. Meet the unexpected with head held high—a real hero. When things improve for her at the school, she grows up to be a teacher. At eighteen years old now, instead of opting for the security of what she has, she bravely and courageously sets out to see what lies beyond the walls of her present comfortable situation. Once again, we see the character of a hero. As the story goes, we keep seeing Jane Eyre’s resolve to do the brave thing, the right thing—even dividing her inheritance at the end with her new found family. All this is the mark of a truly compelling heroine.
Therefore, in answer to the question Who makes the most compelling heroine, Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Eyre?, I would have to say: in the case of Elizabeth Bennet, we have a girl that is brave by her inaction, which can also be seen as playing it safe. Assuredly, she is a compelling female character in a love story, but not really a heroine in the true sense of the word. On the other hand, Jane Eyre’s courage and bravery are marked around every turn by her displaying herself as a woman of action even as she marches into the unknown. She is a true hero.***
Here's the song What I Did For Love:
Josh Groban official video on YouTube
Josh Groban lyrics from AZ Lyrics
Here's a similarly titled song, but not the one I was referring to:
Stephen Cornwell singing another version on YouTube
lyrics on that David Guetta version from AZ Lyrics
***The article, The End of Heroines, from The Book Rat blog has a very interesting take on the use of the words hero and heroine. I wrote this before coming across that article and was already using the words interchangeably, but it's definitely food for thought!