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Elizabeth Bennet is one of the most celebrated heroines in fiction, created by English author Jane Austen. Miss Bennet is clearly the central character of Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, and represents a great stride forward in feminist literature.
Miss Bennet is the second child in a family of five daughters. Her mother is obsessed with marrying the girls off in wealth and prosperity, since their estate is entailed on male heirs, and as a result, will go to a distant cousin. Thus their means are limited, as is the society in which they live. Though the Bennets are the daughters of a gentleman, the frequent social atrocities committed by their mother, who is termed more than once as “vulgar,” lessen the daughters’ chances of marrying "well."
Since at the time Austen wrote the novel marriage was still very much a business relationship, the concept of marrying for love was a relatively new one. Despite encouragement to marry the cousin unto which the Bennet state will devolve, Miss Bennet refuses a marriage with him because he is silly, ridiculous, and there is no way she could possibly respect him.
In fact, Miss Bennet and her older sister Jane both champion the idea of marriage for love, and marriage with a respectable partner. In this idea they are greatly encouraged by their father's example of marrying a woman he could not respect.
Miss Bennet soon comes into contact with Mr. Darcy, a man who she conceives to be so proud, that she cares little how she appears to him. In fact, she is early convinced that Darcy cannot stand her. She observes Darcy with amusement for half the novel, and also observes her friend Charlotte accept the proposal of marriage for convention’s sake of the obsequious cousin, Mr. Collins.
On a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Collins, she is overwhelmingly surprised to receive an application of marriage from Mr. Darcy. She refuses him, for she is aware that Darcy has worked to separate her beloved sister from his friend, Mr. Bingley. As well, Miss Bennet believes Darcy has acted venomously toward her friend Mr. Wickham.
Miss Bennet soon learns that in truth Wickham has acted very badly towards Darcy, though he makes no apology for separating Jane from Bingley. However, chance travels put Miss Bennet and Darcy back together again, and Elizabeth begins to care for him, as she fully realizes his true character and that he genuinely loves her.
Miss Bennet’s career ends with her marriage to Darcy, and with Jane’s marriage to Bingley. Thus she can be read as having stuck to her principles and married for love. Her reward is marriage to a man who genuinely loves her, and who also happens to be extremely wealthy.
Miss Bennet’s character is one of a young woman who prospers from her mistakes, is more than intelligent in conversation, and who delights in the inconsistencies in others. She is, though operating in her limited sphere, an early feminist. Most importantly, she remains principled and unshaken by what the world thinks she should do, and is instead guided by her own sense of what is right. This makes Miss Bennet a still much beloved character of today, and accounts much for the popularity of Pride and Prejudice.