Can Elizabeth Bennet Make it Mainstream?
It is a strange question. For fans of Jane Austen they will argue that she already is and that she always have been. The main character and heroine of Pride and Prejudice is a beloved character by many from literature, especially for those that consider themselves fans of Jane Austen. She is adored because of her unusual circumstances, a member of the lesser nobility, but one that is in danger of losing the status if she cannot be married. Despite the needs to subjugate herself to a man, she never loses her own voice and opinion, and it is thus almost by accident that she comes to be enamored with Mr. Darcy, her one time foe. Most fans of the character will say that mainstream means that a character is easily recognizable and even that some fundamental attributes of the character will be known aside from simple name recognition. While name recognition is important in terms of saying that something is mainstream, in modern pop culture there is another determinant, and that is crossovers between mediums. One can say that for instance a superhero is not mainstream until they have movies, novels, and video games focusing on them, and in this case, it is hard for many characters from literature to go truly mainstream, at least in the modern setting.
Despite having the odds somewhat stacked against her as a 19th century heroine from literature, it would seem that Elizabeth Bennet does in fact have a chance. The starting point for this can be tied to the sudden popularity of Jane Austen at the movies in the 1990s, where Emma and Sense and Sensibility both saw big screen versions, and where other movies such as Clueless were adaptations of Austen’s works. While these were popular enough in their own right, what thrust Elizabeth Bennet into the public eye was the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice. Although it was mildly criticized for trading in popularity of the movie for accuracy to the original story, it was nonetheless well accepted, resulting in the first Academy Award nomination for Keira Knightley.
It rightly might have been this movie which put the story and the heroine into the public spotlight as never before. Of course in terms of crossover for media, there are fewer options available to the characters of Jane Austen’s novels, but only four years later the popularity of the zombie genre intersected with Austen with the release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This parody novel combined the two genres, and while there was certainly a part of its readership that was interested in zombies or simply the shock value, it was still well received.
The crossovers into movies and other novels are maybe the easy ones, but it is hard to imagine that Elizabeth Bennet could move into other mediums. A video game involving Elizabeth Bennet? It is hard to imagine what the action could be. However if board games are allowed to stand in for video games, there is indeed a crossover here as well, with the board game Marrying Mr. Darcy. Granted this board game can be considered to be relatively simplistic as it designers admits that she is more Austen fan than board game designer, but nonetheless the game is relatively popular and relatively well reviewed.
Equally where one might not expect to see Elizabeth Bennet at all is in the medium of comics, but even here she has a recent appearance, by way of being channeled by Lara Croft. In the most recent arc of Tomb Raider, Lara agrees to be an understudy for the role of Elizabeth Bennet in a play put on by her friend, but she is unwittingly thrown into the lead role that she doesn’t want when the main actress quits. This is not true Elizabeth Bennet, as it is still Lara Croft underneath, a character that admittedly does not like the source material. Through the help of her friends she is taught of the importance of it, as people feel connected with the characters within, just as Lara does with the people who created the things that she digs up. As Lara is thrown into action she is forced to engage in a subway fight dressed as Elizabeth Bennet, perhaps the strangest yet of the character’s crossovers.
Strangely it does seem as the appeal for Elizabeth Bennet to go truly mainstream is there. As opposed to other romantic heroines from literature, she is not ignored and at least given a chance to fit in elsewhere. The fit is maybe not perfect, but the interest is there, and while she may never get her own video game, it would seem as though she has nearly accomplished the impossible.