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*Miss Bennet* Character Breakdown

By Benjamin Fainstein, Literary Manager

4 Bennet Sisters, 3 Handsome Husbands, 2 Awkward Book Nerds … and a Partridge in a Pear Tree!

It’s December 22, 1815. Mrs. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Darcy (née Bennet) and her husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, are preparing to host a Bennet family Christmas gathering. Fans of Jane Austen will remember our hosts, Lizzy and Darcy, from their delightfully contentious courtship in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. That book follows the five Bennet sisters as they navigate the joys and challenges of romantic courtship amid the tempestuous strictures of early 19th-century English society. Our play imagines what the witty and vibrant Bennet sisters’ world might be like two years after the end of the novel. Here is a refresher on “who’s who” to prepare you for this Regency romp.

Elizabeth is the second eldest Bennet sister and the central heroine of Pride and Prejudice. She possesses a keen mind and lively wit, and she approaches high society with good-natured skepticism and insistence on maintaining control over her own love life. Despite her initial dislike of Fitzwilliam Darcy, she fell head over heels for him, and their path to a loving partnership is the foremost plotline of the book. Austen aficionados continue to debate the full significance of Lizzy’s character, but she is generally regarded among English literature’s most dimensional and progressive female protagonists of the Pre-Victorian Era. When this play begins, Lizzy and Darcy are happily married and live at Darcy’s Pemberley estate.

The transformation of straitlaced, disagreeable Mr. Darcy into a loving and vulnerable partner to Lizzy is the stuff of romantic comedy legend. He is a supreme example of the archetypal English gentleman who has been taught to repress emotions and adhere to inherited norms of behavior and propriety. It was only due to the exasperating challenges of Miss Bennet, which shined light into his otherwise closed heart, that he finally let himself enjoy the ecstasy of love. Indeed, after falling for Lizzy, Darcy broke off the marriage his family had arranged for him since birth to a distant cousin, Anne de Bourgh, a move which has unintended consequences for the action of our play. When the curtain rises, we see that he has grown into a supportive husband who approaches the Bennet women with affection. In other words, marriage looks good on Mr. Darcy.

Jane is the eldest Bennet, and in the novel she is described as the most desirable bachelorette in the community. Her outward beauty is bolstered by her gracious and gentle heart; whereas Lizzy may raise an eyebrow to others, Jane tends to see only the good in people. She fell in love with a rich man named Charles Bingley, (Darcy’s closest friend) and it was in part due to Jane and Bingley’s blissful partnership that Lizzy and Darcy were forced to spend time together. In this play, Jane and Bingley’s perfect love for one another has only grown stronger and deeper; they are happily awaiting the birth of their first child. The playwrights note that Jane has “the kindest heart in the house,” and she is wonderfully genuine in her desire to see all her sisters content and in love.

Good-looking and charming to a fault, Charles fell in love with Jane almost at first sight in Pride and Prejudice, but the interference of his morose friend Mr. Darcy threatened to sink the match before it ever got off the ground. Despite being rich and successful, in the novel Charles tended to allow others’ opinions to influence his thinking. His affable nature and undeniable connection to Jane won the day, however, and in this play, we see that he has matured into a spectacular and doting husband without losing the boyish charms and light-hearted personality that made him so lovely to be around.

The youngest and most impetuous Bennet sister, Lydia is a natural flirt and has a knack for stealing the spotlight. Her love of socializing and disregard for traditional English morality led her to engage many potential suitors. She eventually ran away with the military officer George Wickham, who indulged Lydia but had no intention of marrying her. To avoid the destruction of her reputation and scandal for her family, Mr. Darcy forced Wickham to marry Lydia. Unfortunately, since their marriage was not based in genuine affection, the partnership soon became bittersweet. When the play begins, she is back to her old ways, demanding attention and entertaining herself by flirting with men she cannot have, even when she knows she is doing harm to her sisters.

Mary is the middle sister, and in the novel she is considered the least arresting of the Bennets. She possesses extreme intelligence and has a somewhat cynical and grave disposition. She prefers spending time with her books and piano over attending society parties or pursuing romantic love. In many ways in the novel, she stood in dull contrast to Lydia’s glittering self-interest, Lizzy’s incomparable wit, and Jane’s generous spirit. She’s the misfit woman that society keeps at arm’s length, and she generally returns the favor. But when our play begins, Mary has matured and is, as the playwrights note, “coming into her own.” This Christmas, she has been re-cast as the leading lady.

In Pride and Prejudice, Anne was the sickly young woman betrothed to Mr. Darcy. She was to inherit her family estate at Rosings Park, but when Darcy broke off the engagement to pursue Lizzy, Anne’s future was thrown into turmoil. Her story was left untold at the end of the novel. All we knew is that she seemed not to have married. In this play, she appears at Pemberley following the death of her mother; she has been disinherited and the property has been bequeathed to her male cousin, Arthur de Bourgh.

Arthur is the only character who does not appear in Pride and Prejudice and was created by the playwrights. In the script, he is described as “a studious, unsociable only child who has never been around women or large families. He is a loner who prefers books to people. He has recently inherited a large estate and has no idea what to do next.” He has left his studies of snail zoology to come for Christmas at Pemberley because, well, he has no place else to go.

Portland Center Stage is committed to identifying & interrupting instances of racism & all forms of oppression, through the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, & accessibility (IDEA).

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