Elizabeth Bennet’s outer characterisation in Austen's Pride and Prejudice tells us that she is the second eldest of Mr and Mrs Bennet’s five daughters (p. 3). She is 20 years old (p. 117), unmarried, and is entitled to a relatively small dowry of £1,000 (p. 76) from her father when she marries. She is either referred to as Elizabeth, Lizzy, or Eliza.
She is considered beautiful (p. 187), and Darcy in particular is attracted by her dark eyes (p. 15). However, Darcy initially describes her as unattractive in the beginning of the novel: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me...” (p. 7).
Mr Bingley's sister, Mrs Hurst, also tries to dismiss Elizabeth’s looks, after she has walked through muddy fields to visit Jane at Netherfield: “Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!” (p. 24). Bingley's other sister, Miss Bingley, also makes rather unkind comments about Elizabeth. She is motivated by jealousy when she describes Elizabeth as “one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art” (p. 27).
In this way, we are able to see what impression Elizabeth can make on some and how other women might feel threatened by her because she is beautiful and acts in an unusually confident way.
Finally, we get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s physical appearance when she goes to the Netherfield ball: “She had dressed with more than usual care, and prepared in the highest spirits for the conquest of all that remained unsubdued of his heart” (p. 63). This suggests that Elizabeth knows how to use clothes to highlight her beauty. Here, she does this because she wants to impress Wickham – who never shows up at the ball.
We also know that Lady Catherine describes her as “a very genteel, pretty kind of girl” (p. 115). This also suggests that Elizabeth has a pleasant appearance.
In general, Elizabeth is characterised by intelligence, courage, and her willingness to speak her mind. Elizabeth also prides herself on being very perceptive (p. 28, p. 76, p. 179), but this also leads to her developing prejudices.
Intelligence and honesty
Mr Bennet generally does not have a high opinion of the intelligence of his five girls, but he sees Elizabeth as the cleverest of his daughters: “ ‘They have none of them much to recommend them,’ replied he; ‘they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters” (p. 2). Lizzy is, consequently, his favourite, much to Mrs Bennet's dismay: “You are always giving her the preference” (p. 2).
Most of Elizabeth's intelligence is conveyed through dialogue, as she expresses her point of view convincingly in many circumstances. One example is when she discusses Darcy’s attitude and character, in front of him:
‘You appear to me, Mr. Darcy, to allow nothing for the influence of friendship and affection. A regard for the requester would often make one readily yield to a request, without waiting for arguments to reason one into it.’ (p. 34)
Furthermore, Elizabeth has the courage to be honest even with the rather tyrannical Lady Catherine that questions her about her sisters and family. In her reply, Elizabeth talks about the importance of treating all her sisters equally and giving them a chance to be out in society even if the elder ones are still unmarried. Her straightforward answers displeases the bossy Lady Catherine: “Lady Catherine seemed quite astonished at not receiving a direct answer; and Elizabeth suspected herself to be the first creature who had ever dared to trifle with so much dignified impertinence” (p. 116).
Elizabeth also has to put up with the snobbishness of women like the Bingley sisters, but she often manages to rise above their provocations (p. 27).