Nine Literary Elizabeths
Here are nine characters named Elizabeth, found in popular literary fiction.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is an obvious place to start. Occasionally Lizzy or Eliza (never Liz or Beth), Bennet is an intelligent, witty and independent woman, known to be a critical thinker with a strong moral compass. In screen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet has been played by actresses Greer Garson, Jennifer Ehle, Keira Knightley and more.
Elizabeth March, commonly known as Beth March, is the third of four sisters in the classic novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. She is gentle, compassionate and kind, known far and wide for her tender heart and loving spirit. It’s made clear in the novel that she’s basically the favorite of everyone who knows her. Anyone with a heart to have read Little Women is likely to have cried buckets over Beth.
Elizabeth Lavenza is Victor Frankenstein’s adopted sister (whom he nevertheless weds in adulthood) in Mary Shelley’s dark novel, Frankenstein. While not intelligent, she is presented as positive and kind, as well as beautiful. As the object of Victor’s love and affection, Elizabeth suffers an unfortunate end at the hand of his creation, Frankenstein’s monster.
Elizabeth McKenna is a character from the 2008 critically acclaimed epistolary novel called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and the founder of the (fictional) title organization. She is something of a background character, never physically part of the present-day action, but is nevertheless a key component of the story. She is known for her bravery and loyalty.
Princess Elizabeth is the main character in The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, perhaps the first feminist book I ever read. Elizabeth is a princess who works hard to outsmart a dragon who has carried off the prince she wishes to marry. However, when she cleverly and exhaustively dispatches of the dragon, and finally rescues the prince, he’s an absolute pill about the whole thing, and Elizabeth wisely ditches him and dances off into the sunset.
Bess Marvin. First introduced in the 1931 novel The Secret at Shadow Ranch, Elizabeth (Bess) Marvin is a close friend of Nancy Drew. Contrary to many of the Elizabeths, Beths, Liz’s and others on this list, Marvin is not that helpful. She is portrayed as something of a clown character, always talking about ice cream and shopping. She is flighty, flirtatious, and easily frightened, often talking Nancy Drew out of pursuing any thread that seems even slightly dangerous. In
short, Bess is a bit of a buzzkill.
Betsey Trotwood from David Copperfield may be a bit of a stretch, because while Betsey (or Betsy) is a well-known short form of the name Elizabeth, Copperfield’s great aunt is referred to solely as Betsey, not as Elizabeth. However, since Charles Dickens’ own mother’s name was Elizabeth, I think we’ll consider it implied and let it remain on the list. Aunt Betsey is a confident, strong and loving character, fully realized, and one of the characters in David Copperfield who most comes to life. Kind but firm, she is perhaps the most constant guiding force in Copperfield’s life.
Betsy Ray (Elizabeth Warrington-Ray) is the main character in the much beloved Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. The series is said to be loosely based on Lovelace herself and her childhood. The series, which began in 1940 and ended in 1955, follows Betsy’s life and aventures starting at age five, all the way through to her wedding. Betsy herself is an animated, outgoing and bright child and a natural storyteller.
Elizabeth Dalloway is the daughter of the title character, Clarissa, in Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway. The novel was quite dark and honest, received much critical acclaim for its time, and still stands up as an excellent novel today. Elizabeth Dalloway is a secondary character, only 17 years old. She is a gentle and reserved girl, and has little time for her mother’s party (the event around which the novel is centered), preferring to spend her time gamboling about in the country with animals.
Elizabeth Costello is a character from three J.M. Coetzee novels, The Lives of Animals from 1999 and Slow Man from 2005. Her most prominent storyline, however, is of course as the title character from Coetzee’s 2003 novel, Elizabeth Costello. Elizabeth is a successful author in Australia, nearing her retirement and old age. As she continues to tour and give seminars and readings, she struggles with issues of identity. Very moral, very opinionated, but plagued with self-doubt, real life critics have speculated that perhaps Coetzee often uses Costello as a mouthpiece for his own agendas.
There you have it. Literary characters named Elizabeth. Which essential Elizabeths did we miss? Are you an Elizabeth? With which literary Elizabeth do you most identify?