What?  How is it even possible that this is the last installment of Heroine Love posts?

You know what that means…you have until midnight Pacific tonight to enter to win today’s prize and qualify for the Grand Prize Pack of a $50 gift certificate to your local indie bookstore, signed copies of The Heroine’s Bookshelf in print and audio, a brand-new Pride & Prejudice audiobook, and an iPod shuffle to listen to it on!

Make a stand for heroine love…enter now and tell a friend.  Want to be my heroine forever?  Consider taking this opportunity to tell a friend you love about The Heroine’s Bookshelf!  Oh, and please welcome Laurel Ann, curator of the amazing Austenprose.com and one of my all-time favorite Jane Austen enthusiasts.  Read on and you could win a lovely White’s Books fine edition of Pride and Prejudice in all its Regency glory.

Elizabeth Bennet Cheerleader!

Yes, I am nuts. I chose to write about one of literature’s most famous heroines, Elizabeth Bennet. Everyone and their aunt Gert knows who she is and has an opinion of her, including hundreds of scholars bearing down on me with furrowed brow and piercing Lady Catherine eyes. I can’t really offer any new mind blowing insights, but I can share how she changed my life many years ago and continues to even today!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… yep, that was when I was in college,I was studying to be a landscape designer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Situated in the dry rolling hills of central California, I secretly dreamed of the verdure of the English countryside before I had ever read Jane Austen’s novel Emma and knew that verdure was a word. My antidote was to take extra curriculum courses in British literature, history and art and look forward to Masterpiece Theatre every Sunday night on TV. When one of my sorority sisters spent her junior year in England, I begged her for postcards. She was flattered that I wanted to hear from her. Secretly, I wanted the pictures.

I knew within the first fifteen minutes of the Masterpiece Theatre broadcast of Pride and Prejudice that Elizabeth Bennet and her nightmare family were now my new addiction. Poor Lizzy Bennet. I could totally relate. Her mother was a chatteringbusybody and her father totally disinterested. Sisters Lydia, a dangerous flirt, Kitty, vacuous twit, Mary, a pedantic prig, and Jane, a bit too nice for her own good. I had been raised in a family of three girls with no male heir. Our family apples did not fall far from the Bennet tree. I of course was the spunky, courageous and impertinent Elizabeth Bennet. Happy thought indeed! There was even a brooding Darcy-type at school that I had first despised and then fell in love with. Too bad he went for a Lydia tramp instead.

Beside the Bennet/Nattress household similarities, why did I like Elizabeth and the story of Pride and Prejudice so? Firstly it made me laugh, and “follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies, do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” Secondly it allowed me to escape into a world of genteel civility where society valued grace, manners and good breeding. In the late 1970’s, Lizzy might have approved of the disco dancing, but the recreational drugs and free love would have twisted her corset. It didn’t sit well with me either. I had obviously been born in the wrong century. Thirdly, and most importantly, Elizabeth Bennet was a woman of words and action. She was strong, spirited and determined: offering opinions decidedly and scampering about the countryside gleefully. I so admired her joie de vivre. No one could pop her balloon and if they tried, she could throw a withering remarks deflating smug Caroline Bingley or arrogant Fitzwilliam Darcy in a flash. Now this did backfire on her more than once, but she did learn to temper her judgment and accept change. What woman in her right mind would not want to have her confidence, her energy and her sharp wit? I did!

It would be many years, and all of Jane Austen’s novels later, before I would discover the Internet and hook up with fellow Janeites at the Republic of Pemberley. I was all astonishment when I found there were others who wanted to talk about my wonderful Elizabeth Bennet and her troubles. At first it was a bit disconcerting. For twenty years I had been harboring my own notions of Austen and her characters. Now other people had their unique slant which sometimes did not match my own. They taught me to see my prejudices and accept change. Widening my perspective, I eventually began reading the many new Pride and Prejudice inspired novels that were now their own book genre. I admired the creativity and soon found myself consuming ever Jane Austen paraliterure novel I could find.

I can now blame Jane and her conceitedly independent heroine Elizabeth Bennet for guiding my life into a new career. Compelled to have my share of the conversation, I started Austenprose, my own Jane Austen inspired blog devoted to my favorite author and the many books, movies, sequels and pop culture she has inspired. I enjoy blogging about Jane immeasurably and I credit Lizzy every day for giving me the confidence to express my opinions decidedly, tempered with civility and humor. I never imagined that a new career would spring from this obsession. My own book, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, makes its appearance this Fall. “I am the happiest creature in the world.” gushed Elizabeth Bennet to her aunt Gardiner on her engagement to Mr. Darcy, and I could not agree more.

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the editor of Austenprose.com and forthcoming short story anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It, to be released by Ballantine Books on 11 October. Classically trained as a landscape designer at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, she has worked in marketing for a Grand Opera company and at present delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives near Seattle, WA, where it rains a lot.

Thanks, Laurel Ann, for your generous donation of a copy of White Books’ swoon-worthy hardcover edition of Pride and Prejudice, and congratulations to winner Stephanie B.!

Please note:  Heroine Love entries are now CLOSED!

Which heroine has affected your outlook on life?