Do You Have Characters Acting Out of Character?

Recently, I watched a ‘40s film of Pride and Prejudice. Near the middle of the movie, Elizabeth was visiting Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Earlier in the film, hints had been made as to what Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s personality was like, but it wasn’t until now that I actually got to meet her. Her personality was just as bad as it had been portrayed earlier—proud, arrogant, haughty—everything you wouldn’t want to find in a new acquaintance.

Lady Catherine and Elisabeth

by C.E. Brock [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Later in the film, she is shown as coming to see Elizabeth, trying to force her to promise never to marry Mr. Darcy. Of course, by this time Elizabeth loves Darcy, even though there will probably never be a way to have that love reciprocated. In the end Elizabeth refuses, and Lady Catherine leaves in an apparent huff.

The next scene made me raise my eyebrows. The movie portrayed her going out to see Mr. Darcy, who apparently put Lady Catherine up to it to find out if Elizabeth really loved him or not. Lady Catherine gives him the affirmation he wants and he goes in to propose to Elizabeth, while she drives off in apparent good humor, well satisfied with finally bringing the two together in the end.

On the surface, this may be the perfect ending to the story—but how the two got together in the end really bugged me.

The problem was that Lady Catherine was acting out of character. Majorly.

The problem originated in the fact that Lady Catherine is shown in previous scenes to have had strong family ties. She wanted Darcy to marry her daughter, not this Elizabeth who had very low social ties. She was shown as willing to go to all ends to achieve her means. So she wouldn’t have wanted to help Darcy in any way.

For the movie, it worked alright—the story was able to resolve much more quickly than in the book. But as far as portraying real characters, it fell short.

In real life, Lady Catherine de Bourgh does question Elizabeth—and tell Mr. Darcy of the results, in an attempt to keep him from courting her. Her words had the opposite effect of what she desired, though.

I want to be sure my characters don’t act out of character. I do find it difficult to spot it in my own writing, but in one place of a recent novel, my editor picked up on one instance—that I’m currently trying to correct.

Have you ever noticed similar deficiencies in characters? When was the last time you caught characters acting out of character?