Birdsong

by

Sebastian Faulks

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Elizabeth Benson Character Analysis

Stephen Wraysford’s granddaughter and Françoise’s daughter. Elizabeth personifies the modern English woman, and she is fiercely independent. At thirty-eight, she is already a successful clothing designer and lives a full and productive life; however, Elizabeth feels that something is missing. She is in a long-term relationship with Robert, a married European, and while it seems unlikely he will ever leave his wife, Elizabeth is as happy as she can be in their relationship. One day, she stumbles across a newspaper article about the anniversary of the 1918 armistice, and she becomes compelled to learn more about the war. She knows that her grandfather fought in the war but little else, and she senses that both the war and her grandfather have great importance in her life. Determined to learn more, she begins by visiting a memorial in Albert, France. Nothing can prepare Elizabeth for the sadness and loss she feels in the shadow of the monument and the countless British names, and for the first time, she understands the true cost of war. Elizabeth finds her grandfather’s encrypted war journals in her mother’s attic, and after enlisting the help of her friend, Bob, she is able to decode them. Her grandfather’s story and his trials during the war lends great insight into her own life, and when she gives birth to her own son, a representation of a future generation, she does so with a better understanding of the past.

Elizabeth Benson Quotes in Birdsong

The Birdsong quotes below are all either spoken by Elizabeth Benson or refer to Elizabeth Benson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and the Future Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Birdsong published in 1993.
Part Three: England 1978 Quotes

In the tunnel of the Underground, stalled in the darkness, Elizabeth Benson sighed in impatience. She wanted to be home to see if there were any letters or in case the telephone should ring. A winter coat was pressed in her face by the crush of passengers along the aisle of the carriage. Elizabeth pulled her small suitcase closer to her feet. She had returned from a two-day business trip to Germany that morning and had gone straight in to work from Heathrow without returning to her flat. With the lights out she could not see to read her paper. She closed her eyes and tried to let her imagination remove her from the still train and its tightfitting hole.

Related Characters: Elizabeth Benson, Jack Firebrace
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

“What do you do?” he said to Elizabeth.

“I run a clothing company.” She disliked being asked this question, thinking people ought to ask new acquaintances who they were rather than what they did, as though their job defined them.

“You say you run it. You’re the boss, are you?”

“That’s right. I started out as a designer about fifteen years ago but I transferred to the business side. We formed a new company and I became managing director.”

Related Characters: Elizabeth Benson (speaker), Stuart (speaker)
Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Five: England 1978-79 Quotes

I do not know what I have done to live in this existence. I do not know what any of us did to tilt the world into this unnatural orbit. We came here only for a few months. No child or future generation with ever know what this was like. They will never understand. When it is over we will go quietly among the living and we will not tell them. We will talk and sleep and go about our business like hum beings. We will seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford (speaker), Elizabeth Benson
Page Number: 403
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Seven: England 1979 Quotes

He threw the chestnuts up into the air in his great happiness. In the tree above him they disturbed a roosting crow, which erupted from the braches with an explosive bang of its wings, then rose toward the sky, its harsh, ambiguous call coming back in long, grating waves toward the earth, to be heard by those still living.

Related Characters: Elizabeth Benson, Robert
Related Symbols: Birds
Page Number: 483
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Birdsong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Birdsong PDF

Elizabeth Benson Character Timeline in Birdsong

The timeline below shows where the character Elizabeth Benson appears in Birdsong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part Three: England 1978
History and the Future Theme Icon
In a crowded Underground tunnel, Elizabeth Benson waits for her stop. She tiredly pushes her way out of the car and... (full context)
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
...sends letters when he is feeling guilty, and she smiles at his familiar words. As Elizabeth slides into the bathtub, the phone rings and her mother invites her for tea the... (full context)
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Elizabeth has been close with Mark and Lindsay since college, and their friendship is comfortable and... (full context)
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Elizabeth reminds Lindsay about Robert, whom Lindsay refers to as “the Eurocat.” “He’s never going to... (full context)
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Lindsay laughs. “It’s called biology,” she says. “You don’t need to know anything.” Elizabeth deeply disagrees. She needs to know why. “I think one should have some sort of... (full context)
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That night, Lindsay introduces Elizabeth to a new man name Stuart. They engage in small talk, and he asks Elizabeth... (full context)
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Despite Stuart’s “cross-examination” of her, Elizabeth rather enjoys talking to him, and when he doesn’t ask for the number at the... (full context)
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When Elizabeth arrives home, she remembers that she forgot to buy milk. Then she realizes it doesn’t... (full context)
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The next morning, Elizabeth notices an article in the paper about the 1918 armistice. It catches her eye, but... (full context)
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At tea with her mother, Françoise, Elizabeth asks her about the war; “Something about the war article had unsettled her: it seemed... (full context)
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Elizabeth asks her mother if she still has her father’s old journals, but Françoise is unsure.... (full context)
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The following week, Elizabeth goes to visit Erich and Irene, her principal designers, at their office. Erich is in... (full context)
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Elizabeth asks Irene what she knows about the war and if her father fought in it.... (full context)
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Elizabeth turns to Erich, who was a young boy in Austria during the war. “I have... (full context)
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By the end of the week, Elizabeth is on a boat to France. She is planning a visit with Robert in Brussels,... (full context)
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Elizabeth arrives in the town of Arras. While her own grandmother was French, she doesn’t speak... (full context)
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Suddenly, Elizabeth is determined to learn about the town and the battle. “What did it matter?” she... (full context)
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The next day, Elizabeth drives to a town named Albert. Irene’s husband, Bob, had told her about the town,... (full context)
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...through the meticulously manicured lawn. A man is sweeping the pavement, and as she approaches, Elizabeth notes that the arch is covered in British names. She is struck by the size... (full context)
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The man tells Elizabeth that the names represent the men who are unaccounted for after the battle in Albert.... (full context)
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Later, Elizabeth arrives in Brussels to visit Robert. She notes that she always feels nervous when she... (full context)
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...get ready for dinner and head out on the town. While they eat, Robert asks Elizabeth about her week, and she tells him about her sudden preoccupation with the war. He... (full context)
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In the following days, Elizabeth goes to visit Françoise. She has been thinking about her grandfather’s journals, which she suspects... (full context)
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...is filled with random boxes, but buried beneath a pile of old trunks and papers Elizabeth hits pay dirt. Two books are at the bottom of a pile, and one is... (full context)
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Elizabeth tells Françoise what she has found. “That’s it,” her mother says. Françoise says there were... (full context)
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The next weekend, Elizabeth takes the book to Bob and Irene’s house. She is hoping that Bob will be... (full context)
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Bob tells Elizabeth that the writing is in Greek script, but it is not the Greek language, and... (full context)
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The next day, Stuart calls Elizabeth for a date and she agrees. He takes her to a Chinese restaurant that he... (full context)
Part Five: England 1978-79
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 It has been two months since Elizabeth gave the journal to Bob, and little progress has been made. She managed to find... (full context)
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At army headquarters, Elizabeth is “met with suspicion.” Most of the files are confidential and she has difficulty accessing... (full context)
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Later that night, Elizabeth calls Bob and he suggests cross-referencing Gray’s name in the Who’s Who? If the Colonel... (full context)
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Elizabeth’s thoughts are interrupted by the telephone. It is Stuart and he has called for a... (full context)
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After she hangs up the phone, Elizabeth immediately picks it up again and dials the number in Scotland. She is struck with... (full context)
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When Gray comes on the line, he sounds annoyed. Elizabeth explains herself and her reason for calling, and he confirms that he remembers Captain Wraysford.... (full context)
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Elizabeth asks Gray if Captain Wraysford was kind, or funny, and if he got along well... (full context)
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Gray’s wife interrupts Elizabeth’s questions and insists that her husband rest. Elizabeth says she understands and begins to say... (full context)
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Elizabeth telephones the matron of the veterans’ home and asks about Brennan. The woman tells Elizabeth... (full context)
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When Elizabeth arrives at the home, the matron tells her that Brennan has lived there for the... (full context)
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As Elizabeth approaches Brennan, he is seated in a wheelchair “like a bird on its perch.” He... (full context)
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Brennan is a world away, and Elizabeth sits with him quietly sipping tea. She decides to ask once more. “Captain Wraysford?” Suddenly,... (full context)
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The following day, Robert calls Elizabeth and tells her that he will unexpectedly be at his flat in London that night—and... (full context)
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...live there, not much can be done. He feels guilty—he always does—but his relationship with Elizabeth isn’t just some “lighthearted sideshow.” He deeply loves her, and, unfortunately, he “married the wrong... (full context)
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Elizabeth and Robert share a quiet and comfortable dinner. They spend a “night of enclosed harmony... (full context)
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On Saturday, Françoise calls and tells Elizabeth that she has found twenty more notebooks in the attic. Elizabeth excitedly tells her mother... (full context)
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Back at home, Elizabeth lights a fire, starts a bath, and opens the first journal. Suddenly, the intercom sounds.... (full context)
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Elizabeth opens the door and Stuart hands her a bottle of wine. She tells him she... (full context)
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...old belt buckle engraved with Gott mit uns, or as Stuart translates, “God with us.” Elizabeth doesn’t want to tell Stuart about the notebooks. “Just something I got in a junk... (full context)
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After dinner, Stuart puts on a record and asks Elizabeth to sit down. He tells her a story about a pretty girl who avoids getting... (full context)
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Elizabeth is shocked. “I actually have a boyfriend,” she says. Stuart tells her that Robert will... (full context)
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Elizabeth is mortified. As Stuart goes to leave, he turns to her and says, “I’ve planted... (full context)
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Elizabeth is “in a condition of shock” for days after. The New Year comes, and she... (full context)
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Elizabeth realizes that she has not had her period since December 6, and today is January... (full context)
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Elizabeth tries to call Robert, but he doesn’t answer. Soon, her phone rings and Bob tells... (full context)
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In the morning, Elizabeth is finally able to read her grandfather’s journal. Bob has neatly translated it, and she... (full context)
Part Seven: England 1979
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Elizabeth is nervous to tell her mother she is pregnant. She has already told Erich and... (full context)
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When asked who the father is, Elizabeth refuses to tell and says it’s “a secret.” She has finished reading her grandfather’s journals... (full context)
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Elizabeth reads about her grandmother, Jeanne, in the journals, and notes that her grandfather refers to... (full context)
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Thinking about her grandmother, Elizabeth becomes confused again. Jeanne was born in 1878, and while she’s not exactly sure when... (full context)
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On Saturday, Elizabeth meets her mother for dinner, and surprisingly, Françoise is pleased about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. She tells... (full context)
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Françoise tells Elizabeth that her own mother was not married to her father. She then tells her that... (full context)
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Elizabeth isn’t surprised; she knew that the dates didn’t add up. Françoise asks if there is... (full context)
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Françoise asks Elizabeth if she is angry, and while she says it may take some “time to digest... (full context)
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Elizabeth visits the prenatal clinic and learns that first labors take hours. She can feel the... (full context)
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Robert is worried that she will go into labor, but Elizabeth calms his fears. First babies are almost never early, she says, and they still have... (full context)
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The pain continues, and Robert insists on calling the doctor. Elizabeth protests, but the pain continues to worsen. Robert sees blood pouring from between her legs... (full context)
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...arrives just in time to cut the cord, and a baby boy is placed in Elizabeth’s arms. She tells Robert that she wants to name him John, “a promise made by... (full context)