“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately;” Mrs. Bennet, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 1
Don’t you just love Mrs. Bennet? No hidden agenda here. Her introduction in the novel Pride & Prejudice quoted above reveals just about everything we need to know about her personality and motivations. It’s all about social position and money.
Being the mother of five unmarried daughters between the ages of 15 to 22 who have no immediate marriage prospects on the horizon can really wear on ones nerves, which she reminds us of quite frequently. And her husband, Mr. Bennet, does not sympathize with her in the least, nor share her concern about their children.
“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.”
“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way! You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
“Ah! you do not know what I suffer.”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood.”
“It will be no use to us if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
“Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all.”
Poor Mrs. Bennet. She may be a very silly woman, but at least she has some idea of the importance of her daughter’s marrying quickly and to men of good fortune. Her methods for procuring husbands, as we will see, may be creative, but her heart is in the right place.
Be sure to mark your calendars and set your watches for the Masterpiece Classic airing of the 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle as wity, plunky and perky Lizzy Bennet and Colin Firth, who needs no introduction, as her sparing partner Mr. Darcy, in the BBC and A & E production of Jane Austen’s classic novel on Sunday, February 10th at 9:00 pm on PBS
I must admit that I think Mrs. Bennet has always been a bit too severely dealt with. As silly and flighty as she may be, but having five unwed daughters and with limited possibilities had to have been a dreadful situation for a woman to deal with in the period. Jane Austen provides her audience with a lovely caricature of a goose-headed woman, but Mrs. Bennet’s position is not much of a joking matter.
I agree with bookchronicle. Mrs. Bennet did the best that she could, given her silly nature, limited understanding, an indifferent husband, and all those unwed daughters. The older I get the less sympathy I have for Mr. Bennet and the more my heart goes out to poor Mrs. Bennet. Yeah, she had the vapors one time too many, but she was allowed to indulge in her childishness by a husband who at best suffered her tantrums. At least Jane and Lizzie showed their mother some respect, consideration, and forbearance.
I too feel compassion for Mrs. Bennet’s situation. I just question her methods. She is a gambler. When she sends Jane in a pouring rain to Netherfield on horseback and she gets drenched, they are lucky that it only resulted in a cold. She also talks quite boldly to her friends about her daughter Jane’s pending engagment, when no such event has transpired yet, and negatively about Mr. Darcy’s manners in a disparaging manner. All embarrassments to her family, friends and those who over hear it!
She is one of my favorite comical characters in P&P. The room just lights up like Christmas when she enters!
Cheers, Laurel Ann
For insight into Mrs. Bennet, I look to Lydia. The mother is the child grown older and somewhat seasoned because she has a clear bead on her dodgy economic situation but with little corresponding increase in maturity. What puzzles me is how, as a member of a social class in which manners were tatooed on their children’s brain ridges, she became so eye-rolling rude
Mr. Bennet is a hard case to judge, I agree with the readers above. On one hand, he had to endure such a ghastly marriage, as Lizzie observes, and a home pulsing with tension and trivia. On the other hand, his sarcasm infects the tone of the family hearth and, in its own way, takes a toll on perceptive children.
What a lovely blog this is.
Hello gloriousback, thank you for visiting and your insightful comments. I agree about Lydia being a younger Mrs. Bennet in the works! Though, I do not think that Wickham will delevope into Mr. Bennet! Cheers, Laurel Ann
Gloriousback has summed it all up quite well. I find particularly convincing the argument for Lydia and Mrs. Bennet being two of a kind only in different stages of maturity, most compelling indeed. In truth I’ve always felt some compassion for Mrs. Bennet who must deal with the harsh reality that, when he dies, her husband’s fortune and properties will be lost to her and her daughters, having been entailed to the unfortunate Mr Collins. That said, what I find most vexing in Mrs. Bennet is her rudeness, her lack of propriety, her loudness, and her vulgarity. While this is evident in the book credit must be paid to Ms Steadman, whose performance is magnificent in capturing the essence of Mrs. Bennet. While Mrs. Bennet’s intent is laudable and in the manner of the times most honourbable, the manner in which she comports herself is injurious to her own cause. Time and again one sees in the series Mrs. Bennet’s low behaviour damaging Jane’s cause. As poorly as Mr. Darcy comes across in the first part of the novel and movie, one can surely appreciate that Mrs. Bennet’s manner serves only to butress his own prejudices. Likewise Lydia’s, and to a lesser extent Ktty’s, comportment simply reinforce the observations of Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst when they speak of Jane and Elizabeth’s unfortunate low relations.
Regarding Mr. Bennet, I have nothing but compassion and understanding for the poor man and admiration for his forbearance in such a household. Lizzie has his wit, his humour, and in many respects is closer to her father in disposition than any other person in the household. While his sardonic personality may not contribute to domestic tranquility I think the impact is minimal indeed. In fact, except when it serves to exacerbate Mrs. Bennet’s own anxieties he is largely treated by the women in his household as being a trivial creature, to be pushed and prodded as need be.
Mr. Reycroft, Yes, I agree that “compassion” is called for in relation to Mr. Bennet. What might have originally attracted someone of his mind and temper to Mrs. Bennet?
I have also wondered how Lizzie and Darcy worked out family visitations after they were married. Surely Lizzie would have tried to limit in some way the need for Darcy to be in Mrs. Bennet’s company for any length of time.
Gloriousbach, regarding Mr. Bennet’s attachment to Mrs Bennet, I image what precipitated it was in fact the difference in their temperaments. If one sets aside the matter of income, I find there are two generally agreed upon schools of thought with regard to what makes a suitable match. Like for Like is oft seen as the preferred match as in the case of Mr Edmund Bertram and Miss Fanny Price. However the attraction of Opposites and the benefits in such relationships is also seen in the marriage of Miss Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon. Though her sensibility was tempered through the travails of her attachment to Willoughby she remained a romantic, albeit a chastened one, even unto her marriage to Colonel Brandon. His reserved demeanor and her more lively and youthful nature served their marriage well.
So were I to hazard a guess, I should think Mr Bennet as a young man chose a girl much like Lydia; vivacious, lively, emotional, and not in the least concerned with the more delicate aspects of civility. Given his laconic nature and propensity for sarcasm, one can only imagine that he saw in her someone whose nature would temper the deficiencies of his own character. Although this is entirely supposition on my part, I’ve oft thought it was in fact Mr Bennet’s marriage to Mrs Bennet that was the point of contention which lead to the break between Mr Bennet and the Senior Mr Collins, as it is obvious she brought nothing to the marriage and her own relations are rather low.
Concerning Mr and Mrs Darcy, I imagine Lizzie did her best to avoid her mother and her mother’s side of the family at all costs. Not just for Mr Darcy’s feelings, but for her own peace of mind. I find it telling that it is mentioned in the book that it is Mr Bennet who frequently visits the Darcys, often unannounced. This would seem to support the idea that Mr Bennet does so not only to see his favorite daughter, but to escape his own household. Again, while I understand her intentions and commend her for her diligence in getting her daughters married off to suitable gentlemen (well, two out of three anyway), I find her character to be one of odious comportment and low manners, how Jane and Lizzie avoided the fate of becoming like Lydia is beyond me.