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Mr. Bennet is the father of Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist of the novel Pride and Prejudice, a work of the author Jane Austen. He is married to Mrs. Bennet, the daughter of a Meryton attorney. Together the couple has five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia Bennet. None of the daughters are married at the beginning of the novel, much to Mrs Bennet's dismay.
From his estate at Longbourn he derives an annual income of £2,000, which is a respectable income for a gentleman, but certainly not comparable to Mr Darcy's annual income of £10,000. Because Mr Bennet has no male heir, the estate is entailed upon the next closest male relative, Mr. Collins.
Relationship with wife
Elizabeth suggests an explanation for the discontent in her father and mother's marriage:
Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. [...] But Mr. Bennet was not of a disposition to seek comfort for the disappointment which his own imprudence had brought on, in any of those pleasures which too often console the unfortunate for their folly of their vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments.
The quotation indicates the reasons for the apathy Mr. Bennet repeatedly exhibits towards his daughters' marital status. This position is a major point of friction between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, for Mrs. Bennet is constantly fretting about potential suitors for her five single daughters.
Relationship with Elizabeth
From the beginning of the text, it is very apparent that Elizabeth is her father's favourite daughter. The two have a close "sarcastic" bond, which is apparent to everyone in the family. Mrs. Bennet, in one of her many quasi-hysterical moments, turns on her husband and exclaims: "I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference". To which he replies "They have none of them much to recommend them...they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters".
Despite the fact that his daughter must marry in order to be able to continue living the life of a lady, Mr. Bennet appears, for the most part, unconcerned. After Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins' marriage proposal, Mrs. Bennet is beside herself and proclaims that she shall "never see [Elizabeth] again". Yet her father, without even pausing to ask Elizabeth her reasons for not wanting to marry Mr. Collins, who would have been able to provide for her, sarcastically declares "An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. -- Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."
Though Mr. Bennet appears to be an agreeable character, for he does not become involved with Mrs. Bennet's plans, he does have shortcomings which have a real possibility of affecting his wife and daughters' futures. Early in his marriage, his view was that "economy was... perfectly useless". Instead of saving for the future interests of his family, he elected to spend his entire income. This choice was supported by his wife, who "had no turn for economy".
This lack of economic foresight did not bother Mr. Bennet because he assumed his wife would eventually bear him a son, who would join him to cut off the entail and secure the financial future of the rest of his family. Since a son was never born, his wife was at risk of impoverishment should he predecease her, and he had no resources to attract suitors for his daughters by means of sizable dowries.
- Baker, William. "Critical Companion to Jane Austen: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work". Facts on File, 2008, p.407.
- Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.250.
- Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.44.
- Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.45.
- Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.142.
- Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.314.
- Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.315.