Mr Bennet

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Mr. and Mrs. Bennet by Hugh Thomson, 1894

Mr. Bennet is a landed gentleman, and the father of Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist of the novel Pride and Prejudice, a work of the author Jane Austen. The head of the dwindling family of gentry, the Bennets, Mr. Bennet is the last male of his family line, he is married to Mrs. Bennet, the daughter of a Meryton attorney, the late Mr. Gardener Sr.[1] 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 family estate, 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.[1] Because Mr Bennet has no immediate male heirs, the estate is entailed upon his next closest male relative, Mr. Collins. While his current heir presumptive is his distant paternal second cousin, Mr. William Collins; but, if, before his death, one of his daughters should be able to present him with a grandson, said-grandson would then become the new heir presumptive of the entailment, a grandson taking precedence over a distant cousin, by virtue of being his closest living male blood relative (this is likely why Mr. Collins' late father, Mr. Collins Sr., before his death, urged his son to 'mend the rift' with the Bennets; if his son were to be the husband of one of Mr. Bennet's daughters, it would reinforce Collins' claim to Longbourn, and furthermore if he were to be the father of said-grandson).

Emily Auerbach criticises Mr Bennet for ignoring the fate of his daughters, and suggests that he possesses "too little sense of duty or responsibility".[2]

"So odd a mixture"[edit]

Mr. Bennet is described by the narrator in his first appearance in the book as "so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character", and it this ironic, cynical sense of humour that irritates his wife (because he doesn't comply with her and Lydia's every wish and whim).

The narrator underlines not only this "odd mixture of intelligence, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice" which makes up the character of Mr Bennet but also how his multiple acts of negligence regarding his duties as husband and father. If he draws the sympathy of the reader by his skill at irony, he has nevertheless a certain number of faults:[3] indifferent and irresponsible, self-centred, set in his ways, indolent, disliking company; he suffers, according to Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer, from a form of autism.[4] Admittedly, he married a silly girl, but he has, for his part, completely given up his social role as pater familias and does not care about the needs of his family. His disengagement is symbolized by his withdrawing into his library and hiding behind his cynical mockery.[5] Firmly tied to his serenity, he regards the world with an ironic detachment, and seems to lack interest in his neighbours. When he is involved in a social event, such as the ball at Netherfield, it is as a silent and amused witness of the blunders of his family.[6] Even the discovery of Darcy's role in Lydia's marriage only draws from him a selfish exclamation of relief: "So much the better. It will save me a world of trouble and economy".[7]

Though he loves his daughters (Elizabeth in particular), he often fails as a parent, preferring to withdraw from the never-ending marriage concerns of the women around him rather than offer help (not knowing how to handle them). In fact, he often enjoys laughing at the sillier members of his family, partially the reason many have fatal faults, as he has not taken pains to amend them.

Relationship with wife[edit]

Later in the story (Volume 2, Chapter 19), it is revealed by the narrator that Mr. Bennet had only married his wife based on an initial attraction to her:

"[Mr. Bennet] 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 the marriage put an end to any real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence, had vanished for ever; and all of his views of domestic happiness were overthrown. 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 of their folly or vice. He was fond of the country and of books; and from these tastes had arisen his principal enjoyments[8]

.

It is most likely, after having realised what kind of a woman he had married, that Mr. Bennet may have tried to rein-in his wife's behaviour, initially, only to come to the conclusion that to do so was, for the most part, an exercise in futility (this realization possibly counting as heartbreak on his part), and so lead to his indolence, lethargy and apathy for attempting to correct the behaviours of his family, who have "none of them much to recommend them ... they are all silly and ignorant like other girls" (save for Jane and Elizabeth). While he openly favours Jane and Elizabeth, who are both of a much steady and genteel dispositions (and, thus, are worth making any effort for in his eyes), he actively distances himself from his wife and younger daughters activities when ever possible, even at social gatherings like assemblies.

This is the reason for the discontent in his marriage, and 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. It is also safe to say that, when he speaks of '[living] for making sport for [one's] neighbours, and laughing at them in our turn', he is also saying the same of himself and his folly of having married Mrs. Bennet in the first place. It is likely that this mistake he had made back as a bachelor is why he is the way he is now (see above).

Relationship with Elizabeth[edit]

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".[9] 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".[10]

Despite the fact that his daughter must marry in order to be able to continue living the life of a gentlewoman, 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".[11] 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."[11]

Economic shortcomings[edit]

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".[12] 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".[13]

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.[13] 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.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Baker, William. "Critical Companion to Jane Austen: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work". Facts on File, 2008, p.407.
  2. ^ Auerbach, Emily (2006). Searching for Jane Austen. Madison, Wis.: Univ. of Wisconsin Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780299201845. 
  3. ^ Bury, Jane Austen ; traduction, présentation, notes, chronologie et bibliographie par Laurent (2010). Orgueil et préjugés (in French) ([Nouvelle édition]. ed.). Paris: Flammarion. p. 17. ISBN 978-2-08-122951-8. 
  4. ^ Bottomer, Phyllis Ferguson (2007). So odd a mixture : along the autistic spectrum in "Pride and prejudice" (1. publ. ed.). London: Kingsley. pp. 63–82. ISBN 9781843104995. 
  5. ^ Tanner, Tony (1986). Jane Austen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-674-47174-0. 
  6. ^ "Ivor Morris". 
  7. ^ Bottomer, Phyllis Ferguson (2007). So odd a mixture : along the autistic spectrum in "Pride and prejudice" (1. publ. ed.). London: Kingsley. p. 81. ISBN 9781843104995. 
  8. ^ Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.250.
  9. ^ Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.44.
  10. ^ Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.45.
  11. ^ a b Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.142.
  12. ^ Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.314.
  13. ^ a b Austen, Jane. "Pride and Prejudice". Broadview Press: Orchard Park, 2002, p.315.