The Bennet family are a fictional family of dwindling Hertfordshire landed gentry, created by English novelist Jane Austen. The family plays a central role in the novel, « Pride and Prejudice« , since it is the one of the protagonist, Elizabeth. The complex relationships between its various members influence the evolution of the plot.
In a society where marriage is the only possible future for a young girl of good family, the presence in the household of five girls to marry with no other advantage than their good looks can only be a source of concern. Yet the Bennet couple do not assume their role as educators: the mother struggles so awkwardly under the mocking gaze of an indifferent husband that she scares the rich young man who noticed the oldest and most pretty of her daughters.
These girls show very different behaviors according to the education they received or provided themselves: the two eldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, show irreproachable conduct and are appreciated by their father, while Mary, less physically attractive, displays intellectual and musical pretensions, and the two youngest are both left almost abandoned to run wild under the sloppy, careless supervision of their ineffectual mother.
Other members of the Bennets staged by Jane Austen are, on the one hand Mrs Bennet’s brother and sister – Mr. Gardiner and Mrs. Philips, on the other hand the designated heir of Mr. Bennet’s estate, his distant paternal second cousin, the pompous and foolish Mr. William Collins. Mr. Gardiner and Mrs. Philips contribute significantly to the progress and outcome of the story, but at a level and in a different register reflecting their respective social belonging. Collins’s character serves as a link between the gentry of Hertfordshire, to which the Bennets belong, and the large property owners Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. Darcy.
The legal, financial or emotional interests that unite or divide the members of the Bennet family allow Jane Austen to build a complex picture of society and to raise a number of societal issues specific to her time, particularly concerning girls’ education and legitimacy of certain behaviors.
Mr. Bennet, Esquire, is a late-middle-aged landed gentleman of a modest income of £2000 per annum (with an additional Interest of £100 per annum from his £2,000 income) from his family estate, « Longborne House » (« The ‘village’ of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton … Mr. Bennet’s property consisted almost entirely in an estate of two thousand a year, which, unfortunately for his daughters, was entailed, in default of heirs male, on a distant relation« ), but with no accumulated fortune (as he allows his spendthrift wife to squander much of his annual income), and the patriarch of the now-dwindling Bennet family (a family of Hertfordshire landed gentry). He 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, the late Mr. Gardener Sr. Together the couple has five daughters; Jane, Elizabeth (« Lizzy« / »Eliza« ) wholesale socks for kids, Mary, Catherine (« Kitty« ), and Lydia Bennet. None of the daughters are married at the beginning of the novel, much to Mrs Bennet’s dismay.
Mr. Bennet’s family estate, Longborne House, is an estate located within the environs of the township of Meryton, in Hertfordshire, just north of London. From his family estate, Mr. Bennet 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, being 1/5 the size). Mr. Bennet’s family estate also has an entailment upon it, meant to keep the estate in the sole possession of the family, down the male line, and from being divided-off amongst younger sons and any daughters; it is to passed-down amongst male heirs only. For years, Mr. Bennet had had the hope and intention of fathering a son who was to inherit the entire estate; which would see to the entail for another generation, and provide for his widow (if she survived him) and any other children he might have. Also, Mr. Bennet did not get along with his then-closest living male relative and male heir, his distant cousin, Mr. Collins (Sr.), who is describes as an « illiterate miser » (possibly some disagreement over the entail), and did not want the estate going to him. Sadly, after 23/24-years of marriage, Mr. Bennet remains the last male scion of the Bennet family (‘lest he and Mrs. Bennet manage to have a son rather late in life), thus the Bennet name will become extinct with his death (since there’s no mention of Mr. Bennet having any had siblings (save for his brothers-&-sisters-in-law, the Phillips and Gardiners) it is likely that Mr. Bennet was an only-child).
Because Mr Bennet has no immediate male heirs (heir apparents), the estate is entailed upon his next closest living male relative, Mr. William Collins. While his distant second cousin, Mr. Collins (the son of his late distant cousin, (described as an ‘illiterate miser’), who had passed-away some time prior to the events of « Pride and Prejudice ») is his now current heir presumptive; if, however, before Mr. Bennert’s 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 Mr. Bennet’s closest living male blood relative (and this fact 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 ». It is also possible 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 below).
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: indifferent and irresponsible, self-centred, set in his ways, indolent, disliking company; he suffers, according to Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer, from a form of autism. 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.
Although he is an intelligent man, his lethargy and indifference results in him opting to spend his time ridiculing the weaknesses of others rather than addressing his own problems. His irresponsibility has placed his family in the potentially devastating position of being homeless and destitute when he dies. He recognizes this fact, but does nothing to remedy the situation. Mr. Bennet seems to spend most all of his time (if not all of it) in his personal sanctuary, Longbourn’s library/bookroom/study; a physical retreat from the world (signifying his emotional retreat from his family).
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. 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 ». 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.
Later in the story (Volume 2, Chapter 19), it is revealed by the narrator that Mr. Bennet had only married his wife based-off of 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.
It is most likely, after having realised what kind of a woman he had married, that Mr. Bennet may have tried to reign-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 heart brake 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).
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).
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. Mr. Bennet seems to spend most all of his time (if not all of it) in his personal sanctuary, Longbourn’s library/bookroom/study; a physical retreat from the world (signifying his emotional retreat from his family).
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 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 ». 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 his indolent parenting style and manners are suggested to be questionable at several times in the novel, he loves his daughters (Elizabeth in particular), and ultimately, Mr Bennet blames himself for having been insufficiently disciplining with his daughters, which ultimately had enabled Lydia to run away with Mr. Wickham, (and nor does he resent Elizabeth for her having advised him against letting Lydia go to Brighton with Colonel Forster’s regiment (as the newly-married Mrs. Forster’s « particular friend » (who was barely older then Lydia)) in the first place).
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 allows his entire annual income to be spent; this choice was supported by his wife, a spendthrift who « had no turn for economy« . It also should be noted that, while Mr. Bennet has done nothing try and put sums of money away to try and save up help his family in the event of his death, he has however made the effort to keep them out of debts (« and her husband’s love of independence had alone prevented their exceeding their income« ).
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.
If the narrator remains silent on the ancestors of Mr Bennet, we know a little more about the family of his wife: Mrs arsenal football shirt. Bennet, born Gardiner and married for twenty-three years (at the start of the novel), is the daughter of an attorney of Meryton in Hertfordshire. She has a brother and a sister, both married. The marriages of the two women have resulted in them revolving in different circles, while their brother has acquired an education and a higher social status in general trade (in a respectable line of trade ) in London.
Mrs. Bennet (née Gardiner) is the middle-aged wife of her social superior, Mr. Bennet, and the mother of their five daughters; Jane, Elizabeth (« Lizzy« / »Eliza« ), Mary, Catherine (« Kitty« ), and Lydia Bennet. Mrs Bennet is shameless, childish, frivolous, excitable, temperamental, officious, indecorous, greedy and grasping, illogical, loquacious, invasive, artless, and attention seeking. She is a hypochondriac, who imagines herself susceptible to attacks of tremors and palpitations (« [her] poor nerves »), whenever she is displeased because things are not going her way.
She is very much a child still, emotionally immature, but in an adult’s body; likewise with her most-favoured daughter, Lydia, with who she shares a rapport with, indulging all of her ‘silly’, forward and selfish behaviour, and has for years filled Lydia’s head with tales of lace, bonnets, high-fashions, men in regimentals (« [Lydia] is very young; she has never been taught to think on serious subjects; and for the last half-year, nay, for a twelvemonth, she has been given up to nothing but amusement and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in the most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that came in her way. Since the —-shire were first quartered in Meryton, nothing but love, flirtation, and officers have been in her head. She has been doing every thing in her power, by thinking and talking on the subject, to give greater — what shall I call it? — susceptibility to her feelings, which are naturally lively enough« ).
In the first chapter, the narrator warns that Mrs. Bennet is « a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper« . Seduced by her « youth and beauty, and that appearance of good-humour which youth and beauty generally give« , Mr. Bennet married her quickly, discovering too late that she was stupid, narrow-minded and shallow. Although her first name is never mentioned, it is likely to be called Jane, since it was customary to give the name of the mother to the eldest daughter. Her personal fortune inherited from her father amounted to £4,000 (with an additional Interest of £200 per annum from this £4,000 inheritance (which she squanders)), which is a lot of money for someone of her condition (« and their mother’s fortune, though ample for her situation in life, could but ill supply the deficiency of his. Her father had been an attorney in Meryton, and had left her four thousand pounds« ).
Her vulgar public manners, her crude efforts at social-climbing, and her ‘sillyness’ are a source of constant embarrassment to both Jane and Elizabeth. Her main ambition in life is to marry her daughters off to wealthy men, who she can boast and brag about them to her friends and neighbours; Mrs. Phillips (her sister), Lady Lucas (wife of Sir. William Lucas, of Lucas Lodge), Mrs. Long, and Mrs. Goulding (of Haye-Park), especially to Lady Lucas, with who she seems to be contest of one-upmanship with. Whether or not any such matches will give her daughters happiness is of little concern to her. Her pastimes are shopping, ‘socializing’, and gossiping & wholesale socks for men; boasting. Her favourite daughter is her youngest, Lydia, who takes very much after her younger self. Next she values her eldest, Jane, though only for Jane’s great physical beauty, and never considers Jane’s feelings, virtue or reputation. Her least-favourite daughter is Elizabeth (closely followed by Mary) who she does not understand (or like) at all.
Between the Gardiner siblings, Mrs. Bennet is the one that had the best wedding, since she married a member of the local gentry, owner of a domain reporting £2000 annually. But this domain is under the regime of substitution for a male heir (fee tail male), a rule of succession which she never understood why her husband could do nothing to change (despite it having been explained to her numerous times (she assumes that he simply won’t change it on purpose to stress her « poor nerves« )), since it clouded his future and that of his daughters, given that she and her husband were unable to have a boy. They had hoped for years, even after the birth of Lydia, the son who would have allowed to put an end to the entail, but they only had girls, five daughters over the course of seven years. And now that she is middle-aged, having lost all hope of giving birth to a son, Mrs Bennet is obsessed with the idea of losing her material security, and to be deprived of the social situation to which she is long accustomed to (and, to her mind, entirely deserving of); the possibility of becoming a widow and being expelled from the domain by the heir terrorizes her.
Thereby her fixed idea, « the business of her life » ever since Jane, the eldest, has reached 16 years old, is the urgent need to find a husband financially secure for her daughters to their safeguard and her own. Thus, she shows immediately interest in the arrival of an eligible bachelor in the region. So she sends Jane to Netherfield in the rain to make sure they retain her there, she encourages Mr Collins to ask for the hand of Elizabeth, and she rejoices loudly for the marriage of Lydia, shamelessly triumphant (« No sentiment of shame gave a damp to her triumph » specifies the narrator), indifferent to the dishonourable reasons which made it necessary (and the fact that a man had to be bribed to marry her favourite daughter), since it corresponds to the realization of « her dearest wishes » to have her daughter ‘well married’, but fails to realise that Wickham will only ever prove to be a drain upon the family’s resources, rather than a boon (and thus not « well married »).
By marrying, she has changed social status but she continues to behave like an ignorant, one-dimensional, petite bourgeoise from Meryton. She is one of the simple characters, these characters, like Mr. Collins or Lady Catherine, and her own daughter Lydia, frozen and unable to evolve: in twenty-three years of marriage she has not changed. Soon as she is upset, incapable of analysis, reflection or questioning, she gets defensive and has an anxiety attack (« She fancied herself nervous »).
Narrow-minded and ignorant, she has only the vaguest idea of how to behave in good society, the upper class to which Darcy belongs, and where she would like to see Jane entering. Her lack of intelligence and narrowness of mind (« weak understanding and illiberal mind ») quickly resulted in the neglect of her husband, who for a long time feels nothing more for her than a mocking indifference tinged with contempt; if he does still have feelings for her, they are of a disappointed variety of love, although it is a fact that he remained faithful 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« ).
Her notion of stylish behavior is summarized in what she told Sir William: « He has always something to say to everybody. – That is my idea of good breeding ». She behaves with embarrassing vulgarity and lack of tact, especially at Netherfield, where her pretentiousness, foolishness and « total lack of correction » are particularly evident. She is completely devoid of empathy, save for herself and Lydia, and is only sensitive to the outward appearances (Jane’s superior physical beauty, handsome men in militia uniforms, Mrs. Hurst’s expensive laces). For her, it is not the manners or behavior that indicate belonging to a high rank, it is ostentatious and flaunting her wealth, and the validity of a marriage is measured by the amount « of calico, muslin and cambric » to buy for the bride’s trousseau. Thus, Mr. Bennet’s refusal to get new clothes for her beloved Lydia in her wedding day shocked her more than the fifteen days lived in concubinage with Wickham (« She was more alive to the disgrace which the want of new clothes must reflect on her daughter’s nuptials, than to any sense of shame at her eloping and living with Wickham a fortnight before they took place« ).
This convoluted world view, inflated sense of self-love, and ill-economic tendencies are seen more even more ludicrous upon Lydia’s marriage (« Mr. Bennet and his daughters saw all the advantages of Wickham’s removal from the —-shire as clearly as Mr. Gardiner could do. But Mrs. Bennet was not so well pleased with it. Lydia’s being settled in the North, just when [Mrs. Bennet] had expected most pleasure and pride in [Lydia’s] company–for [Mrs. Bennet] had by no means given up her plan of their residing in Hertfordshire–was a severe disappointment; and besides, it was such a pity that Lydia should be taken from a regiment where she was acquainted with every body, and had so many favourites. … « She is so fond of Mrs. Forster« , said [Mrs. Bennet], « it will be quite shocking to send her away! And there are several of the young men, too, that she likes very much »), completely glossing over Lydia’s ruination and rescue, as if events had actually been different then they actually had.
Jane Austen has particularly charged the character. As Virginia Woolf wrote, « no excuse is found for [her fools] and no mercy shown them […] Sometimes it seems as if her creatures were born merely to give [her] the supreme delight of slicing their heads off ». In the tradition of the comedy of manners and didactic novel, she uses a caricatural and parodic character to mock some of her contemporaries.
Mrs. Bennet is distinguished primarily by her propensity to logorrhea, a defect that Thomas Gisborne considers specifically feminine. She does not listen to any advice, especially if it comes from Elizabeth (who she does not like), makes redundant and repetitive speeches, annoying chattering, full of absurdities and inconsistencies, which she accompanies, when she is thwarted, with complaints back loop and continual cantankerous remarks that her interlocutors are careful not to interrupt, knowing that it would only serve to prolong them. Even the ever-patient Jane finds her mother’s complaints hard to bear, when Mrs. Bennet manifests « a longer irritation than usual » about the absence of Mr. Bingley, confessing to Elizabeth how much the lack of self-control of her mother revives her suffering (« Oh that my dear mother had more command over herself! she can have no idea of the pain she gives me by her continual reflections on him« ).
Another emphasized and systematically ridiculed aspect is her « nervous disease » or rather her tendency to use her alleged weakness nervous to get noticed and attract compassion to herself, or else demanding that they dance attendance on her leave, but ultimately failing to make herself loved. There are characters particularly concerned about their health in all the novels of Jane Austen; those hypochondriacs that she calls « poor honey » in her letters. These egocentric characters who use their real or imagined ailments to reduce all to them, seem to be inspired by Mrs Bennet, whose complaints about her health had the ability to irritate Jane, who speaks with certain ironic annoyance about it in her letters to her sister. The narrator has fun describing her displaced joy, her good humor overwhelming to those around her (« spirits oppressively high »), since she learns that Lydia’s wedding is a fact, and her haste to announce the « good news » to all Meryton, shamelessly triumphant (« No sentiment of shame gave a damp to her triumph » specifies the narrator), again indifferent to the dishonourable reasons which made it necessary (and the fact that a man had to be bribed to marry her favourite daughter), since it corresponds to the realization of « her dearest wishes » to have her daughter ‘well married’, and so fails to realise that Wickham will only ever prove to be a drain upon the family’s resources, rather than a boon (and thus not ‘well married’).
Some critics, however, point out that it would be unfair to see only her faults. Her obsession is justified by the family’s situation: the cynicism of Mr Bennet will not prevent Mr Collins from inheriting Longbourn. She, at least, unlike her husband, thinks about the future of her daughters in seeking to place them socially, (although it’s just as likely that she anticipates being able to scrounge off them shamelessly in the event of being left a widow). In an environment where there are numerous young ladies to be married (all neighbors: the Longs, the Lucases, have daughters or nieces to marry) and few interesting parties, she is much more attentive to the competition than him and she has, somehow, saturated the market. She does not neglect her daughters, while he merely treats them all as « stupid and ignorant as all the girls », and is locked selfishly in his library.
Disappointed by her « mediocre intelligence« , he enjoys disconcerting her with his « sarcastic humor« , but he increases the anxiety of her « unequal character » by refusing to accept legitimate requests: why tell her that he will not visit Bingley on his arrival in the country, when, in fact, he has the firm intention of doing so? And when she revolts against the injustice of the entail, why he replied: « we must hope that I will survive you?« . She is well aware that he takes pleasure in contradicting her (feels « no compassion for [her] poor nerves« ), never realizing that she’s the one who sets herself for it every time (and that’s pointing out the flaws in her words). Not smart enough to understand his mindset and unsatisfied herself, she « fancied herself nervous« , the narrator says. She really suffers from the mocking indifference, insensitivity and lack of empathy from her husband and feels misunderstood; her appreciation for visits and gossip is a consolation, a solace for an unhappily-married woman.
But, because Mrs. Bennet is stupid, the narrator is merciless and seems to take the same perverse pleasure as Mr. Bennet in mocking her and noting all her ridiculous interventions. The narrator does not forgive her stupidity, nor her awkward interferences, her absurd remarks and pretensions inherently selfish. When Jane asks her to feel a bit of gratitude to his brother, who had paid a lot for Lydia’s wedding, she replied that ‘had he not had children, that she and her daughters will inherit all his property’, and he has never been ‘really generous so far’ (« If he had not had a family of his own, I and my children must have had all his money, you know; and it is the first time we have ever had anything from him, except a few presents« ). Lydia’s marriage does not satisfy her as much as she wanted, because her daughter did not stay long enough with her so that she could continue to parade with her environment (« Lydia does not leave me because she is married, but only because her husband’s regiment happens to be so far off. If that had been nearer, she would not have gone so soon« ), and if she was able to happily « for all her maternal feelings [get] rid of her most deserving daughters« , the marriage of Jane will only satisfy her « delighted pride » during the year that the Bingley spent at Netherfield.
Mrs. Bennet is not treated any better by Jane Austen than Lady Catherine, who shows the same lack of taste, and as many selfish pretensions and such ridiculous interferences; her rudeness of rich and aristocrat pride shames her nephew, just like the vulgarity of her mother irritates Elizabeth. For Jane Austen, nothing can excuse the stupidity that exists at all levels of society.
Mrs Bennet has not really raised these girls, that she would like so much to see married, to make them good housekeepers. She never gave them any notion of home economics, which was, however, the traditional role of a mother in a middle-class family.
It was Thomas Gisborne who theorized in An Enquiry Into the Duties of Men, published in 1794, and in An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex, published in 1797, the idea of areas reserved for men and women. According to him, women are by nature destined to the domestic sphere, defined as the particular area where « their excellence deploys ». Therefore, their role is to keep the house and direct the domesticity. Now, Mrs. Bennet openly mocks Charlotte Lucas when she is forced to go into the kitchen in order to supervise the tarts making, proudly saying that her « daughters are brought up differently »; also, she reacts with force when Mr Collins, on the day of his arrival, assumed that his cousins took part in the preparation of dinner.
Mrs. Bennet also adds that they lived quite well, since Mr. Bennet spends annually his entire comfortable income: Mrs Bennet « had no turn for economy »; and for Lydia-only the expenses amounted to approximately £90-per year (almost double her allowance, because of her income (the £50 Interest from her 1/5 share of her mother’s dowry), plus all of the additional indulgences of her mother providing her with more (« and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expences had been very little within [£100 per annum]« ), and going to her sisters to borrow money (which she then never pays back)); with the £100-per annum financial arrangements (for the rest of Mr. Bennet’s life) made for her marriage, Mr. Bennet is « scarcely £10 pounds more out of pocket » then he was before Lydia’s marriage.
Jane Bingley (née Bennet) is the eldest Bennet sister. Like her immediately-younger sister, Elizabeth, Jane is favoured by her father, due to her steady, genteel disposition. Like each of her sisters, Jane had an allowance/pin money of £50 per annum (Interest on £1,000 from her mother’s fortune/dowry by settlement upon her death) before her marriage to Charles Bingley. Twenty-two years old when the novel begins, she is considered the most beautiful young lady in the neighbourhood.
Jane’s character is contrasted with Elizabeth’s as sweeter, shyer, and equally sensible, but not as clever (but she is aware of this fact); her most notable trait is a desire to see only the good in others. As Anna Quindlen wrote, Jane is « sugar to Elizabeth’s lemonade ». Jane is closest to Elizabeth, and her character is often contrasted with that of Elizabeth. Jane (along with her sister, Elizabeth) seems to have taken after her father’s side of the family, in actual fact, having been portrayed as a sweet, steady, genteel girl (unlike her mother). She is favoured by her mother (next after her youngest sister, Lydia) solely because of her external beauty. If Jane has taken anything after her mother, it is a certain inflexibility of thought; but while her mother’s inflexibility of thought leans in a wholly selfish direction, Jane’s is in a selfless one; Jane is very unwilling to think ill of others (unless sufficient evidence presents itself), where-as her mother will think ill of anyone on little evidence.
She falls in love with the affable and amiable Mr. Bingley (« He is just what a young man ought to be », said [Jane], « sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding« ), a rich young man who has recently leased Netherfield Park, a neighbouring estate in Hertfordshire, and a close friend of Mr. Darcy. Their love is initially thwarted by Mr. Darcy and Caroline Bingley, who are concerned by Jane’s low connections and have other plans for Bingley, respectively, involving Miss Darcy. Mr. Darcy, aided by Elizabeth, eventually sees the error in his ways and is instrumental in bringing Jane and Bingley back together.
As described in volume 3, chapter 19 (the epilogue) that, after their marriage, the happy couple only manage to tough it out at Netherfield for a year before life in Meryton (being imposed upon by Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips and their ill-bred, silly, thoughtless behavior) proved to be too much for their good tempers, leading them to give-up the lease on the estate and establish themselves else where (« Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelve-month. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper, or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighbouring country to Derbyshire, and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every source of happiness, were within thirty-miles of each other.« )
Elizabeth Darcy (née Bennet) The reader sees the unfolding plot and the other characters mostly from her viewpoint. The second of the Bennet daughters, she is twenty years old and is intelligent, lively, playful, attractive, and witty—but with a tendency to judge on first impression (the « prejudice » of the title) and perhaps to be a little selective of the evidence on which she bases her judgments. Like each of her sisters, Elizabeth had an allowance/pin money of £50 per annum (Interest on £1,000 from her mother’s fortune by settlement upon her death). As the plot begins, her closest relationships are with her father (as his favourite daughter), her sister Jane, her Aunt Gardiner, and her best friend Charlotte Lucas. She is also the least favourite of her mother, Mrs. Bennet because of her resistance to her mother’s plans (a ‘rank’ which she is tied closely with her plain sister, Mary, who Mrs. Bennet also looks down upon). As the story progresses, so does her relationship with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Esquire. The course of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship is ultimately decided when Darcy overcomes his pride, and Elizabeth overcomes her prejudice, leading them both to surrender to their love for each other.
Mary Bennet is the middle, and only plain and solemn Bennet sister. Like both her two younger sisters, Kitty and Lydia, she is seen as being ‘silly’ by Mr. Bennet, and as not even pretty like her sisters (and for not being ‘good-humoured’ like Lydia) by Mrs. Bennet. Mary is not very intelligent but thinks of herself as being wise. Rather than join in some of the family activities, she mostly reads, plays music and sings, although she is often impatient to display her ‘accomplishments’ and is rather vain and pedantic about them; vanity disguised as disciplines (« Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached« ). Mary is very un-self-aware of all of this, fancying herself to be intelligent, wise and very accomplished; and this is likely to be the reason why her father considers her to be ‘silly’ like her mother and younger sisters, though the much more prim and sensible of them by far. Mary also comes across as being both very sanctimonious and dull.
Mary is like a caricature of an overly-bookish young woman, who spends all of her time reading and memorizing texts, but doesn’t really get the point of what she is reading, saying in conversation (i.e. when Elizabeth declares her intention of going to Netherfield by foot, Mary inserts herself into the conversation; « I admire the activity of your benevolence », observed Mary, « but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required« ; unwittingly, Mary declares that Jane is not worth the effort of walking the three miles between Longborne and Netherfield). Didactic and moralistic, Mary constantly recites awkward interpretations of what are supposed to be profound observations about human nature and life in general from her books, unable to discern where different books by different authors contradict one-another, and is totally unable to think critically about her books, giving them more benefit then people.
When Mr. Collins is refused by Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet hopes Mary may be prevailed upon to accept him, and the impression the reader is given is that Mary also harboured some hopes in this direction (« Mrs. Bennet wished to understand by it that [Mr. Collins] thought of paying his address to one of her younger girls, and Mary might have been prevailed on to accept him. [Mary] rated his abilities much higher than any of the others; there was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her, and though by no means so clever as herself she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as her’s, he might become a very agreeable companion« ), but neither of them know that he is already engaged to Charlotte Lucas by this time until informed-so by Charlotte’s father, Sir William Lucas. This also shows that Mary can be and is easily influenced simply by someone with the position in society of a clergyman, her biased-respect blinding her as to how ridiculous Mr. Collins actually is.
Mary does works hard for her knowledge and accomplishments (reading publications such as « Pastor Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women« ), ever-diligently applying herself to it; but, despite the fact that she is studious, and was once described as the most accomplished girl in the neighbourhood, Mary yet lives in ignorance of the full meaning of almost everything she studies, and she sadly has neither genius nor taste (and is potentially tone deaf, as she cannot discern that her singing is bad). However, it must also be noted that Mary is still a sympathetic character: her parents are biased and ineffective, her two older and younger sisters have neatly paired-off together, which leaves her alone as the odd-one-out, and she is probably the Bennet daughter who is most ignored (besides Kitty), which might be why she puts so much effort in trying to impress people, clinging to what she feels makes her stand-out from her sisters (possibly a mentally she has also inherited from her mother). Mary also has little understanding of her sisters, Lydia most of all.
Like each of her sisters, Mary had an allowance/pin money of £50 per annum (Interest on the £1,000 inheritance from her mother’s dowry, by settlement upon her death) before her marriage (see below). Mary does not appear often in the novel. However, it is said in volume 3, chapter 19 (the epilogue) that, now with Jane, Elizabeth, & Lydia (& Kitty(?)) now married and moved-out of Longborne, Mary received more ‘attention’ from her mother, and was made to mix more with people during company (« Mary was the only daughter who remained at home; and she was necessarily drawn from the pursuit of accomplishments by Mrs. Bennet’s being quite unable to sit alone. Mary was obliged to mix more with the world, but she could still moralize over every morning visit; and as she was no-longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own, it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change with out much reluctance« ).
According to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen, Mary ended up marrying one of her Uncle Philips’ law clerks (name not mentioned), and moved into Meryton with him, (« [Mary] obtained nothing higher in marriage than one of her uncle Philips’ clerks » and « was content to be considered a ‘star’ in the society of Meryton« ).
Catherine « Kitty » Bennet is Mr.-&-Mrs. Bennet’s fourth daughter, at 17-years-old (18-years-old later in the story); she is one of the novel’s more abstruse characters. Her role in the Bennet family is little more than as the easily-hit-up-able, easily-downtrodden, easily-hurt, and easily-teased flirt, whose substance is largely borrowed from Lydia. Kitty is described as « weak-spirited« , « irritable« , and (along with Lydia) « ignorant, idle and vain« , she is also easily intimidated, easily moved-aside, dismissed & ignored (something she actually has in common with her sister, Mary (but while Mary seems to have been left to tough this out alone, Kitty has attached herself to Lydia)), and easily led about. Despite the fact that she is older then Lydia by two-years, Kitty is almost completely under her younger sister’s influence (being weak-willed), living-off of whatever crumbs of second hand attention and affection from their mother that rubs off-of Lydia (what little importance she temporally gained as the one who Lydia wrote most to when she went to Brighton with Mrs. Forster, (« [Kitty] owned, with very natural triumph, on knowing more than the rest of [her family]« ), taking advantage of every possible occasion of oppotunity to feel as important as possible), and not recognizing the consequences of keeping Lydia’s plot to elope a secret from her family, generally (« Our importance, our respectability in the world, must be affected by the wild volatility, the assurance and disdain of all restraint which mark Lydia’s character. … Oh! my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?« ) and to her personally (« Poor Kitty has anger for having concealed their attachment« ). Little more than a ‘sidekick’, and virtually Lydia’s shadow, Kitty’s individuality is practically non-existent throughout most of the story (questionable at best); lacking much in the way of personal depths, she does not have an original idea in her head, following Lydia’s lead in every matter, agreeing with Lydia, mostly letting Lydia do her thinking for her. Kitty’s own lack of confidence restrains her from reacting with equal alacrity.
Although she is portrayed as having little opinion differing from Lydia, Lydia does take her for granted (Lydia basically drops her for Mrs. Forster (who is somewhere around the same age as Kitty and Lydia, is also easily influenced by Lydia, and comes with ‘perks’), so Kitty does hold some resentment towards her, (i.e. when Lydia is invited to Brighton by the newly-married Mrs. Forster, Kitty is portrayed as being envious of Lydia, declaring that, as the older sister by two-years, she had just as much right to be invited as Lydia), but yet does not seem to pick-up on the pattern of behaviour where Lydia takes advantage of her again and again, and Kitty is left getting into trouble because of her antics (i.e. when Kitty keeps the fact that Lydia was eloping with Wickham from her family, and then, after the news gets out, ends-up with her father’s displeasure).
Little more than the reflection of Lydia throughout the story, they share many of the same pursuits; Kitty greatly enjoys dancing, shopping, fashions, and joining with Lydia in engaging in flirtations with the officers of the milita regiment that has been posted at Meryton over the winter, but here also she is overshadowed by Lydia, who is more forward, assertive, and demanding of all of their attentions. Kitty’s idiosyncrasies are the result of the two most singular aspects of her life; the first is the influence Lydia holds over her; the second is the lack of acknowledgement Kitty receives from her family. Even her parents are guilty of this unintended negligence. In the first few chapters, when Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are quarreling about Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, in lieu of a better comeback, « began scolding one of her daughters » simply for coughing. Kitty is often on the short side of the proverbial stick (as she does not have much of her mother’s favour after Lydia and Jane, or her father’s after Elizabeth and Jane), and also a « silly » young woman.
It is mentioned in Volume 2, chapter 37, that, whilst her oldest sisters, Jane and Elizabeth, have tried over the years (prior to the events of the book, Pride and Prejudice) to reign-in the wild-&-ill behaviours of Kitty and Lydia, their efforts had, on Kitty’s end, been seen as ‘interfering’ (« Catherine, weak-spirited, irritable, and completely under Lydia’s guidance, had been always affronted by their advice« ); Jane and Elizabeth’s attempts had also undermined by their mother (who sees nothing wrong with it (especially with Lydia)), and unsupported by their father (who is amused by Kitty & Lydia’s ‘silliness’ and simply will not trouble himself with the effort involved in reigning them in (and with arguing with Mrs. Bennet, who is so ungovernable-herself)).
Like each of her sisters, Kitty had an allowance/pin money of £50 per annum (Interest on £1,000 from her mother’s fortune by settlement upon her death) before her marriage (see below).
It is later said, in volume 3, chapter 19 (the epilogue) that, now with Lydia’s negative influence removed, and often spending much time in the company of her two well-behaved older sisters, Kitty has improved (« Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. In society so superior to what she had generally known, her improvement was great. She was not so ungovernable a temper as Lydia, and, removed from the influence of Lydia’s example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid. From the farther disadvantage of Lydia’s society [Kitty] was carefully kept, and though Mrs. Wickham frequently invited her to come and stay with her, with the ‘promise’ of balls and young men, her father would never consent to her going« ).
According to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s A Memoir of Jane Austen, Kitty later married a clergyman (name not mentioned) who lived near Pemberley (« Catherine « Kitty » Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley« ), potentially the Lambton parish, the Kympton parish, or another such parish under the patronage of the Darcy family.
Lydia Wickham (née Bennet) is the youngest Bennet sister; she is 15-years-old when the novel begins (turning 16 in June, after going to Brighton as Mrs. Forster’s « particular friend » (but before she ran off with George Wickham)). In terms of outer appearance, Lydia is described as a strong, healthy, well-grown female, with a fine complexion and a good-humoured countenance (she also claims to be the tallest of the five sisters, though she is the youngest).
In terms of personality, Lydia is a younger version of her mother, as well as being her mother’s favourite (« Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age« ); Lydia is young & foolish, prideful, vain & conceited, vainglorious, shallow, superficial & one-dimensional, childish, immature, irresponsible & irrepressible, thoughtless & careless, idle, indolent & lazy, recalcitrant, insouciant, flippant, frivolous & flighty, high-spirited & light-hearted, carefree and callous, loquacious, gossipy & garrulous, coquettish, bold, forward & flirtatious, lusty, lively, eager & enthusiastic, ebullient & exuberant, effervescent, convivial, jovial, jaunty, cheeky, perky, gleeful, vivacious, wild, wilful, unruly & ungovernable, unchecked, improper & inappropriate, reckless, brazen & brash, vulgar, crass, coarse & uncouth, loud & noisy, licentious & promiscuous, impulsive, impetuous & headstrong, irritable & petulant, over-confident & arrogant, selfish, spoiled, stubborn & obstinate, obstreperous, blithe, petulant & insubordinate, ungracious & ungrateful, self-indulgent & extravagant, improvident & spendthrifty, self-importance, self-centred-&-absorbed, self-serving & gloating, inane, asinine, insipid & foolish, silly & doltish, insensible, oblivious, vapid, vacant & vacuous, empty-headed, small-&-simple-minded & closed-&-narrow-minded, petty-minded & pettish, illiberal & irrational, short-sighted, fatuous & injudicious, untalented, unintelligent, uneducated, unaccomplished & dense, ignorant, materialistic, greedy & grasping, incautious, unscrupulous & shameless, imprudent & trivial, volatile, fickle & capricious, improvident, uninhibited, unguarded & unrestrained, rude & unkind, churlish, impertinent and inconsiderate (« vain, ignorant, idle, and absolutely uncontrolled!« , « untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless« , & « silly & ignorant« ), all to the point of being somewhat delusional in her self-love and her estimation of her own self-importance-&-consequence; all of which her mother (who has always spoiled her, and even actively encourages her behaviour) merely considers all of this in Lydia to be her ‘good-humour’, ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘jolliness’, as it all matches all of her own humours (and cannot understand why Mr. Bennet favours Elizabeth over Lydia). Meanwhile, if Lydia has taken anything after her father, it would be his propensity/bad habit for poking fun at people; but, in Lydia’s case, it is a habit of hers to mock, laugh, or else gloat at the losses, suffering, or inconvenience that befall others (especially at her own doing), declaring how « [she] will laugh [at them]« .
She dominates her older sister Kitty, whom she treats as a sidekick, resisted all of her elder sisters, Jane’s and Elizabeth’s, attempts to reign-in and correct her behaviour, and is supported in the family by her mother, who she shares a rapport with, indulges all of her ‘silly’, forward and selfish behaviour, and has for years filled Lydia’s head with tales of lace, bonnets, high-fashions, men in regimentals (« [Lydia] is very young; she has never been taught to think on serious subjects; and for the last half-year, nay, for a twelvemonth, she has been given up to nothing but amusement and vanity. She has been allowed to dispose of her time in the most idle and frivolous manner, and to adopt any opinions that came in her way. Since the —-shire were first quartered in Meryton, nothing but love, flirtation, and officers have been in her head. She has been doing every thing in her power, by thinking and talking on the subject, to give greater — what shall I call it? — susceptibility to her feelings, which are naturally lively enough« ). Likewise, Lydia’s behaviour was only allowed to descend further due to her father’s indolence, not taking seriously how Lydia’s behaviour would negatively effect the Bennets.
Lydia is always spending more than her pin money allows, receiving more money from her mother (« and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expences had been very little within [£100 per annum]« ), and going to her sisters to borrow money (which she then never pays back). Like each of her sisters, Lydia had an allowance/pin money of £50 per annum (Interest on £1,000 from her mother’s fortune by settlement upon her death) before her marriage to Wickham, after which she started receiving £100 per annum (for the rest of her father’s life). Her main priorities in life are shopping and ‘socializing’, especially flirting with the officers of the militia, trying to garner as much attention to herself as she can. This leads to her running off with George Wickham, although he has no intention of marrying her. Lydia shows no regard for the moral code of her society, and no remorse for the shame and disgrace she causes her family, merely thinking of it as a « good joke ».
Jane Austen, the author of the novel, also wrote that Lydia has « high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence » which has been strengthened into an over-self-assurance, due to her mother’s years of spoiling her. It has been speculated that this is Jane Austen’s way of pointing out the characteristics of some of the naive debutantes in her era, and satirizing them.
Out of the three of the younger of the five Bennet sisters, Lydia is seen the most. And, it is said in volume 3, chapter 19 (the epilogue) that, now married, Lydia wasn’t living the ‘highlife’ she’d thought it would be, but didn’t really seem to notice this fact (« It had always been evident to [Elizabeth] that such an income as theirs, under the direction of two persons so extravagant in their wants, and heedless of the future, must be insufficient to their support; and whenever they changed their quarters, either Jane or [Elizabeth], were sure to be applied to, for some little assistance towards discharging their bills. Their manner of living, even with the restoration of the peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled to the extreme. They were always moving from place to place in quest of a cheap situation, and always spending more than they ought. [George Wickham’s] affection for [Lydia] soon sunk into indifference; [Lydia’s] lasted a bit longer; and in spite of her youth and her manners, [Lydia] retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her« ).