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In Defence of Mrs Bennet

Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth Bennet in the Jane Austen News
A Defence of Mrs Bennet, written by Jean Main-Reade
Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth Bennet in the Jane Austen NewsIn Pride and Prejudice, and in every stage, screen and fanfic adaptation, Mrs Bennet is a comic character.  She was made to be mocked, first by her husband and then by millions of readers.  Indeed, we see an empty-headed, uneducated woman.  “The business of her life was to get her daughters married.  It’s solace was visiting and news’. Look at the first half of that in isolation.  In working to get husbands for her daughters, I contend that Mrs Bennet was a caring, conscientious mother.

 

The Longbourn property was entailed, and in default of heirs male would revert to Mr Collins.  Mrs Bennet was not clever enough to understand the workings of an entail, but she certainly understood what would be her daughters’ fate if their father died before they had acquired husbands to support them.

 

Jane Austen’s novels drive this point home. In Sense and Sensibility,  the Dashwood family were forced into reduced circumstances by Mr Dashwood’s death.  In Emma, Mrs and Miss Bates would have starved but for the generosity of their neighbours.  In Mansfield Park, Mrs Price did marry, but her poor choice of husband meant that she, and her children, had to live in poverty.

 

When Charlotte Lucas announced her engagement, Elizabeth was horrified and did not withhold her disapproval.  I feel this was unfair.  Charlotte was ‘around twenty-seven’, and plain.  Elizabeth was twenty, and pretty.  Charlotte had faced the possibility of being dependent on her brothers in the future.  Her single state delayed her sisters’ coming out.  The younger Bennet girls were not affected in this way as Mrs Bennet defied convention and brought all her daughters out early.  When we realise that Charlotte preferred life with Mr Collins to spinsterhood, I think that illustrates what Cecily Hamilton spoke of as ‘the fate of every woman not born an heiress’.

 

We should give Mrs Bennet her due.  Was she not more on the side of the angels than her husband?  When faced with the possibility of pre-deceasing his wife all he said was “My dear…let us hope for better things.  Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor”.  To put it another way “I’m all right, Jack”.
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About the author:

Jean lives in Truro and, in between writing articles for the local press and volunteering as a presenter on the community and hospital radio, she is working on an exciting writing project about the life of former resident of Falmouth who lived in the 1800s.

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Mrs Bennet’s Round Robin, by Viv Cavallo

P&P-Mrs_Bennet_et_Philips

To all our dear neighbours in Hertfordshire...

What a wonderful year the Bennet family has enjoyed with three of my girls successfully married!

My darling Lydia, youngest of my five daughters is blissfully happy with her ‘dear Wickham’ as she calls him.  Just think of it – only sixteen years old, yet she was the first of my daughters to find a husband!   And such a man; he’s a dashing figure, always so courteous, so charming with a smile and compliment at the ready.  I remember when I admired a redcoat myself; indeed I still do at heart.  Lydia is such a lucky girl.

The next delightful news came when Jane, my eldest, was married to Mr Bingley.  I always said her beauty would be her fortune.  So when I heard that Netherfield Park was to be taken by a young gentleman of large property, I knew it would be an ideal opportunity for one of my girls.  I can reveal that it was a lucky idea of mine that brought Jane and dear Charles together!

When Bingley’s sisters invited her over for tea I insisted that she went on horseback rather than take the carriage, for I thought it likely to rain.  Then a bad cold kept her at Netherfield for some days, just as I had planned, and that was when they fell in love!   Mr Bingley is the most handsome young man ever seen, and worth at the least four or five thousand pounds a year!

Yet even more good fortune has come to the Bennet family.  Lord bless me, just to think of it, my sweetest Lizzy is now wife to Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire! How rich she is, such jewels, dresses and carriages and he is so charming and handsome, with TEN thousand a year!

Mary is not married yet, though that is a lucky thing for me for she is a great help with running the household.  No one cares how I suffer with my nerves; such gaspings and palpitations, such hammering pains in my head!  The responsibility is all mine for their father is nowhere to be seen; he is either deep in his books in the library or away visiting one of the family.  So if it wasn’t for dear Mary I would be quite alone, apart from Hill and the other servants.

My Kitty is growing into an elegant young woman, and I believe this is since she has spent so much time visiting her elder sisters at Netherfield and Pemberley.  Of course she is not as beautiful as Jane nor as lively as Lydia, but I have very strong expectations of seeing her well married.  At Pemberley especially, she will come into contact with many a wealthy single man.

Mr Bennet often pays visits to Pemberley and indeed, I expect to be staying for a few weeks with the family next year.  The reason for this is the happiest piece of news: Lizzy is with child, yes!  I hear that Mr Darcy is delighted and that he hopes for a son to inherit the estate in due course.  I expect my Jane will follow suit before too long and of course my darling Lydia is bound to want a large family. Then I can look forward to many granddaughters and future marriages to arrange!

Viv Cavallo is a retired secondary and sixth form English teacher of twenty years.  She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature.