Wednesday, April 25, 2012

About Mr. Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice"

I have read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” many times, and heard audio versions several times. Each time I am struck by different aspects of the novel. While recently listening to this timeless book read to me on CD by the estimable Flo Gibson, I focused on Mr. Bennet, the father of Elizabeth and her four sisters. Everyone knows that Mrs. Bennet is rather crude and embarrassing at times, especially in her pursuit of husbands for her five daughters. But Mr. Bennet, because he is more sophisticated, scholarly, and wryly humorous, gets a pass, at least to a certain point. But truly he is just as bad a parent as Mrs. Bennet is, and with less excuse, as he is much more intelligent. He loves his girls, but just doesn’t get very involved with raising them, or with putting any sensible limits on them, especially his out-of-control youngest daughter, Lydia. He can’t be bothered; he would rather stay in his study reading, or entertain himself by teasing his wife and daughters. For example, Elizabeth pleads with him not to let Lydia go stay with Colonel and Mrs. Forster in Brighton, but he carelessly thinks she will be fine, and he can't make the effort to stand up to Lydia's pleading. The only time he admits his errors as a father is when Lydia runs off with Wickham, and even then he states that he will admit them once and then not again. This event is a disaster for the family, and only Darcy’s intervention saves the day. I realize that although I was critical of Mr. Bennet about this episode during past readings, I had really been letting him off the hook because of his love of books, his humorous remarks, and his having the discernment to prefer Elizabeth as his favorite daughter. Ironically, she is similar to her father in her intellect and sense of humor, but has much more awareness and sense than he does, at least regarding raising his daughters.

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