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By the end of chapter one of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the reader has a clear picture of both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. They have five nearly grown girls and have been together for more than twenty years; despite that, they do not seem to have much in common.
Austen characterizes each of them for us at the end of chapter one of the novel:
Mr. Bennet was 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. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
Mr. Bennet spends most of his time in his study, undoubtedly to escape the foolishness which surrounds him. While his two oldest daughters have been well educated, he has allowed the three youngest ones to do as they please regarding their studies. He is not poor, but he is certainly not rich and his estate will pass to the nearest male relative (his nephew William Collins), Despite that, he does not do anything to improve his lot (position) in life, preferring to spend his time studying and reading.
Mr. Bennet is most known for his dry, sarcastic wit (which Elizabeth has also developed) which usually passes unnoticed by his wife. He speaks his mind in this style without getting angry or upset. For example, when Elizabeth tells her father of her cousin Mr. Collins' offer of marriage (which she barely kept form laughing at), he says this:
“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.”
He is a man of little action and few words, preferring to remain reclusive and relatively silent.
His wife, on the other hand, is always up to something and she is rarely silent. She has several loves in her life but only one goal: to marry her five daughters of to the most socially (and of course financially) suitable men she can find. To do that, she pays close attention to the gossip and pursues anything she thinks will move her goal forward.
While her husband prefers his oldest two daughters, Mrs. Bennet is closer to the younger three. Two of them have dedicated their lives to landing a rich husband rather than to their educations, and they have their mother's complete blessing. She has no regard for manners and proves it consistently, much to Elizabeth's embarrassment; if a man has enough money, she approves of him for whichever daughter he prefers. Love and compatibility mean nothing to her, and her husband's consistent jibes at her go virtually unnoticed because she is as empty-headed as her youngest daughters.
One might wonder how this couple ever got together, and the answer might be as simple as this: she wanted to marry up (which she did, as we look at her family connections) and he wanted someone on whom he did not have to spend much time or energy. They lack a true compatibility, which is probably why Mr. Bennet is so concerned about who his favorite, Elizabeth, marries. While his wife is most concerned about money and social position, he is concerned about compatibility, undoubtedly out of his own experiences.
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