It has often been pointed out that Jane Austen’s novels deal only with the world of which she had firsthand knowledge. They are set in the ballrooms, the drawing rooms, the bedrooms, and the gardens where, like the ladies in her books, she spent her life. Her books do not reflect the political turmoil of her time, revolution and conquest on the Continent, fears of revolution in Great Britain. If her works are limited in scope, however, they are not without serious import. Austen’s methods are those of the satirist, her subject is society, and her preoccupation is the creation of an effective family unit through marriage.
As Austen shows so clearly in Pride and Prejudice, unsuitable marriages lead only to unhappiness and social instability. After discovering that his wife is incapable of comprehending anything he says, Mr. Bennet has stopped trying to communicate with her. A man of his reserved and scholarly nature can adjust easily to isolation from his family, and Mrs. Bennet is too scatterbrained to suspect that something may be missing from her relationship with her husband. It is the Bennet children who suffer most from the ill-conceived marriage of their parents. Left to their mother, three of the five Bennet daughters turn out badly. Mary Bennet is a pedant without intellectual gifts; Kitty Bennet, a flirtatious fool; and Lydia, a girl so unthinking that she runs off with the first plausible man who comes along, thereby disgracing her...
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