Could you briefly characterize the relationship between Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen?
A good place to look for a quick characterization of the Bennets' relationship is in the last paragraph of chapter one. The narrator says,
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.
Thus, we learn that Mr. Bennet is witty and sarcastic, yet somewhat socially reticent, and impulsive: a most unusual combination of qualities such that his wife, who is already somewhat deficient in terms of understanding, has never really been able to understand him—despite their twenty-three year marriage. Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, is not very smart, not very educated, and she is temperamental or moody. When she is unhappy, she imagines that her nerves are bothering her. Her sole goal is to find husbands for her five marriageable daughters; when prospects are bad, she finds comfort in gossip with other women. It would be difficult to find two more opposite characters. Which daughters they prefer say a lot about each of them: Mr. Bennet prefers Elizabeth and Jane while his wife prefers Lydia and Kitty. He likes intelligence and understanding while she likes giggling and silliness. How on earth could such a couple continue to get along?
Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are an example of a marriage held together by custom and complacency rather than by any deep intellectual or emotional ties. Mr. Bennet is a member of the gentry, well-educated and intelligent with a quirky sense of humor, although lazy, irresponsible, and somewhat impractical. Mrs. Bennet comes from a family that has earned its money in trade, and thus is Mr. Bennet's social as well as intellectual inferior. The narrator describes her as "a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper." Despite this, she was quite pretty when young and has an energy her husband lacks, two qualities that initially attracted him to her.
Husband and wife live to a large degree in separate worlds, with Mr. Bennet enjoying his reading and male friends and Mrs. Bennet concerned primarily with finding husbands for her daughters. The number of children suggest that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet did have an active physical relationship despite intellectual incompatibility. We often see Mrs. Bennet nagging Mr. Bennet to persuade him to live up to his social duties. Mr. Bennet's style in these interactions ranges somewhere between ironic and passive-aggressive. In general, Mr. Bennet despises his wife and Mrs. Bennet is confused by her husband.