Illustration of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy with neutral expressions on their faces

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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Describe the relationships between the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice.

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Jane and Elizabeth, the two eldest sisters, really seem to take care of one another. Elizabeth is protective of Jane— consider her anger when Colonel Fitzwilliam told her of Darcy's victory in separating Bingley from an unknown lady to whom he apparently had "very strong objections." Jane is...

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Jane and Elizabeth, the two eldest sisters, really seem to take care of one another. Elizabeth is protective of Jane— consider her anger when Colonel Fitzwilliam told her of Darcy's victory in separating Bingley from an unknown lady to whom he apparently had "very strong objections." Jane is always there to provide not just a shoulder or a sounding board for Elizabeth, but also her kindness and willingness to see the good in others. These qualities can help to soften Elizabeth's tendency to believe the worst. Jane and Elizabeth are different many ways, to be sure, but they are similar in the ways that make them good companions for one another. They are also both recognized by their father as the best of the five.

Lydia and Kitty, the two youngest sisters, are like two peas in a pod. They are both ridiculous, like their mother, and they are overly concerned with balls and officers and bonnets and gossip. They are much more alike than they are different; though in the end, Lydia is, as Elizabeth says, "beyond the reach of amendment," and Kitty is able to be improved by spending a great deal of time with Jane and Elizabeth rather than Lydia.

Mary, the middle daughter, seems not to have a great relationship with any of her sisters. She is very awkward and kind of annoying because she is "pedantic" and "conceited" and she tries so very hard to thrust herself forward, "in consequence of being the only plain one in the family." As a result, Elizabeth and Jane are frequently together, and Kitty and Lydia are frequently together: each of these pairings tends to like the same things, and think the same way about social propriety and norms. Mary seems to find herself alone quite a bit because she has so little in common with the others.

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The most significant relationship among the five Bennet sisters is between Jane and Elizabeth, the oldest and next oldest, respectively. Jane's beauty and charms are somewhat affected by her shy and quiet demeanor; and the outspoken and confident Elizabeth is rather protective of her for this reason.  When Jane's courtship with Bingley is put on hold, and Elizabeth witnesses Jane's disappointment and sadness, Elizabeth defends her sister's shyness to Darcy, who is Bingley's close friend.

The middle sisters Mary and Katherine (Kitty) are not close enough to marrying age to be a focal point for the meddling Mrs. Bennet (who nevertheless wishes to see all of her daughters married as soon as possible), but their character flaws do affect their marriage prospects. Mary is bookish and has many talents, but, as Austen describes her, has "a pedantic air and a conceited manner." Kitty is rather naive and lacks the intelligence of her older sisters, and is prone to follow the lead of Lydia, the youngest. Lydia is somewhat precocious, being tall and attractive, and is prone to speaking and behaving recklessly. She is also flirtatious, and despite her youth, it is not terribly surprising when she runs off with Wickham. Lydia's older sisters are horrified by her behavior, as it damages not only Lydia's reputation but that of their entire family, and are annoyed when Lydia puts on airs about being a "married woman" so soon after her elopement with Wickham threatens to destroy the family's social standing.

It is Darcy who rescues the situation, and he does so out of respect for Jane and love for Elizabeth; he pays Wickham's debts and also pays for a legitimate wedding for the couple so that they are not living in disgrace. We learn that Darcy has great fondness for his own younger sister, and it is his role as her protector that leads him to show such kindness to the Bennet sisters, who are lacking a brotherly figure to lean upon.

 

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