"If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,... and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for" - Mrs.Bennet
Many Pride and Prejudice analysis describe Mrs.Bennet's character as foolish,ignorant or stupid. However, this quote proves that she is merely seeking the happiness of her daughters and at that time happiness was defined by marriage and status in society, that is shown in the famous first line of the novel.
Aspects that could be discussed:
1. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain your answer.
2. Were her actions harshly critiqued and misunderstood by critics?
3. Was the author trying to depict the image of her real mother in the novel?
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Mrs. Bennet knows the practical reality that most women in her time needed to be married if they hoped to live reasonably happy lives. She is still, however, foolish in various ways and a source of great amusement. The two traits of her character need not cancel each other out.
I agree with you that she wanted her children to be successful. In the case of having daughters, that meant marrying them off to a wealthy or at least comfortable man. We judge her based on our current perceptions, but times and conventions were different then.
While I can agree that the quote proves Mrs. Bennet cares for her daughters, it does not necessarily prove that she is not a foolish character. I think the author is making the point that many women during this time period were foolish. Happiness was defined by marriage and women were certainly bound to follow societies principals. Mrs. Bennet also says, "when you have five daughters tell me what else will occupy your thoughts." The author is using Mrs. Bennet to show the frivolous nature of women and society at the time. Looking back we do see Mrs. Bennet and much of Victorian society as foolish. Of course, Mrs. Bennet does care for her daughters. She wants them to marry and be taken care of. She also hopes they will "marry well" which means to marry someone rich or of high standing in society. We see this contrasted in Jane and Elizabeth's ideas of a good marriage. Jane says "you know perfectly well I do not believe marriage should be driven by talks of money." Jane and Elizabeth's attitudes toward marriage and romantic attachments appear far more modern in contrast with Mrs. Bennet's frivolous ideas.
As I see it:
Mrs Bennet was a foolish character. Jane Austen made her that way quite deliberately. Her intentions and aims for her daughters futures were quite normal and understandable, even admirable in the strict sense. Her application of them, however, was crass and, in Darcy's words, showed a distinct "want of propriety", something very evident in Eliza's shame at her behavoiur on several occasions.
She almost threw Jane at Charles Bingley, and created a mental picture of dragging a clergyman around behind her just in case. Her behaviour and treatment of the Lucas family when Charlotte's engagement to Mr Collins was made known was quite unwarranted in anyone's eyes, and her constant complaining about her poor nerves was made deliberately annoying by the mischevious pen of Jane Austen. Her encouragement to her youngest daughters to be flirtatious and foolish just adds to the agument as does her constant reference to monetary worth rather than any form of romance, a case well proven by her insistence that Eliza marry the bumbling Reverend Collins. I'm quite sure Jane Austen saw her almost as villainous, if less devious, as Wickham in her own way.
Do you think Jane Austen was trying to depict her own mother's actions in this novel, since she was in a family with six siblings herself?
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