In Pride and Prejudice, what is Mrs. Bennet's reaction to Lydia's scandal and what does it show about her character?
Mrs. Bennet will not take personal responsibility for her role in Lydia's running off with Wickham. Mrs. Bennet has long made a favorite of Lydia and encouraged her flirtation with officers. She also promoted the idea of Lydia following the garrison to Brighton under the guardianship of a married chaperone hardly older or more sensible than Lydia herself.
Instead, Mrs. Bennet blames everyone else for Lydia's ruin, including Wickham. However, when Darcy manages to orchestrate the marriage between Lydia and Wickham, Mrs. Bennet suddenly becomes oblivious to all the bad behavior that preceded it. She dotes on Lydia as a bride and embraces the formerly wicked Wickham to the status of beloved son-in-law.
In all of this, Mrs. Bennet is true to form. She is single-mindedly determined to get her daughters married at all costs. That is the only thing that matters to her. She will change her views very readily if a wedding is in question. This shows that she puts pragmatic financial concerns above ethics. Through her, Austen critiques a system in which the only way young women like the Bennets can survive is marriage.
As we read this excellent novel it is impossible not to ignore the harsh, biting irony of the authoress and the way that she shows her true opinion of a variety of characters. Of course, a frequent target for her satire is Mrs. Bennet, who has so much to be made fun of. When Elizabeth returns back home with her aunt and uncle, she goes up to see her mother. Austen describes her as follows:
Mrs. Bennet, to whose apartment they all repaired after a few minutes conversation together, received them exactly as might be expected; with tears and lamentations of regret, invectives against the villainous conduct of Wickham, and the complaints of her own sufferings and ill-usage; blaming everybody but the person to whose ill-judging indulgence the errors of her daughter must be principally owing.
Note the judgement in the last remark. Mrs. Bennet conveniently ignores her own fault in bringing up Lydia to be the flirt that she has become, and chooses to blame everyone else instead. Of course, the amusement is heightened when we consider how Mrs. Bennet magically changes her opinion of "the villainous Wickham," going on to describe him as a wonderful son-in-law once he has been forced to marry Lydia. Such responses show Mrs. Bennet to be incredibly self-absorbed and lack self-awareness about the impropriety of her own conduct.