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

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Start Free Trial

Why does Mr. Bennet tease his wife about his visit to Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some of the major characters in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are the Bennets. Though Mr. and Mrs. Bennet managed to produce five daughters, they appear to have nothing in common.

His wife wants nothing at all more than to marry off her daughters to rich men; she does not care who the men are or which daughter they want, she only cares that their marriages improve her own social (and financial) position. She has allowed the youngest three girls to choose their own educational paths and does not seem overly concerned about the fact that two of them spend their time seeking husbands. She does not understand her husband and, after twenty-three years of marriage, it does not seem likely that she ever will.

Mr. Bennet, on the other hand, is a reclusive reader who believes his three youngest daughters are as foolish as his wife; he consistently mocks them but does nothing to encourage their educations. He has a dry, sarcastic wit, but he is all talk and no action. He does care about his favorite daughter (Elizabeth) marrying someone compatible, undoubtedly because he and his wife are so clearly unsuited.

When Mrs. Bennet asks her husband, in chapter one of the novel, to pay a visit to Mr. Bingley (a rich aristocrat who has just rented a home in the neighborhood), she has one goal in mind: marriage. Of course her husband is bright enough (and his wife is obvious enough) to figure out why she wants him to visit Bingley, but he asks her anyway, probably for his own amusement.

"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

"Is that his design in settling here?"

"Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes."

Mr. Bennet makes no promises, but in chapter two, he surprises his wife with the news that he has paid the visit she requested; however, he reveals it in a tormenting fashion. He teases the girls and his wife for his own amusement and with enigmatic statements and answers to their questions, offering some gentle (but true) insults while he does it. He asks:

"What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts."

Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.

"While Mary is adjusting her ideas," he continued, "let us return to Mr. Bingley."

"I am sick of Mr. Bingley," cried his wife.

"I am sorry to hear that; but why did not you tell me that before? If I had known as much this morning I certainly would not have called on him. It is very unlucky; but as I have actually paid the visit, we cannot escape the acquaintance now."

When the ladies finally realize that he has paid the visit, the first step on the path to marriage, they are dumbfounded. Austen makes it clear that Mr. Bennet teases his wife and daughters because it amuses him.

The astonishment of the ladies was just what he wished; that of Mrs. Bennet perhaps surpassing the rest; though, when the first tumult of joy was over, she began to declare that it was what she had expected all the while.

Eventually, Mr. Bennet gets bored with their foolish talk and leaves the room, "fatigued with the raptures of his wife."

Mr. Bennet delivers his news in this manner to entertain himself at the expense of his wife and daughters.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short answer is that this is simply Mr Bennet's way. He seems to be something of an intellectual judging by the amount of time he spends reading in his study and considers all the females among whom he has lived his adult life to be his intellectual inferiors, except perhaps Elizabeth. Mrs Bennet is certainly a rather foolish woman in ways - though it has to be said she is doing more to prepare for her daughters' future than her husband ever did - and she is quite gullible, so it amuses Mr Bennet to tease her. He knows exactly what's in her mind and how to play her. I have always slightly disliked him for this because he is very blind to his own faults and yet is quick to make fun of the follies of others. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial