Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Good argument that Mrs. Bennet is the most subversive of Jane Austen’s characters

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Very interesting essay by Rachel Dunphy in

Of all the delightful idiots filling the pages of our well-worn copies of Pride and Prejudice(hint: this is everyone except maybe Charlotte), one of the best is also one of the most overlooked—even by Jane Austen, who never grants her a first name. Mrs. Bennet, mother to the five Bennet sisters and incorrigible social gadfly, is largely dismissed by both the book’s readers and its facetious narrator, but she is perhaps the most radical character in the novel.

She tends to be read at face value—flighty, talkative, too often drunk, and too obsessed with marrying off each of her daughters. The clever jokes her husband makes at her expense go right over her head, much to his amusement and her elder daughters’ disappointment. But the willful disregard Mrs. Bennet shows to the sensibility and decorum most of her compatriots value so highly is not her weakness but in fact her greatest strength.

The woman has one abiding goal through the novel: to see all her daughters married and thus financially secure. An entail demands that none of her five children, all girls, may inherit their father’s estate, and thus they will have no permanent home or source of income unless they find it in wealthy men. Through the homogenizing fog of history, her obsession sometimes feels ridiculous—but when the options are marriage or destitution, and when you live in the countryside where well-bred men are scarce, and when at least two of your daughters are already past prime marriageable age, panic is understandable. Love is lovely, but Mrs. Bennet’s mission is about survival.

Unlike the rest of the family, prattling about feelings and manners and values and wit (yes, I mean you, Lizzie), she takes the plight of her children seriously, and she works tirelessly to ensure their futures. She schemes endless scenarios to endear her daughters to men of means, at one point orchestrating Jane’s prolonged illness (and thus residence) at Mr. Bingley’s Netherfield estate, at another attempting to force Elizabeth into an unhappy marriage with her cousin Mr. Collins, and at every chance throwing Lydia and Kitty toward an endless parade of military officers. Not all of her efforts are successful, to be sure, but marriage is a numbers game, and the Bennet matriarch is the sole, the necessary pragmatist in a house filled with idle dreamers.

Remarkably, even as she shoulders the burden of her family’s future alone, Mrs. Bennet rails against the confines of the misogynistic society she inhabits. When she exclaims angrily, repeatedly, unceasingly about her daughters’ inability to inherit property—“the hardest thing in the world,” she calls it—our heroines, Jane and Lizzie, exhaustedly explain the logic of the sexist concept yet again. “They had often attempted to do it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason, and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favor of a man whom nobody cared anything about.” How silly was this mother of theirs, who couldn’t understand the simple, obvious absurdity of a woman inheriting a house.

Jane and Lizzie are far from oblivious to their perilous situation. They know they must marry before they are forcibly removed from their ancestral home by the combined powers of tradition and the aforementioned aggressively dull male cousin. They know that, in their early twenties, their eligible years are coming to a close. But they neither rebel against the injustice nor actively seek to nullify it. Neither is bitter about the entail; it is an unavoidable consequence of fate. And neither takes an active role in husband hunting, instead preferring to stumble lazily—and in Lizzie’s case quite resistantly—into blissful marriages with wealthy best friends (Congrats! Glad it all worked out). When Elizabeth’s longtime friend Charlotte marries the rejected Mr. Collins, Lizzie is embittered to see the slightly older woman compromise her standards for security—but the matter of Charlotte’s inheriting her home and all its worth is a non-issue. Her mother sees it differently and bitterly condemns Collins and Charlotte at every opportunity, even years after their marriage. There is nothing she can do to change the legal status of herself or her daughters, but still she refuses to accept it, and she will not be quiet about the injustice of it even while those who it affects most consider the matter settled and have found superior situations. Mrs. Bennet is revolutionary in her simple and abiding refusal to shut up, even as those for whom she chiefly advocates desperately wish for her do so.

While working within a system she openly acknowledges to be against her, Mrs. Bennet acts freely and without restraint. . .

Continue reading.

That’s an interesting site. Try Rebecca Solnit’s essay on the loneliness of Donald Trump.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2017 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Books

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