Mrs. Bennet’s Relationship with Her Daughters

Pride and Prejudice

An Analysis of Mrs. Bennet’s Relationship with Her Daughters in Pride and Prejudice

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet has only one goal in life and that is too marry her daughters off well. This goal is evident in the very first lines of the book: “Bingley.” “Is he married or single?” “Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!” (Austen 10). Bingley does in fact end up marrying one of Mrs. Bennet’s daughters (Jane) but only after many misunderstandings and much distress on the part of Mrs. Bennet. This paper will analyze Mrs. Bennet’s relationship with her daughters, but especially with Elizabeth and Lydia.

The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is humorous because, although it is tongue-in-cheek, it is basically the belief of Mrs. Bennet: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Austen 9). Although the line does not come straight from Mrs. Bennet herself, her actions and opinions reveal her to be one for whom the statement is true. Immediately she hears that the rich Mr. Bingley has arrived, she begins conspiring to marry him to one of her daughters. Mr. Bingley is of course attracted to the eldest, Jane. Jane has a special place in Mrs. Bennet’s heart because she is the most beautiful of all her daughters and she encourages the engagement. However, with the arrival of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, and Mr. Wickham, things very quickly get out of control and there is little Mrs. Bennet can do to achieve her goal of marrying her daughters off.

The earliest problem comes by way of Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins’ proposal. Mr. Collins is a clergyman who thinks himself very wise and talks too much. Elizabeth is like her father in that they are both amused by him but do not consider him to be very attractive. When he asks Elizabeth to marry him and she refuses, Mrs. Bennet becomes upset because in her eyes Mr. Collins is a respectable man mainly because he has money. Elizabeth views him as arrogant and full of himself, which is why she rejects him, but her mother cannot understand her daughter and thinks she is being silly for rejecting a man such as him.

The fact that Elizabeth is more like her father than her mother does not help matters. Mr. Bennet has a humorous and intelligent nature and possesses some wit. Elizabeth is the same and so Mrs. Bennet finds her to be a difficult case when it comes to marrying. When Mr. Collins suggests to Mrs. Bennet that he might like to marry Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet is pleased because “she might soon have two daughters married” (Austen 75). Her pleasure is not derived from her daughters’ happiness but from her own attainment of her goal, which is simply to see them all married off to someone who is wealthy. So when Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet is slightly offended: “Elizabeth could not but smile at such a conclusion of such a beginning, but Mrs. Bennet, who had persuaded herself that her husband regarded the affair as she wished, was excessively disappointed” (Austin 112). Mr. Bennet, of course, sides with Elizabeth and finds Mr. Collins to be a great fool and whole-heartedly approves of her rejection of him. Mrs. Bennet is all alone in her grief.

The youngest daughter, Lydia, is a much different case, however. Lydia, unlike Elizabeth, is not very clever. She is romantic and impulsive and spoiled by her mother Mrs. Bennet, who has a special fondness for her since she is the youngest. Being the youngest and the most impulsive, however, she is easily seduced by Mr. Wickham, who spreads a pack of lies regarding Mr. Darcy and disrupts the courtship of Mr. Bingley and Jane and turns Elizabeth against Mr. Darcy. All of these problems are worked out by the conclusion of the novel, but not before Lydia has run off with Mr. Wickham and eloped. This is considered a great disgrace and a shame for the Bennet’s because it is found out that Mr. Wickham is not a very wholesome character and in fact has quite a few skeletons in his closet. But Lydia does not seem to care because she is so willful that she does as she pleases and does not reflect upon how it will make her family appear in the rest of polite society.

Of course, Lydia’s elopement is another distress for Mrs. Bennet. But now there is a kind of reversal, and Elizabeth, who never seemed to be favored by her mother now appears to be sensible and strong. But still Mrs. Bennet prefers Lydia above the others and is depressed at finding that Lydia after her sudden marriage cannot stay longer. Lydia, of course, is not bothered by her mother’s depression, for she is very much in love with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth, however, sees right away that “Wickham’s affection for Lydia wasnot equal to Lydia’s for him” (Austen 290). All the same, Elizabeth’s good sense is no consolation for Mrs. Bennet, who would still like to have her youngest daughter Lydia around more. Although Lydia is now married, which should make Mrs. Bennet happy, there is still a sadness surrounding the event, part of which is the suddenness of it all and the disgrace that has gone with it. When the newly married Wickhams tell that they must soon depart for Mr. Wickham must rejoin his regiment, “no one but Mrs. Bennet regretted that their stay would be so short” (Austen 290). Lydia is still viewed as being in disgrace by all the others. Only in Mrs. Bennet’s eyes is she still adored.

The reason Mrs. Bennet has such a fondness for Lydia, of course, is that Lydia is the youngest and also because they are both alike in mind. Mrs. Bennet is not very reasonable or calm. She is passionate and emotional — just like Lydia. But while Mrs. Bennet is passionate about getting her daughters married, Lydia is passionate about being married to Mr. Wickham. While their goals are both the same, Mrs. Bennet ultimately pays a price of loneliness and separation, perhaps because she does not realize that what she has desired so strongly must also take away from her the daughter she loves most and who is most like her.

As for the other daughters, Mary is plain and does not figure prominently in the novel, and Kitty is as silly and childish as Lydia. There is also Jane, whose manner is mild and whose character is sweet. Her love for Mr. Bingley finally comes to a happy conclusion and Mrs. Bennet has cause to celebrate for her. and, of course, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy finally come to terms with their love and respect for one another and so Mrs. Bennet gets three of her daughters married, which makes her happy.

In conclusion, Mrs. Bennet’s relationship with her daughters is very simple: she wants to see them all married off well, and they in turn would like to be married off well. Of course, what she means by marrying well and what they mean by marrying well does not always match. Elizabeth for instance wants to marry a man she respects, while Lydia is childish and simply wants to run off and have a romance with someone she adores. In the end, however, Lydia, Elizabeth and even Jane get the men they love. Mrs. Bennet is, ultimately, able to approve of their marriages because the men they marry (except for Mr. Wickham) all have what is most important in her eyes: money. As for Lydia, Mrs. Bennet can harbor no resentment against her favorite daughter.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. MN: Bethany House, 2007. Print.

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