“Oh, Mr. Bennet!”: The relationships in Pride and Prejudice

Note: in this piece, I quote a lot form the source novel, so I’ve put in page numbers. I use the Oxford World Classics 1998 edition of all of Jane’s novels for my “scholarly” work, and they’re the ones I recommend. 

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) and Darcy (Colin Firth) on their wedding day in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) and Darcy (Colin Firth) on their wedding day in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

Today’s Dominicana post, “Love and Friendship”, focuses on the variety of relationships in that perennial favorite, Pride and Prejudice. The author is calling them all “friendships”, as opposed to breaking them down into friendships as we usually think of them, and marriages, but indeed, marriages should be founded on a friendship. However, I believe the author is a bit too hard on poor Charlotte Lucas, for one:

In the case of Charlotte, she is well aware of her position in society and that her future economic security depends greatly upon her marriage, but she is also aware of the silliness and shallowness of Mr. Collins and the little hope she has of ever esteeming him. Nevertheless, she not only welcomes his overtures, but even seeks them. In these marriages, there is no proper foundation of mutual care and respect for the other.

Charlotte wants to be married. That’s all. And her economic security does not depend “greatly” upon her marriage–it almost entirely depends on her marriage. Charlotte has a brother, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he would be so magnanimous (as Jane’s brothers were) to provide for his unmarried sister once he inherits Sir William’s holdings after his death. In fact, Sense and Sensibility demonstrates how the miserliness of a brother after the death of a father can impoverish the women to a large degree. Jane knew this only too well, having had to leave her childhood home after the death of her father and live sporadically in other places throughout England, always at the mercy and financial support of her brothers.

Now, is Charlotte happy with Mr. Collins? (Oh, come on, who could be happy with Mr. Collins) Probably not. But as Charlotte tells Lizzy herself:

I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’ character, connexions, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast upon entering the marriage state.(Pride and Prejudice 96)

Charlotte has made her decision that will best ensure her survival, in a sense. So as for “welcoming” and “seeking” his overtures, as the Esteemed Brother states in his piece, Charlotte probably welcomed and sought them because she wanted the security of marriage. That must be taken into account.

The second example of matrimony the author presents is that of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet:

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet provide a prime illustration of the risk that such couples run if they do not base their marriage upon a solid relationship. Mr. Bennet has found that he cannot esteem his wife, while Mrs. Bennet does not care for that esteem and respect. As a result, their household crumbles beneath them, to which Lydia’s unrestrained, unprincipled behavior testifies.

I don’t think Mr. Bennet “has found” that he cannot esteem his wife–I think he knew what he was marrying. Mrs. Bennet is much like her younger daughters, in that she’s flighty and unserious and sort of all over the place. However, she isn’t entirely an idiot. Her predictions of her children’s matrimonial fates do come true at least twice. Mrs. Bennet is what she is, and Mr. Bennet is what he is. In my opinion–and, dare I say, in Lizzy’s!–more of the fault for Lydia is laid at Mr. Bennet’s feet, than his wife’s. In a scene with Lizzy in his room before Lydia goes off to Brighton, Elizabeth says,

‘Excuse me–for I must speak plainly. If you, my dear father, will not take the trouble of checking her exuberant spirits, and of teaching her that her present pursuits are not to be the business of her life, she will soon be beyond the reach of amendment. Her character will be fixed, and she will, at sixteen, be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous.’ (P&P 176-177)

Note that Elizabeth talks to her father, and not her mother–she knows that the only parent who could be bothered to do it is her father, since Mrs. Bennet loves Lydia the best of all her children. But Mr. Bennet doesn’t check her; he instead aims for peace in the household, as opposed to taking “trouble” to check his youngest daughter. This has troubling consequences later on, as we see.

Finally, we come to that great couple–Elizabeth and Darcy. Here’s what the article says about their relationship:

Elizabeth does find the man she can love and respect in Mr. Darcy. Though one might suspect she harbors a trace of the mercenary motive given that her affection began once she had been to Pemberly, the narrator provides enough insight into her thoughts to assure the reader that Elizabeth’s affection is founded upon her growing respect for Mr. Darcy’s taste and true, generous character. Likewise, while Darcy’s love may have initially begun as a sort of infatuation with her unorthodox beauty and playful character, he grows to truly appreciate and esteem her character.

If one suspected her of mercenary motive, they have clearly read the text wrong, for in that discussion with Jane, it continues with:

Another entreaty that she would be serious, however, produced the desired effect; and she soon satisfied Jane by her solemn assurances of attachment. (Pride and Prejudice 286)

And is further boosted by the conversation she has with her father:

‘Have you any objection,’ said Elizabeth, ‘than your belief in my indifference?’

‘None at all. We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him.’

‘I do, I do like him,’ she replied, with tears in her eyes, ‘I love him. Indeed he has no improper pride. He is perfectly amiable. You do not know what he really is; then pray do not pain me by speaking of him in such terms.’….

Elizabeth, still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice, by explaining the gradual change which her estimation of him had undergone, relating her absolutely certain that his affection was not the work of a day, but had stood the test of many months suspense, and numerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity, and reconcile him to the match. (Pride and Prejudice 288, 289).

As far as Darcy’s love, one cannot use the word “infatuation” and Darcy together! As he tells Elizabeth in the famous first proposal scene, he has tried to not love her, with everything in his power. “In vain I have struggled,” he tells Elizabeth. He is almost overcome with love for her, like it’s a wave washing over him.

Of course, one wishes to have a marriage partner you have a deep friendship with, first. But in Jane’s time, that wasn’t always possible, since “marrying for love” is a relatively new conceit in the history of marriage. It is, of course, something that Jane herself held out for–after her first (and maybe only?) love affair was thwarted, she accepted another proposal a few years later, only, after a sleepless night, to recant the next morning. Jane and her sister Cassandra never married. Waiting for love could lead to a rather uncertain existence, but Jane (and many others, throughout history) have found it worth the sacrifices.

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3 thoughts on ““Oh, Mr. Bennet!”: The relationships in Pride and Prejudice

  1. Pingback: Seven Quick Takes No. 45 | Living Adventurously

  2. Pingback: “That of loving longest”: Love in Persuasion | Living Adventurously

  3. Pingback: The Great Jane Re-Read: Pride and Prejudice | Living Adventurously

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