A Flaw-Ridden Marriage
One may read between the lines to conclude the Bennets’ marriage in Pride and Prejudice was an act of convenience, lacking love. As a result of this incompatibility, their relationship is fraught with flaws. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), many of Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) are expressed through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship—as seen in Mr. Bennet’s finding humor in his wife’s actions, Mrs. Bennet’s failure to charm her husband, and the Bennets’ indifference to one another in place of love.
In A Vindication of the Rights of WomanWollstonecraft states: “[Woman] was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused.” In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet finds humor in his wife’s fickle emotions and foolish actions. Mr. Bennet’s use of his wife can be seen in this excerpt: “I wish I could say…the establishment of so many of her children, produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly” (Austen 295). This statement conveys the joy Mr. Bennet gleans from observing his wife’s insensibility. He could have easily left the house if he so wished, but instead he often casually played with Mrs. Bennet’s emotions to enjoy her reaction. Mr. Bennet’s toying with his wife’s naïve feelings in Pride and Prejudice is an example of Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen characterizes Mrs. Bennet as a woman with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The false sense of emotion that was once evoked from Mr. Bennet is no longer present, and she lacks charm. Wollstonecraft explains the situation: “The Woman who has only been taught to please will soon find that her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have much effect on her husband’s heart when they are seen every day, when the summer is passed and gone.” One may assume there was some semblance of emotion from either party in the Bennets’ relationship at one time, or else they wouldn’t have married. Time has rendered Mrs. Bennet quite unattractive to her husband now that she is not as young and green as she once was. Austen candidly relates the cause of their incompatibility: “Her father captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (180). Once the wedding vows were said, Mr. Bennet had undoubtedly dug his grave. Wollstonecraft knew that a marriage based on physical attributes does not result in happiness, which the reader sees in Pride and Prejudice. The absence of romance and charm in Mr. and Mrs. Bennets’ relationship is justly explained by Wollstonecraft’s remarks in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
The Bennets’ marriage can be summed up in one phrase from Wollstonecraft: “Friendship or indifference inevitably succeeds love.” Austen clearly depicts the indifference Mr. and Mrs. Bennet feel towards each other. Mr. Bennet’s character is described: “Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character” (3). This description is a stark contrast to the picture the reader is given for Mrs. Bennet: “She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous” (3). These clashing personalities result in very little effort from either individual to breed romance. Over the course of twenty-three years, the Bennets’ have learned to live with each other, and to deal with their spouse’s respective faults. The Bennets’ choice to remain indifferent to one another is condensed by the simple choice given by Mary Wollstonecraft “Friendship or indifference.”
Overall, the reader can infer the various causes of the tense Bennet relationship as aligning with Mary Wollstonecraft’s observations. Wollstonecraft remarked, quite accurately, on the fickle nature of relationships and the frivolous upbringing of women. One may assume that Austen drew from these same concepts when characterizing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Thus, in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, many of Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman are expressed through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship—as seen in Mr. Bennet’s finding humor in his wife’s actions, Mrs. Bennet’s failure to charm her husband, and the Bennets’ indifference to one another in place of love.
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One may read between the lines to conclude the Bennets’ marriage in Pride and Prejudice was an act of convenience, lacking love. As a result of this incompatibility, their relationship […]