Friday, 9 October 2009

Of Flawed Perceptions, and Pride and Prejudice Question 9

I was just over at Marilyn Brant's page (author of According to Jane) and spotted a JA quote I didn't know (oh, how did I miss this one?)

"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not disguised, or a little mistaken." JA


It's so perfect for the discussion, and I think it's crucial to bear it in mind as we're going through Pride and Prejudice.

As for your responses yesterday, what can I say? You're outdoing yourselves. Pretty much everyone brought up something to think about. Of course, Charlotte is the perfect example, particularly since the she and Elizabeth seem to be close friends. You'd think she'd realize that Charlotte needed to get married and wouldn't turn down an opportunity. Which goes along with what Lori and Kt say about Eliza not understanding her mother, either. Mrs Bennet is silly, but she knows how important it is to secure Longbourn, yet Eliza never really "gets" it -- like her father, she dimisses Mr Collins completely. And yes, as Tracygrrrl says, she could have handled this better, and tried to get Mary together with Mr Collins, and tried to solve the problem that way. (However, very likely this wouldn't have worked -- see answers to Question 2 which addresses this).

Serena and Lynnquiltsalot, you're right on target when you talk about Wickham. Because there are lots of signs along the way that she choses to ignore, even when Wickham gets engaged to Miss King, and Mrs Gardiner criticizes Wickham's conduct. Yet Elizabeth obstinately defends him. She ends the conversation with a dismissive comment which has echoes of Mrs Bennet in it (?!):
"I have a very poor opinion of young men who live in Derbyshire; and their intimate friends who live in Hertfordshire are not much better. I am sick of them all."
(Remember Mrs Bennet's exclamation of frustration at the beginning of the novel: "I am sick of Mr Bingley!"?)

As usual when it comes to JA's characters, there's always more complexity to them than you think, isn't there? There's more to Charlotte than meets the eye. Lori and Jnan's discussion about her being the source of information about Darcy's relationship with Eliabeth is one example, as well as her very correct prediction about Jane and Bingley's relationship (kt, Milka and Tracygrrl). In some senses, Charlotte and the Gardners are the voices of common sense in the novel (and to a lesser extent, Jane, as Lori pointed out, though her perception is also flawed). Elizabeth really flounders by herself. Her father, who could have been a guide, is even more clueless (witness his laughter at the very idea that Elizabeth would want to marry Darcy at the end), and he makes that crucial error of judgement about Lydia which, as Serena says, she tries to prevent. Of course, his marriage is the best indication of his poor judgement! Her mother has a certain level of shrewdness, but no common sense. So really, you can see that Elizabeth would have a hard time finding a basis on which to judge others.

Which brings me to my next question, a simpler one this time.

Pride and Prejudice Question 9

What do you think of Mr Bennet as a father? To what extent does he make Elizabeth who she is (pluses and minuses)? What positive or negative qualities of his do you see in her?

25 comments:

  1. Mr. Bennet, like all fathers and mothers for that matter, is flawed. While he instills in his daughters mostly a love of reading and independence and knowledge, he fails to provide them with common sense guidance as to marriage and societal norms. He is by far not a disciplinarian unless Mrs. Bennet wishes him to be and even then, he fails at it.

    I really like that he has helped Elizabeth become a strong woman, but he fails to help her see that prejudice based upon outward appearance or wealth is not beneficial or proper. And many ways he reinforces her prejudices by agreeing with her assessments, only to discover that Elizabeth has given them more thought and changed her mind (i.e. Darcy).

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  2. Wow, making us all work so hard on a Friday!! :)

    Mr. Bennet, by his own admission, is not a very good husband or father. He cares for his children, but he really didn't take care of them in the way society expected. They had no governess, they weren't instructed in the arts and they were all brought out into society at an early age. By not properly instructing them, he allowed Lydia and Kitty to run wild and Mary to become quite unpleasant. It's a wonder that Jane and Elizabeth had such modest tempers and behavior.

    Elizabeth is her father's favorite and like him she is well-read and very intelligent. She understands her position as the daughter of a gentleman, even if ignoring their somewhat limited resources. She must, therefore, have learned pride and prejudice from her father. He loves to laugh at the foibles of his neighbors and judge them accordingly. He shares with Elizabeth a dislike of both Collins and Darcy.

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  3. I think Mr Bennet is a great father but he of course has flaws. He wants things to be easy to him (e.g. lets Lydia go to Brighton) and sometimes those things have bad consequences.
    He favores Lizzy who is proud of his father, but she also dislikes some of his actions (letting Lydia go). Mr Bennet does not really care about the society and maybe that is the reason he never hired governess to the girls and let all the girls be at the society at the same time.

    I think Lizzy shares a lot with his father. They both share the "hatred" for Collins and Darcy and they laugh at Mrs Bennet without her noticing it. :D

    milkavainamo@lyseo.edu.ouka.fi

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  4. They're both quick to judge, and because they're so intelligent, they tend to look down on and quickly dismiss others whom they find lacking. The sad thing is that they cherry pick members of their own family. They're willing to spend time with each other and Jane, but they have very little patience for Kitty, Lydia, Mary, and Mrs. Bennet. It's obvious in the book that Lydia's situation might have turned out differently if Mr. Bennet had paid attention to her, esp. when Elizabeth warned him about her flirtatious nature. But the home might have been very different, too, if the two of them had focused more on the positive when it came to the three youngest girls and Mrs. B., rather than finding fault and so choosing to mostly ignore them.

    (Hey, look! A relatively short answer!)

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  5. Oh, Tracygrrrl, you're making me look bad! :)

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  6. I think Mr. Bennet is a good father to Lizzy, especially - - at least on the surface of things - - and to Jane but perhaps not so much to Mary, Kitty and Lydia. He comes to Lydia's aid too late and he dismisses Mary and Kitty (and Lydia) as three of the silliest girls in all of England. I think he probably feels that Jane will be a good wife but she lacks Lizzy's willfullness and strength, as evidenced by his comment that Jane and Bingley, once married, will probably be taken advantage of by their staff.

    Lizzy defintely inherited her enjoyment of reading from Mr. Bennet, although she is by her own admission no great reader.

    Mr. Bennet himself seems somewhat prejudiced, as he held out no great hope that Mr. Collins would be worthy of their attentions before the family had met him. He was also prejudiced against Darcy, from the beginning it seems, once he heard that Darcy would not stand up and dance with Lizzy. As has been pointed out, he was also amazed that Lizzy would consent to marry Darcy.

    Very much like Lizzy, Mr. Bennet fell for Wickham's smooth talk and manipulation. It was mentioned that Wickham became Mr. Bennet's favorite son-in-law, if I remember correctly - - which certainly makes you wonder about Mr. Bennet's overall judgment if he could feel this way after Wickham stole his daughter in the manner he did!

    I also feel that like her father, Lizzy was capable of shutting out what she didn't want to see, hear or think about. Mr. Bennet shut himself away in his library on many occasions, and certainly ignored the possibility (and potential evidence) that Lydia would get into trouble in Brighton. Lizzy ignored Caroline's warnings about Wickham, as well as his overall behavior - - choosing instead to believe that Darcy was acting inappropriately. She also somewhat ignored her family's situation of having 5 daughters and no son to inherit Longbourne, feeling instead that the burden of marrying well would fall to Jane.

    Lizzy's willfullness was evidenced with Mr. Collins' proposal. Despite getting a good offer from Mr. Collins, which would have "saved" her sisters and her mother, should her father die first, she turned him down. None of us fault her for that, certainly! But a woman of Lizzy's time, in Lizzy's position, would have been hard-pressed to turn down a relatively good offer. Perhaps too, this showcases a certain amount of selfishness on Lizzy's part - - something her father exhibited in spades every time he hid in the library rather than dealing with family situations.

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  7. I think that the one aspect of Mr. Bennet that I like is his indifference to social acceptance. It makes no difference to him what others think of his family or their position, even though he does make a small effort to straighten out the issues with Lydia (more because of the effect on the other girls) not to repair Lydia's reputation. If it had been just Lydia effected I don't think he would have done anything.

    That said, I think this quality was, to an extent instilled in Elizabeth, and made her a stronger person, someone who could stand up to even Catherine De Burgh.

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  8. I think we can see Mr. Bennet's influence in Lizzy's quick mind and independent nature. Is this a good thing? Yes and No.

    Not only does Lizzy think independently, she also deals with her emotions and feelings independently. She cannot share her true thoughts or feelings with either parents. Her mother doesn't care for Lizzy's thoughts and emotions(she is not her favorite daughter) and her father won't ever giver a serious response. Lizzy is left to have all her serious thoughts, feelings, and concerns bottled up inside.

    For instance, why did Lizzy not share the information in Darcy's letter about Wickham with her family? Was it really because she thought Darcy would want her to keep it to herself? Or... was she in the habit of not sharing her thoughts and opinions? She even keeps this information from Jane, her best friend and confidant! Surely Jane is trustworthy, but perhaps Elizabeth is used to processing information internally, and it is not natural to voice her opinions outloud?

    In addition, we see Lizzy's independence when she attempets to convince her father not to let Lydia go to Brighton. If she didn't think for herself Lizzy would have concededed that it was okay to let Lydia expose herself and live it up in Brighton. Instead she argues with Mr. Bennet that he had better do his job or Lydia will become "the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous." She disagrees with and reprimands her father! Not something daughters did back in the 1800's!

    WOW, sorry for the long response! To sum up: We can attribute Lizzy's independent thinking and nature to Mr. Bennet's influence. It has a positive effect on her thinking, but a negative effect on her ability to share her thoughts and feelings with others.

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  9. Hello Meredith!

    One small correction to your excellent post. Lizzie does tell Jane about Wickham's behavior. Jane helps her decide to keep this knowledge hidden from society in general, hoping that Wickham is reformed. Jane is Lizzie's true confidante, and is the best influence on her temper and judgment. Unfortunately, as Jane sees the good in everyone, Lizzie is free to judge Darcy harshly, in spite of Jane's doubts about his having acting dishonourably in regards to Wickham's living (earlier in the story).

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  10. Mr. Bennet, favouring Lizzie, naturally treats her rather differently than the rest; but while Mrs. Bennet spoils her favourite, her husband shares his wit and zest for reading and learning with his. He loves to laugh at others, and gets much amusement out of the quirks and idiocies of his silly family, as well as those of guests such as Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham. To Lizzie he passes on the singular delight in ridiculousness, treating her as his partner in crime.

    It can be said that in addition to depriving his children of manifold pleasures, Mr. Bennet's dislike of town contributes to his childrens' naivety and imprudence by not exposing them to a much-needed humbling experience in higher society. Elizabeth, despite being one of the prettiest girls in the first family of a small village and unexposed to the goings-on at court, has miraculously escaped joining her younger sisters in their giddy flight; yet she nurses the idealistic dream of marrying for love. This is probably due in part to isolation, but also to her father's indulgence, and a reliance on her own sense and strength of will.

    On another note, while Jane has a naturally sweet disposition, much of her sense and maturity probably developed from being the eldest, and bearing the responsibilities to match; and as a reaction to having such silly sisters.

    {I admit I feel a little out of place- it's only ten in the morning here!}

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  11. I think is hands-off approach was a disaster for his family. He only paid attention to the two daughters who did need his guidance.

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  12. To Sarah-Wynne

    Where do you live? Are you in Alaska or Hawaii? I think this blog is on UK time, so I'm 6 hours behind, too. But you must be 4 hours behind US Central!

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  13. Jnaj - I'm in Northern BC of Canada, which puts me 8 hours behind GMT. Or is it 7 right now? Daylight savings is impossible.

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  14. Sarah -- I don't think anyone has switched yet. Real pain that Europe and US are switching on different days now.

    To Monica and the rest of the bloggers -- sorry for my little personal digression off topic. I really enjoy these posts and ensuing discussions! I'll try to stay on topic!

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  15. Thank you jnaj! It has been some time since I have read P&P(too busy reading all these wonderful sequels and such, LOL)and now that I think of it I DO remember Lizzy telling Jane about Wickham. I have know idea what I was thinking earlier?!

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  16. Hi Monica,

    I can't think of anything sensible to say right now about Mr. Bennet as a father (it's soooo late here!), but I did want to congratulate you on The Other Mr. Darcy. I've just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed it. Congratulations on rehabilitating Caroline and creating Mr. Robert Darcy, a hero to rival his namesake and cousin, Fitzwilliam.

    Elizabeth

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  17. Meredith -- I had to check the book. My biggest problem is verifying that something from a film adaptation is actually in the book! (I remember the scene where Wickham is discussed.) But, most of the adaptations use JA's wonderful dialogue, so I'm pretty sure most of the time.

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  18. Jnaj- I was wary of posting comments here because of that very reason. It really has been too long since I read P&P and everyone here seems so well versed in it!

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  19. Meredith

    That's the best reason to post here (well, besides that it is great fun!). So many people with so many diverse opinions and ideas. Makes me want to re-read P&P. I would, but I'm discussing Mansfield Park on another site right now! :)

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  20. How nice of you, Elizabeth, to leave me a comment about enjoying The Other Mr Darcy. You've made my day.

    As for everyone else, thank you too for making this so much fun.

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  21. Mr. Bennett loved his daughters dearly, and I do believe that they all knew that...and isn't that the best thing that a parent can do for a child?
    So in my book, that makes him a good parent.

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  22. I always thought of Mr. Bennet as a man who loved his daughters, but had a hard life dealing with Mrs. Bennet. I always thought he was a comic character.

    My perception changed during my British novel class in college. My professor said, "what if I told you the villian of the novel was Mr. Bennet, what would you think of that?"

    I did think about it and saw his point of view. While Mrs. Bennet does have problems with her nerves, she puts herself out there and really tries to help her daughters. She realizes that they will have nothing if Mr. Bennet dies, and it is a cold harsh world for a woman in that time. Mr. Bennet on the other hand does not help, mocks Mrs. Bennet's attempts, and did not try to save money through his life to leave to his daughters.

    Now whenever I read P&P, I still like Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth's relationship, but I still feel that he did his family a great disservice.

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  23. I guess I should answer the rest of the question! I think Elizabeth most takes after her father in her feelings of romance rather than practicality. Her father married her mother for love, although that didn't turn out for the best. Instead of marrying Mr. Collins and securing her future, she waits for love.

    Luckily Mr. Bennet shares his love of reading with Elizabeth. Unluckily his ability to make fun of people (including his own wife) is also picked up by Elizabeth. She is quick to judge.

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  24. Oh, Monica! I'm so glad you liked the quote :). I was just over at Austenprose and read your comment about it. I *love* your blog, btw, and feel I've made a great discovery in coming upon it today. Looking forward to reading more...

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  25. How fascinating to think of Mr Bennet as the villain, Laura! Kudos to that English teacher of yours for getting you to look at things from a different perspective! Thanks for that addition to the argument.

    Neas, great to see you back again. The thing is, Mr Bennet is a very likeable character, in spite of everything, and that's (again), what makes Jane Austen so brilliant, at least in this novel. Because everyone is criticized and make fun of on some level or the other, but almost no-one comes out as the "bad guy".

    Marilyn, lovely of you to pass by. I'm really looking forward to reading your novel. And thank you for your kind words.

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