The Case Against Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is a very benevolent character in the Pride and Prejudice movies, such as the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and the newer Keira Knightly version.

As much as it pains me to announce this, after re-reading Pride and Prejudice again as an adult, I really didn’t like Mr. Bennet. I think that in the movies he’s a lovable father, which would explain fan reactions and his place on the “Best Father’s List” in many people’s books.

In the movies he’s portrayed as a great guy, and pretty funny. I currently think perhaps all this Mr. Bennet love is a bit much. In fact, I think Mr. Bennet is kind of an ass hole.

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Here’s my reasoning. In opposition to his various popular movie personas, Mr. Bennet of the novel itself is often painted as a defunct father figure, and honestly a pretty horrible partner in marriage.

He remains emotionally detached from his family throughout the novel, sometimes with dire consequences. As a substitute for parental involvement, he seeks solitude in his library.

Instead of being concerned about the entailment of his property and its consequences on the people under his care, he ignores his responsibilities as a caregiver and also as a patriarch of the landed gentry in Regency England.

As a result, not only are his daughters at risk of becoming destitute, but every person who relies on his estate. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Little bit of research for you: Frances Chiu points out how a critique of state authorities turned into a general decline in paternal authority in the Eighteenth Century, as highlighted in John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in society (1771), which displayed negative examples of paternal aggression and power (5). Chiu and others discuss the fact that a more moderate form of parenting was being propagated throughout the period (Chiu 6, Stone 433). She asserts that with the colonial project underway, parenting in England became an attempt to avoid “barbarism,” while paternal aggression and severity became increasingly associated with the barbaric, un-English other.

 

From BBC.CO.UK

However, Austen kind of critiques that parenting style through Mr. Bennet. In the novel, Mr. Bennet is not only too mild, but generally he’s completely checked out.

In opposition to the fear of the ‘bad’ authoritarian and controlling father figure that permeated English dialogues on parenting, her portrayal of such a negligent father, and the consequences of his lack of discipline, instead illustrates the consequences of extreme leniency.

Elizabeth’s emotional needs are ignored by the only parent with whom she may have developed an attachment to, and from whom she requires a sense of safety and respect.

When Mr. Bennet asks about her supposed engagement to Mr. Darcy, we are told that “Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration.” This moment is painful for me, since he is one of her only supposed allies, and just doesn’t get it.

But he usually just kind of can’t be bothered. Austen shows that his inability to participate in the family circle and his attempts to make a joke of his responsibilities make his family more vulnerable to the ridicule of society (Mr. Darcy, and the Bingleys for example), and also leaves them open to the invasion of Mr. Collins and all of his absurdity.  Patriarchs of households were expected to actively partake in protecting their family during this time period.

More research on the subject: Naomi Tadmor develops an understanding of the concept of “family” in the time period. From studying how the word ‘family’ is itself used in different texts and diaries from the time, she constructs how the idea of a family and its function was viewed in the culture of Jane Austen’s contemporaries.

Her research shows that the idea of family included all members of a household under patriarchal authority, whether they were related by blood or by contract. Her study of patriarchal responsibility contrasts with Mr. Bennet’s lack of filial dependability.

By examining views of family and responsibility during this time period, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennet’s failure to ensure his family’s financial and emotional safety affects even more people than just his wife and daughters –it extends to every servant or housekeeper living under his roof.

Despite all of the people who rely on him, Mr. Bennet just doesn’t really give a shit most of the time. He is farcical at best and lazy at worst.

He stands up for Elizabeth not marrying Mr. Collins, but gives Darcy consent to marry Elizabeth mostly because he is intimidated by him, not because he believes him to be a good person, or believes Elizabeth to be in love with him.

He states, “I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing.”

After hearing her reasons for being in love with him though, he says, “I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

Yet, he had already given his consent to Mr. Darcy, before hearing from Elizabeth……sigh.

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Mr. Bennet does not set a strong example for his children, leaving them without his emotional support, but also without a reasonable parent to rely upon. During the time, it was advised “that parents lead by example rather than resort to corporeal punishment” and this was especially true for fathers of the period in their role as patriarch (Stone 433). Yet another strike.

As the head of his household and everyone under his roof, his reaction to Mr. Collins, the future owner and manager of the Bennet’s home, is inappropriate, and incongruous with the severity of the entailment. He hopes Mr. Collins is ridiculous for his own personal amusement, even while aware that the same man will one day be in charge of his daughters’ fates.

After Mr. Collins makes himself thoroughly ridiculous to the entire party during the ball, “Many stared. – Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly.” In this scene, Elizabeth is shocked and horrified, whereas Mr. Bennet is shown to be thoroughly enjoying his family’s embarrassment.

He treats the mortification of his cousin and his wife’s reputation as something to be laughed at, even though he should, we would expect, be as mortified as Elizabeth, if not more so. Mr. Bennet’s inappropriate reaction to this scene might easily be forgotten, except when Elizabeth’s feelings are taken into account. Because of this failure, Elizabeth consistently attempts to shoulder the burden of responsibility to influence her father, although her position is limited.

Elizabeth asks her father of Mr. Collins in earnest: “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” to which he responds in jest, “No, my dear; I think not. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. I am impatient to see him” (60). When he meets Mr. Collins, his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure” (64).

Although there is a sarcastic humor in his tone, it doesn’t really make the danger any less real for his daughters and dependents, who would have been really screwed if he died. Throughout the text, his inappropriate behavior is damaging to his wife and children, and places his family in a vulnerable social position.

Interestingly, Darcy steps in and acts the true patriarch of the Bennet household by protecting Lydia’s reputation, through talking with Bingley about Jane to secure both their happiness, and by marrying Lizzie despite her ‘bad father.’ After Elizabeth marries him, Mrs. Bennet is shown to be happier, although not smarter, Mr. Bennet begins to travel, and Kitty spends a lot of time “in society so superior to what she had generally known” and was much improved. Lydia is with Whickham and out of everyone’s way, and even Mary, we are told, is no longer as miserable as she was when all of her sisters were there, as she is “no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own.”

When Mr. Bennet is no longer the dominant male influence in the family, Elizabeth and the other characters in the novel are shown only to have gained.

Mr Bennet, I must say I am very disappointed in you, and that I like you much better as a movie character.

A bit annoyed,

Miss E

 

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Hey look, some references 😀

Chiu, Frances A. “From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies: Writing Political and Paternal Authority in English Fiction of the 1780’s and 1790’s” Eighteenth- Century Life. Vol 26.2., Spring 2008. Print.

Morris, Ivor. “Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet.” Persuasions On-Line. 25:1 (Winter 2004). Web.

Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. Academic Press, New York, 1978. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harper & Row, New York, 1977. Print.

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My Defense of Bridgett Jones

 

Generally, I consider myself a traditionalist in many ways, especially in relation to literature. I tend to stay fairly canonical a lot of the time, and my interests are primarily in the 19th century, so you know, that type of traditional. For example, although I do plan on reading and reviewing books like, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for this blog, I don’t expect to like them.

 

I love Jane Austen, and, as you already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and its characters.  I feel like putting random un-dead elements into a story that has wooed readers successfully for around 200 years is just unnecessary and gratuitous.

However, in contrast with my traditionalist beliefs, I have developed what I now feel free to term an  undying love for the movie-adaptation-of-a-modern-book-adaptation- of-Pride and Prejudice,  Bridgett Jones Diary.

I have been sick this week, and watched that movie three times. Every single time, I found myself laughing with Bridgett during her missteps and triumphs, and oohing and aweing  when Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of course) comes over to make dinner with her.

I can see how some parts of the movie are problematic, but what isn’t problematic for those of us who analyze? I honestly and unabashedly love this movie, despite those problematic elements. I could probably watch it every day. It never gets old. Trust me, I definitely expected to stop enjoying it after the first 50 or so times I saw it, but it just keeps staying awesome.

I don’t know why I have been embarrassed to proclaim my love of this movie around my academic friends. Maybe it seems silly, or maybe I keep hearing that Wambats song with the lyrics “this is no, Bridgett Jones” when I think of it, or feel like maybe I’m supporting capitalism or heteronormativity when I watch it and root for Bridgett to get her dream man. I’d like to respond to this anxiety in two ways.

1). The critique I hear from a lot of people is that Bridgett is just an annoying character who perpetuates the stereotype of the woman who wants to marry. I may be totally prejudiced, but I don’t feel like those people really get it, kind of like I how people who say that Austen’s books are basically marriage plots and that’s it just don’t really get it.

I would argue that Bridgett is actually showing how many modern women actually feel, since we are still pressured to marry, as I have discussed before in previous posts.  Everybody wants love and companionship, so that’s not a new concept to work with, and it does seem like the Bridgett Jones filmmakers empathize with the stigma of the “single woman” in this movie. At one point, for example, Bridgett gets asked at a dinner party why there are so many unmarried women in their 30’s these days, and Bridgett, taken aback, responds with an uneasy joke first, then a jab at the high divorce rate in Great Britain. And of course, I love that Darcy stands up for her and backs up her critique of a smug faith in marriage.

2). Now, you may wonder how this representation of Pride and Prejudice is OK with my Pride and Prejudice purist beliefs. To me, Bridgett does not represent Elizabeth in a lot of ways, but I think her character is a clever play on the class difference between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bridgett is obviously a bit “chav” as some English people would say. In other words, her family, although middle class, behaves without tact. What I find interesting about Bridgett is that she also behaves this way much of the time. What I really love about the movie is that dialogue about class in England, which although it looks very different currently from what it did back in the regency times, is still a topic of interest.

Her friendships also show her habits, her behavior, and her priorities to be totally different in many ways than Mark Darcy, something I think highlights the real class disparity between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Mark Darcy is a well-educated and kind of elitist lawyer.  Bridgett and her friends behave “irresponsibly,”  but believably, and definitely with a different set of priorities than Mark Darcy’s crowd.

Beyond the fun that occurs with this contrast, I also love Bridgett herself. I love how she just can’t help saying what’s on her mind, even though it’s probably embarrassing. Although Elizabeth had a quick tongue, it was more one of quick wit and biting sarcasm than of verbal incontinence and social awkwardness. However, they are both in earnest when they speak, something that I admire.

When Bridgett Jones speaks, she means what she is saying. She really feels strongly about it at the time, even if her opinion might change or be open to influence later. Although I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice possibly more than any other protagonista, I think that Bridgett is a very relatable spin off, and she is probably my favorite “leading lady” from a modern movie.

I think that  I love the character Bridgett Jones, not in spite of her differences from Elizabeth Bennet, but because of them.

I’m fine with them because Bridgett Jones is a fully actualized character of her own, and I am happy to see her figure things out through what seems to be a pretty painful process (even though it gives the viewer a sense of comic relief).

Like Elizabeth she has character development, and although she is at times silly, as is her movie genre (romantic comedy) in general, sometimes that is exactly what I’m looking for in life.

In other words, I may not quite be ready for Zombies in Pride and Prejudice, but I am totally accepting of this dash of Pride and Prejudice, or nod to it, in a modern interpretation.

Have to go now- I have a movie to watch.

Miss E

The Darcy Dilemma

OR I am in love with a fictional man, who may or may not be perpetuating Patriarchal masculinity. Oh my.

I have recently realized that much of my adult life has been spent in pursuit of a well-known character from one of my favorite novels. He somehow subconsciously became my perfect man all those years ago, and the masculine ideal for countless others.

Readers all over the world know him as a prototype of the tall, dark and handsome mystery man; he is somber and stoic on the outside, yet soft, sensitive, smart, and thoughtful when the layers of his personality are revealed. He has social clout, knows what he wants, is straightforward, and can defend a family’s honor when need be. Sound good? This is the fictional man I have searched for in the real world, alongside countless other admirers. His name, as we all know, is Mr. Darcy.

Darcy has been popularized in contemporary literary media through adaptations of Pride and Prejudice by the BBC and Focus Features, parodies like the movie Bride and Prejudice, or the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the book-turned-film Bridgett Jones’ Diary, and countless other interpretations. The novel itself is likely one of the most popular classics in today’s society, and the story and its characters are far more well-known.

Collin Firth has become the visual representation of Darcy for many, and we pine for Darcy to stare at us. I mean, have you seen the lake scene in the BBC Adaptation?

I will keep watching, admiring, and thoroughly enjoying Collin Firth in his many Darcy-based roles. However, I have been left disappointed by the expectations that Darcy as a character has raised for my experiences with the men in my life. I feel that all of my experiences searching for my Mr. Darcy have ended with either a man who cannot express himself, or is really just kind of an ass. It has been my experience that Darcy-esque qualities don’t really translate from the Austen novel to the everyday twenty-first century very easily.

In fact, it can be dangerous to love someone who does not show his emotion, not very fun to love a man who is a snob. Real men who have Darcy-esque qualities in fact may be suffering from what bell hooks terms “patriarchal masculinity,” where they are emotionally cut down by society because nobody cares about their feelings.

A real man with a Darcy exterior may not have that rich internal life that Darcy has, and surely is unlikely to write verbose and life-altering letters to us. Darcy’s personality cannot be the end all-be all of male sexy. In fact, he could be perpetuating our current society’s obsession with an ideal patriarchal masculinity, with production of the “strong, silent” type.

I have real problems with that possibility.

As modern readers, we hope that our tough-on-the-outside men will be so in love with us they crumble into a pool of desperate emotion as Darcy seems to when he proposes to Elizabeth the first time. However, without the presence of Austen’s clever narrative voice simultaneously chastising and sympathizing with Darcy, I’m not sure we’d fall in love with him alongside Elizabeth.

Perhaps the reason Darcy is so appealing to me and others is that despite his seeming emotional constipation and adherence to the patriarchal society in which he exists, he was imagined and given breath by a woman. I feel like Jane Austen herself does not get enough credit for Darcy’s creation. Could his appeal be so universal without the author’s genius? Without her gender? What do you think?

Best,

Miss E

Looking for Pemberley?

Me too.  In fact, I have been looking for a while.

There are a few reasons that I chose to include Pemberley in the title of my blog.

I feel that Pemberley is significant to me and thousands, if not millions of others. It represents home, and it represents epiphanies. It was where Elizabeth had her AHA moment about Mr. Darcy, wasn’t it?

Reading Pride and Prejudice my freshman year of high school opened me up to the rewards of trudging through some maybe-not-so accessible language for a 20th century audience and long character descriptions, and was a pivotal moment in my life as a reader.

My first read took me about a month (partially because I re-read the first four chapters over and over and over trying to figure out which sister was which and why the new neighbor was so important), but after I was finished, I was exhilarated. I told all of my friends at school that the novel was amazing, and rented every P&P adaptation I could lay my hands on.

In high school, when other friends were out partying on the weekends, my best friend and I would geek out, rent an Austen adaptation and wallow in visions of the Edwardian period.  To us, the time Jane Austen lived in was brilliant and wonderful.

Many men seem baffled by this obsession with Austen. An ex-boyfriend once asked me, “why do you enjoy this so much? I mean, I can’t even understand what they are saying?” The answer was and always will be, (for me at least), courtship.

Courtship, you say? Yes. Courtship. The thought of having a man who attends social functions as part of his social manly duty, politely pursues you, and after your family is sure of his “intentions” really has to provide for you with an offer of marriage (albeit not always a happy one, but are they now?) or be called a cad for the rest of eternity seems pretty romantic when you are 16 and don’t fully understand the political contract of 18th century unions.

In high school, (and probably even in college), I would have given up anything to be wearing a bonnet and riding in a carriage with one of Austen’s characters. I don’t think this is unusual- check out the film Lost in Austen http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1117666/  for an entertaining parody of this desire (give it about a half hour to grow on you- it has a slow start).

I have fallen in, and out, and back in love with Austen’s world, but the love her most prolific novel inspired in me for reading, for human relationships, and for courtship, is a passion I will never stop looking for.

This blog is about my journey through life and literature, looking beyond Austen’s novels into text, media, and society for home and human connection.

Looking Forward to Blogging with you!

Cheers,

Miss E