Pride And Predjudice Essay, Research Paper
The Failure of a Father
When first reading Pride and Prejudice one is likely to find at least some sense of admiration for the perceptive and witty Mr. Bennet, contrasted as he is with his dim and inept wife. However, under closer scrutiny it becomes abundantly clear that he is lazy, mean spirited, and that he has failed as a father. There are, however, those who disagree with this, and see Mr. Bennet as a man working to make the best of a bad situation. Critic Susan Fraiman falls into this category.
Fraiman asserts that Mr. Bennet fulfills his duty as a good father simply by being present in his girls lives as a tight-lipped father figure. Her assertion is based on his use of language and information, or rather the lack thereof, to control and rule his family. Unfortunately, it takes more than tight lips and a penchant for books to run a family of seven, as we will see.
Mr. Bennet does little physically for his family and seems content to sit by the sidelines as his daughters pursue their prospective husbands. Fraiman argues that this is sufficient and that his leadership, though not iron handed or tight fisted, is equally as effective as any other style of parenting. The first example of Mr. Bennet s attempt to control his situation through his tight-lipped use of language comes early in the novel when Darcy moves into town. Mrs. Bennet begs him to go and speak with Darcy to make sure that the girls all have a chance of meeting him (4), but Mr. Bennet refuses , when in fact he has already spoken with Darcy. Here, Fraiman suggests that by controlling the information during his interactions with his family he is acting as a good father. In reality he is simply a lazy man who seems to revel in tormenting the women in his life by withholding information from them.
While Mr. Bennet is successful in marrying off three of his daughters it is not due in any part to actions taken by him. In fact, not only does he seldom interact with his younger daughters, but also when he does, he is rude and abusive. The first time we hear him address Mary (who receives the worst of his temper because she is youngest) is in the presence of the entire family (7) and at the Netherfield ball (101) where he is subtly mocking and disagreeable.
Later on, we see Mr. Bennet s pattern of abuse and neglect escalate. During the time period music was one of the only acceptable means of expression for young ladies and Mary worked diligently at the piano in hopes of gaining social approval and impressing those around her. Had her father cared about her he would have encouraged her to pursue this outlet for her talents and realizing that her singing voice was weak (100), he could have hired a music teacher for her, or at least offered to help her himself. But, as expected, he does not go to the trouble. In fact, it is very difficult to recall any time during the novel in which Mr. Bennet goes out of his way to help any of his younger daughters.
Due to this lack of involvement in his daughter s life, he has essentially set her up for failure at the Netherfield ball. At the ball Mary is performing but is cut off when her father announces, you have delighted us long enough (101). This type of sarcastic verbal abuse would be recognized by anyone in today s society as being out of line and extremely cruel. This situation is only intensified by Mary s already fragile emotional state (again, a result of her father as we will continue to see).
Luckily for Mary, her father s shortcomings temporarily remove her from her position at the bottom of the pecking order when he fails once again to parent, this time ignoring Lydia, resulting in her elopement with Wickham.
In his dealings with the older sisters (not oldest mind you), Mr. Bennet is equally closed to any genuine communication. For Lydia, this hole is filled by her mother, from whom she has learned everything. This is not enough however, as she and Catherine seem to be caught up in a web of flirtation and reckless behavior that go against the moral proprieties of the time.
Not only is Mr. Bennet careless of the probable social cost for them; even his keen insight that the older girls suitors are being driven away by the younger girls behavior does not make him change his lazy and irresponsible parenting practices (231). Without showing the slightest awareness of his part in the development of their characters, he dismisses Kitty, Lydia, and Mary as three very silly sisters (232).
Moreover, not only does Mr. Bennet seem to ignore his responsibilities to his daughters as their father, but he also sets a very poor example for them. Having never been inclined to pattern herself after her mother, Mary makes her father her role model. Mr. Bennet is unfortunately largely detached from life, choosing to stay secluded in his library and avoid all possible contact with his wife. Therefore, Mary sees this as the norm and also becomes reclusive and wary of physical exertion and emotional contact. For example, when Elizabeth decides to walk to Netherfield, Mary replies, every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and . . . exertion should always be in proportion to what is required (32). Mr. Bennet retreats into his books to escape from the frustrations of his failed relationship with his wife and daughters. Inevitably, Mary also turns to books as her only source of enjoyment and entertainment. In other words, she has no friends.
In the novel, Austen portrays the family as primarily responsible for the intellectual and moral education of the children. Mr. Bennet’s failure to provide this education for his daughters leads to the unacceptable and immoral behavior of Lydia. Elizabeth and Jane manage to develop virtue and strong character despite the negligence of their father. But this is likely through the help of their studies and the good influence of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who seem to be the only relatives in the novel that take concern in the girls’ well being, acting as foster parents and seeming to represent the ideal marriage as they are the only couple in the novel that seems truly happy.
Elizabeth and Jane, though not as adversely affected as their sisters, are constantly forced to put up with the sarcastic indifference of their father. Even when Elizabeth tells her father not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton, he ignores her because he thinks it would be too difficult to deal with Lydia’s complaining. And as a result, Lydia elopes with Wickham, disgracing the whole family.
As the novel closes, three of the girls have found husbands and things seem to have generally wrapped up happily but problems for Mary and Mrs. Bennet still exist. They are now forced to live out the rest of their days in the company of Mr. Bennet, who, while witty and reserved at best, is completely devoid of any sense of love and affection for either of the two women with whom he should feel so close. Now, as the other daughters are free to make new lives for themselves, Mr. Bennet is left to slowly recoil from the world into his library, a portrait of a failed father.