At the time there was a very rigid society in which it was important for young women to be married as well as possible, preferably to someone of larger wealth and stature. Jane Austen wished to expose the folly of this period by the use of satire and irony, whilst adding light-hearted comedy through the use of characterisation. This is particularly seen in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ where irony and satire are constant factors of the novel and comedy is introduced into the plot through Mrs Bennet. Mrs Bennet serves as the main comic character of the novel.
She is a very insistent and frivolous woman, whose childish antics and charades constantly embarrass her and her family. She has very little social awareness and is often oblivious to body language and speech implying disapproval, depicting her immediately as insensitive and lacking awareness in general. Her chief pre-occupations are to see her five daughters marry well. This preoccupation fuels her day to day life and business and ensures she is always pro-active on its behalf, always keeping one eye open for marital opportunities.
This clear even form the opening page of the novel when she learns that Netherfield Park, a near-bye residence, has been acquired by a wealthy young gentleman, named Bingley. She immediately seeks to make his acquaintance and is very persistent towards Mr Bennet to do so ‘â€¦ how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them. ‘ She has not even met Bingley and yet she immediately assumes that he will want to marry one of her daughters.
This is one of many flaws in her character- she shows no insight and doesn’t even consider finding out what Bingley’s personality is like, who he is and why he has actually come to Hertfordshire. Her immediate assumption is that Bingley has come to Hertfordshire solely to find a wife, of course there is no clear evidence suggesting this. It is Mrs Bennet’s way of thinking, which causes her to almost trick herself in to believing that that is the outstanding reason for his arrival. This again illuminates her lack of understanding and common sense.
Her pre-occupations broadcast how narrow-minded society was in that time and this is a deliberate device employed by Austen to show us the rigidity of the era. Mrs Bennet shows us that to marry her daughters off is her number one duty amongst the many important factors and duties there are in motherhood. Society at the time was formed in a number of social tiers. Much of society was involved in heightening their social status by gaining acceptance into the class above them, and essentially this was their ultimate goal in life.
Austen characterises Mrs Bennet so that she is able to use her attitudes and behaviour to convey her own views about the era and to enlighten the reader on the narrow mindedness of society of that time. The characterisation she uses means that Mrs Bennet is at the fore-front of heavy satire, and we are aware of this very early on in the novel. Mrs Bennet’s relationship with Mr Bennet is noticeably flawed. It is clear, as soon as the opening chapter, that she is the inferior party of the two, most notably in intellect and wit.
These inferiorities are seen on the opening page of the novel when Mrs Bennet is the victim of heavy mockery from Mr Bennet. When the subject of whom has acquired Netherfield Park Mrs Bennet asks ‘Do you not want to know who has taken it? ‘ Mr Bennet replies ‘You want to tell me, and I have no objection of hearing it. ‘ There is a clear air of sarcasm in his reply; this showing that he uses the ridicule of Mrs Bennet for his own amusement. Throughout the novel Mrs Bennet is on the receiving end of various comment from her husband and others that are saturated with sarcasm, satire and irony.
These comments particularly refer to her poor judgement and flawed character, Mr Bennet’s satirisation have clear links with Austen’s own views and particularly her flair and style are expressed through the use of Mr Bennet’s general character and speech. In some ways Mrs Bennet brings this on herself, as her persistent follies are use as a motive for Mr Bennet’s ridicule towards her, Mr Bennet’s amusement and social dismay. Austen uses Mr Bennet to expose Mrs Bennet”s defected character, but his irony and sarcasm are a deliberate device to add humour to the novel.
Mr Bennet was originally attracted to Mrs Bennet by her youthful beauty, but as their marriage went on, he realised that it was a failure. He is ineffectual rather than wrong, his main faults being his cynicism and his passivity. His failed marriage has given him a mocking, cynical attitude, particularly towards his wife. The lack of marital loyalty leads to the breakdown of respect within the family. Mrs Bennet’s relationships with her daughters are well tied but somewhat distant. Matchmaking is her outstanding aspiration and the most significant connection with her daughters.
Her trait it seems, is perhaps her greatest defect. Driven by her aims to get her daughters married off, no matter to whom, highlight her lack of sensitivity or insight into her daughter’s personal feelings and views. Jane Austen’s interest in loving relationships leads her naturally to focus a large part of the novel for family life. The role of parents and children is very important in the novel. Mrs Bennet tries to compensate for the lack of money in the family by her compulsive husband hunting.
In many ways her excessive match making is funny, it is also wrong. She judges by appearance and wealth and with little though for her daughters’ future happiness. She pressurises Elizabeth over Collins’s proposal: ‘I have done with you from this very day’ and manipulates Jane. Her lack of tact and her sense of personal triumph nearly ruin Jane’s relationship with Bingley and seem to threaten Elizabeth”s with Darcy. Austen characterisation of Mrs Bennet is used largely to add comedy to the novel. At first sight, Pride and Prejudice may not seem a humorous novel.
We do not immediately laugh out loud at some of the outrageous events largely involving Mrs Bennet. Nevertheless, once we have learned to appreciate the significance of Mrs Bennet”s character and the kind of humour the novel contains, and its reasons for being there, we can see that Pride and Prejudice is, in fact, a social comedy. When we first meet the acquaintance of Darcy, his appalling arrogance and pride are what we become most familiar with; these factors of his character are constant throughout a large part of the novel.
We sense almost immediately that we are meant to disapprove of this character, this is also reinforced by the fact that so many of he principal characters speak badly of him ‘â€¦a most disagreeable manâ€¦’ especially Elizabeth. He is portrayed as a self-important, egotistical snob, who shows acute prejudice towards anyone who is lower than he, showing particular scrutiny towards the Bennet family due to their lower social status and their lack of aptness and etiquette at social functions.
He is also criticised for his lack of involvement in these social functions ‘ I hate to see you standing about in this stupid manner’. Contrastingly, when we are first introduced to Elizabeth, she seems a character free from pride and prejudice. She seems intelligent and well spoken, and far more sensible than most of her sisters. On many occasions we see that she is modest ‘I am not a great reader. I have pleasure in many things. ‘ On the whole she seems a likeable character and one that we should approve of. However, these qualities do arise due to her acquaintance with Darcy.
But her prejudice seems more reasonable and agreeable as her prejudice is aimed at Darcy, who did more than enough to provoke the prejudice in her. However for their relationship to develop properly, both must expel these qualities from themselves. Therefore, this makes us want to follow their development to see how the story changes over the course of the novel. We see a great change in Darcy when he first proposes to Elizabeth. His previous calmness and reserve seem to have significantly diminished; he now seems a bundle of nerves. We can see the hurt in his face when he is rejected by Elizabeth.
But much of his former pride remains as he explains that he fought his own feeling not to fall in love with her, as he believed it was such a preposterous idea due to her social status and poor family connections. We also see that a strong pride exists in Elizabeth as she sticks by her principals to turn a man of such wealth and stature down based upon her previous prejudices. When the two meet at Pemberley, Darcy seems a completely changed man. He is polite and conversational, compared to previous meetings where he has said very little at all.
He is particularly warm and kind towards Elizabeth and the Gardiners, ‘â€¦feel free to fish at Pemberley anytime you wish’. To see such a drastic change is uncanny, it seems he has changed his ways for the better, and to win Elizabeth’s heart. Elizabeth seems taken aback by his new attitude, as too do the Gardiners who are surprised to find that Darcy is so agreeable after the descriptions they have previously heard of him. However, the character of Mrs Bennet does not change at all, infact in some ways she becomes even more unbelievably ridiculous.
What Austen is trying to show us by keeping Mrs Bennet”s character static is that is impossible to change her ways. She has gone through life without change and still at her age she has not developed maturity. Therefore she is beyond salvation. By developing the characters of Darcy and Elizabeth, Austen shows the novel has progressed to another stage, whilst Mrs Bennet remain at one solitary stage throughout the whole novel. Even when the Bennet family is disgraced by Wickam’s elopement with Lydia, Mrs Bennet is still head over heels with hysteria at their wedding, failing to realise the negative effect the affair has had on her family.
Overall I believe the main purpose of the character of Mrs Bennet is to add some humour into the novel. With Mr Bennet we laugh with him, but with Mrs Bennet we simply laugh at her. She is a clear caricature of the matchmaking mother. She reinforces the theme of the novel- a social comedy saturated with irony and satire largely aimed at her but also at others. This is true to say about Lady Catherine De Bourgh. In some respects she is one degree worse than Mrs Bennet. While having the same matchmaking tendencies, she is both proud and overbearing, and her daughter reflects the poor parental guidance she gives.
We see little contact between Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne, but the mother obviously dominates and at the same time overprotects her so that she does not develop as she should ‘ she would have performed delightfullyâ€¦ if her health had allowed’. It is probable that Mrs Bennet and Lady Catherine could be good friends if not for the their difference in wealth and social status. Parents and their roles are obviously shown throughout the novel. The idea of children maturing out of childhood is also an issue put forward in the novel.
Children mark their maturity by accepting their parents, but also gaining their independence from them. Surely so many of Jane Austen’s parental figures are failures in order tat her heroines may more easily mature by themselves. A good example of this is Elizabeth gaining intelligence and maturity with distant parental influence. The most suitable parents in the whole novel are the Gardiners, they are also the most responsible and sensible. They are highly thought of by Darcy and take control in many of the crisis’s towards the end of the story, notably Lydia’s elopement with Wickam.
They provide sensible advice, love and help to Elizabeth when she really should have received this support from her real parents. In many ways Mrs Bennet is similar to Mr Collins. Collins also adds humour to the novel and shares many of the flaws as Mrs Bennet does. Austen’s humour is highly effective as it pokes fun at people by comparing the way they are with the way they should be. The satire makes us smile rather than laugh at people’s faults, and we may also smile ruefully as we notice our own faults in theirs.
Mr Collins is a clergyman, a profession supposed to be charitable, Christian and humble. Mr Collins is in fact, the complete opposite of this. This is seen in many ways, for example he dominates the conversation at Longbourn, grovels to Lady Catherine and makes sarcastic comments to Darcy at the Netherfield ball. In particular his faults are seen when he proposes to Elizabeth. His pompous language, overlong words and too-formal courtesy bring Elizabeth ‘so near laughing’ that she cannot speak. He also does not seem to realise how he may be offending the Bennets. Mr. Collins thinks highly of himself.
His language is pedantically worded which shows us that he is trying to convey that he is an intellectual person. The character of Mr. Collins can be likened to the character of Mary, as, although they are both intelligent, they are very artificial in the way in which they present their intelligence to an audience. Mr. Collins uses long sentences in the letter, which portray the shallowness of his character. In chapter 20, when Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth, his speech is stilted, pompous and governed by the overweening egotism. His prolix style leads him to break down his speech into numbered points.
Overall, I think the character of Mrs Bennet is effective. Her sheer vulgarity and stupidity make us cringe with embarrassment. She is successful as a caricature. However, it is hard to believe that Jane and Elizabeth could have emerged so adequate from such an unruly environment, and that Lydia could be a product of the same environment that produced her two eldest sisters- the family is too dissimilar. Mrs Bennet is successful in her conveyance of comedy through Austen’s excellent style, which combines fantastic economy for words and believable dialogue.