The first time I read this timeless classic was a couple of months ago, and since then I’ve been completely obsessed. One thing I love about Jane Austen is the way she uses her characters to play with us, the readers.
The first time I read the novel, I saw Mrs. Bennet as the most comical and illogical woman ever. Everything she did was ridiculous, everything she said was meaningless. And its clear that it’s not just the readers who feel this way, but the other characters too, including her own children. Mr. Bennet on the other hand, is the total opposite. He is cool, level headed and logical, and has no time to indulge in silly gossips.
But pretty soon, I realised how wrong I was. Mrs. Bennet is the logical one. In fact, she is the most logical and rational character in the book. Let me explain.
Mrs. Bennet seems to be the only one in the Bennet family who is actually worried about the family’s future. Her constant nagging and searching for suitors for her daughters is not merely a byproduct of her idleness, its actually about survival. She’s the only one who seems to realise that if anything happens to her husband, she and her five daughters may as well start living on the street. Now of course you might think, there was no imminent threat, Mr. Bennet was in perfectly good health. Yet, he’s the one who has given no thoughts to the future. His easy going nature may make him look better, but it doesn’t make him a better parent or husband.
And now let’s move on to Elizabeth. Our favourite heroine, Lizzy! How quick witted she is! But is she rational? Does she make rational choices? The real answer is, no. Absolutely not. Elizabeth might see herself as being intelligent and making all the right choices, but she actually makes things worse for herself.
When I say ‘rational choice’ I mean it as being the choice that is the most advantageous and logical one. So was rejecting Mr. Collins proposal a rational choice? Let’s put it this way. Accepting him would have meant that the family home, Longbourn would’ve belonged to them even after Mr. Bennet’s demise. It would’ve also guaranteed that Elizabeth would never have had to become a governess to provide for herself. Rather, she would’ve been financially secure for her whole life. And, let’s not forget that Mr. Collins so generously pointed out how, “It is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you.” (How dare he?!)
Was Lizzy alone in making this decision? Of course not! Who told her that if she married Mr. Collins he would never speak to her again? Yes, it was her dear father, Mr. Bennet. Now think. Mr. Bennet has done absolutely nothing to secure the future of his five daughters and wife after his death. He has taken no steps towards their education or their marriage. He tries his best to ignore his silly daughters Lydia and Kitty instead of actually doing some good parenting. And then on top of ALL that, he tells his favorite daughter to refuse the one good proposal she receives, knowing very well that the chances of her getting another proposal were slim to none! Father of the Year anyone?
So basically, Elizabeth rejecting Mr. Collins proposal was all in all an irrational thing to do, especially considering that Mr. Collins was only speaking realistically when he said it was very likely that Lizzy would not have received another offer of marriage. Ever. (Let’s also not forget how unlikely and coincidental it was that Lizzy and Darcy met again after the first proposal. This wouldn’t have happened in the real world either).
Mrs. Bennet, then, seems to be the only Bennet who is thinking rationally and looking to the future. While Mr. Bennet spends his evenings hiding from his wife with his nose in a book, it is Mrs. Bennet who is living in the future. She is the one who will rest only when she knows they will not be vagrants after the death of her husband.
And so the next time you read about Mrs. Bennet’s excitement at Netherfield Park being let at last, maybe you’ll be more sympathetic. After all, five thousand a year is actually a pretty big deal for some people.