Pride and Prejudice, the classic novel by Jane Austen, is widely regarded as one of the most influential and popular works of English literature. The novel depicts the lives, loves, and manners of the landed gentry in early 19th century England, focusing on the Bennet family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. The novel is famous for its witty and lively dialogue, its realistic and complex characters, and its exploration of themes such as marriage, class, family, and gender.
One of the most memorable and controversial characters in the novel is Mrs. Bennet, the mother of the Bennet sisters. Mrs. Bennet is a “miraculously tiresome character”¹, who is “noisy and foolish”², “silly, emotional, and irrational”³, and whose “business of her life was to get her daughters married”⁴. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition to see her daughters married to wealthy and respectable men is the driving force behind many of the events and conflicts in the novel, as well as the source of much of the humor and satire. But what motivates Mrs. Bennet’s ambition? Is she merely a selfish and superficial woman who cares only for money and status? Or is she a sympathetic and realistic woman who acts out of concern and anxiety for her daughters’ future? In this article, we will examine Mrs. Bennet’s ambition from different perspectives and try to understand her character and motives in the context of her time and society.
One way to understand Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is to see it as a reflection of the social norms and expectations of her time and class. In the early 19th century, women had very limited rights and opportunities in terms of education, employment, property, and inheritance. Women were expected to be obedient, modest, accomplished, and above all, married. Marriage was seen as the only respectable and secure option for women, as it provided them with social status, economic stability, and legal protection. A woman’s happiness and success in life depended largely on the quality and suitability of her husband. Therefore, it was the duty and responsibility of parents, especially mothers, to find good matches for their daughters and to arrange their marriages as soon as possible.
Mrs. Bennet, as a mother of five daughters, is well aware of the importance and urgency of marriage for her daughters. She knows that her daughters have no fortune of their own, as their father’s estate is entailed to a distant male relative, Mr. Collins, who will inherit it after Mr. Bennet’s death. This means that the Bennet sisters will be left with little income and no home, and will have to depend on the charity of their relatives or friends. Mrs. Bennet also knows that her daughters have few prospects of finding suitable husbands in their neighborhood, as there are not many eligible bachelors in the area, and the competition is fierce among the young ladies. Therefore, Mrs. Bennet is always on the lookout for any opportunity to introduce her daughters to wealthy and respectable gentlemen, and to promote their beauty, accomplishments, and connections. She is especially eager to marry off her eldest daughter, Jane, to Mr. Bingley, a rich and amiable gentleman who has rented a nearby estate, Netherfield. She is also delighted when her youngest daughter, Lydia, elopes with Mr. Wickham, a charming but unscrupulous officer, even though the marriage is scandalous and imprudent.
From this perspective, Mrs. Bennet’s ambition can be seen as understandable and justified, as she is acting in accordance with the social norms and expectations of her time and class. She is trying to secure the best possible future for her daughters, and to fulfill her role as a mother and a wife. She is not selfish or superficial, but realistic and practical. She is not obsessed with money and status, but concerned with happiness and security. She is not foolish or irrational, but sensible and rational.
Another way to understand Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is to see it as a manifestation of her personal flaws and weaknesses. Mrs. Bennet is not only a product of her time and society, but also a unique and individual character with her own personality and temperament. Mrs. Bennet is often portrayed as a comic and ridiculous character, who lacks intelligence, judgment, manners, and taste. She is easily excited, agitated, and offended, and often makes a fuss over trivial matters. She is vain, ignorant, and narrow-minded, and often speaks without thinking. She is fond of gossip, flattery, and attention, and often boasts of her daughters, her connections, and her schemes. She is indifferent to the feelings, opinions, and interests of others, and often interferes with their affairs. She is inconsistent, contradictory, and hypocritical, and often changes her mind and attitude according to her convenience.
Mrs. Bennet’s ambition, therefore, is not only a reflection of the social norms and expectations of her time and class, but also a result of her personal flaws and weaknesses. She is not only trying to secure the best possible future for her daughters, but also to satisfy her own vanity and pride. She is not only concerned with happiness and security, but also with money and status. She is not only sensible and rational, but also foolish and irrational. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition, therefore, often backfires and causes more harm than good. Her lack of intelligence, judgment, manners, and taste alienates the very people whom she tries to attract, such as Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, and exposes her family to ridicule and contempt. Her vanity, ignorance, and narrow-mindedness prevent her from seeing the true character and feelings of her daughters and their suitors, and from appreciating the value of love, respect, and compatibility in marriage. Her inconsistency, contradiction, and hypocrisy undermine her credibility and authority, and make her an unreliable and untrustworthy person.
From this perspective, Mrs. Bennet’s ambition can be seen as understandable but misguided, as she is acting in accordance with her personal flaws and weaknesses. She is not realistic and practical, but selfish and superficial. She is not sensible and rational, but silly and emotional. She is not fulfilling her role as a mother and a wife, but compromising it.
A third way to understand Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is to see it as a source of conflict and comedy in the novel. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition creates many of the events and conflicts that drive the plot and develop the characters in the novel. For example, Mrs. Bennet’s insistence on sending Jane to Netherfield on horseback in the hope of her catching a cold and staying there leads to Jane’s illness and Elizabeth’s visit, which in turn leads to the development of their relationships with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet’s interference with Mr. Collins’s proposal to Elizabeth and her subsequent rejection of him leads to his marriage with Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth’s friend, which in turn leads to Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford and her encounter with Mr. Darcy and his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mrs. Bennet’s encouragement of Lydia’s flirtation with the officers and her permission for her to go to Brighton leads to Lydia’s elopement with Mr. Wickham, which in turn leads to Mr. Darcy’s intervention and his reconciliation with Elizabeth.
Mrs. Bennet’s ambition also creates much of the humor and satire in the novel. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is often contrasted with the rationality and irony of Mr. Bennet, the intelligence and wit of Elizabeth, and the pride and prejudice of Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is often the target of the author’s and the narrator’s criticism and mockery, as they expose her follies and absurdities. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is often the cause of the amusement and entertainment of the readers, as they enjoy her ridiculous and hilarious speeches and actions.
From this perspective, Mrs. Bennet’s ambition can be seen as understandable and enjoyable, as she is acting in accordance with the plot and the tone of the novel. She is not selfish and superficial, but dramatic and lively. She is not silly and emotional, but comic and amusing. She is not compromising her role as a mother and a wife, but enhancing it.
Mrs. Bennet’s ambition is one of the most prominent and controversial aspects of her character in Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition can be understood from different perspectives, such as a social norm, a personal flaw, or a source of conflict and comedy. Each perspective offers a different insight into her character and motives, and reveals the complexity and diversity of her role and function in the novel. Mrs. Bennet’s ambition, therefore, is not a simple or singular trait, but a multifaceted and dynamic one, that reflects her time and society, her personality and temperament, and her plot and tone.
(1) Mrs. Bennet Character Analysis in Pride and Prejudice – SparkNotes. https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/pride/character/mrs-bennet/.
(2) Pride and Prejudice: Mrs. Bennet Quotes | SparkNotes. https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/pride/quotes/character/mrs-bennet/.
(3) Characterisation Mrs Bennet Pride and Prejudice: Advanced – York Notes. https://www.yorknotes.com/alevel/english-literature/pride-and-prejudice/study/critical-approaches/02000600_characterisation.
(4) Mrs. Bennet – CliffsNotes. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/p/pride-and-prejudice/character-analysis/mrs-bennet.