While on the subject of Mr. Bennet (one of my favorite characters, I might add), I thought I’d add a few thoughts about his parenting. I could probably write a very large post about the parenting (or lack of parenting) of Mr. and Mrs. B., argue about which one is the better (or worse) parent, and theorize about why Jane Austin includes these lackluster parents in the novel at all. However, due to a head cold making me feel like I’m swimming in a fog through life right now, I fear that I might make no sense at all. I’ll settle for a brief, poignant reminder of the fact that hindsight is always 20/20.
Here is a quote from Mr. Bennet to Elizabeth after he receives a very surprising request from Darcy for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage:
Lizzy,…I have given my consent…(and) I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about.
Of course, Mr. Bennet has no idea of Lizzy’s true feelings for Darcy, so this quote comes out of what we can only assume is sincere parental concern for his favorite daughter. What made me sad was thinking back to this earlier quote about the state of his own marriage back in Chapter 42:
Her father captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem and confidence had vanished forever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.
Mr. Bennet learned from experience the difficulties of an “unequal marriage.” Despite having to deal with the consequences of this bad choice for the rest of his life, he desires something better for his daughters, or at least for his favorite, Elizabeth. His council to her is wise, but the wisdom is born from his own struggles. I guess, in this one area, he shows us good parenting – one that desires a better life for his child(ren) than he personally has experienced. Not only does he desire this for Lizzy, he has the courage to tell her in a straightforward manner to be careful in this important decision. Go dad!