04/12/2011 § Leave a comment
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Much ink, digital and otherwise, has been spilled reviewing and interpreting Jane Austen’s classic. As such, I won’t spend any time recounting the plot, or even the major characters. Rather, I’d like to focus briefly on two relatively minor characters: Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins.
Mr. Bennet is an intriguing character because he is a relatively weak character in spite of being one of the three primary alpha males in Elizabeth’s life during the course of the story (the other two being Mr. Bingley and, of course, Mr. Darcy). Mr. Bennet, though, receives his alpha status from being the father of Elizabeth, and by that virtue alone he is her superior due to the nature of the relationship between fathers and daughters.
Mr. Bennet is witty and charming, but ultimately a fool. His relationship with his wife is worthy of mimicry, for he views her as a source of amusement because of her general silliness. As such, he tends to tease and play her for his own amusement. This is probably the best way to handle things, as there is little hope that Mrs. Bennet will ever become anything other than a foolish old lady.
Furthermore, Mr. Bennet wishes to be left alone by his daughters, especially Lydia and Kitty, who have the same depth and proclivity to profundity as their mother. Lydia is especially foolish, leaving home to elope with Whickham, bringing much disgrace upon her family in the process. Part of this moral lapse is due to her father’s neglect, for he often leaves her and Kitty to the guidance of their fool of a mother. It is not until after Kitty elopes that he realizes his failure and comes to his senses, which mostly consists of preventing Kitty from being allowed to continue in the heretofore unabated frivolity and insipidity that often characterized her behavior.
The primary source of Mr. Bennet’s failures during the course of the book stem from a decision made well before the time of the book. Specifically, Mr. Bennet’s greatest moral failure was marrying Mrs. Bennet. Jane Austen must have been a keen observer of human nature, for she states that Mr. Bennet’s decision to marry the future Mrs. Bennet was based on being entranced on her beauty, to the point that he overlooked her silliness and moral shortcomings. Once her beauty faded, then, his interest in her waned to the point where only engaged with her if it was amusing to him to do so. There is, of course, a lesson to be learned from this, but I will leave it to the reader to infer what that lesson might be.
As for Mr. Collins, it’s intriguing how sniveling and supplicatory Austen portrays him to be. He is quite revulsive to the reader for this very reason, as well as the fact that is socially tone-deaf. He is unable, for example, to discern that Elizabeth doesn’t like. He also talks far too much, babbling on like and excitable brook even though it is painfully obvious that no one cares about his manners, formality, or trivial knowledge. Because of his tone-deafness, readers will undoubtedly feel at times like going up to him and punching him in his face. Mostly because he reminds them of that one guy they know…
What makes Mr. Collins especially despicable is his constant deference to Lady Catherine. It is obvious to everyone but him that he is nothing more than a puppet whose strings are jerked about by Lady Catherine. Everything he does is done to impress her and win her favor and approval. This sort of behavior is disgusting to all sexes, but most especially women. Thus, the reader can sympathize with Elizabeth’s decision to marry Mr. Darcy instead of Mr. Collins if for no other reason than the fact that Darcy has enough of a sack to enable him to stand up to his Aunt.
Anyhow, those were the two characters that stood out the most to me as I read Pride and Prejudice. The book is bitingly funny as long as you have a general understanding of human nature and desire. And Austen is morally insightful in her observations of human nature, although she does tend to project a little in regards to Elizabeth’s relationship with Mr. Darcy. But, by and large, the book is a masterpiece because of its insight into human psycho-social interactions. Well that, and it’s actually quite humorous.