My printer refused to print this morning, and my dishwasher simply won't dissolve the soap, resulting in pans covered in a chalky white primeval gunk. What has this to do with Mr. Bennet, you might ask? Absolutely nothing in itself, but my brain will wander when dealing with mundane chores, (such as hooking up the spare printer and washing out the detergent cavity - - YET AGAIN.)
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character.
Most accounts I have read of Mr. Bennet focus on his foolhardy economic outlook, and his obtuse resistance to either support or assist his daughters in their quest for suitable husbands. To our modern sensibilities, these may be trifling matters, but back in the day such indifference would have had a tremendous negative impact on his daughter's fortunes. Today it would be like saying, "Pah, what do they need a college education for? They'll work it all out without my help."
What struck me though was something else. Like some of you, perhaps, I am SUCKED IN to the vortex of all things Austenabilia. When Death Comes to Pemberley screens on PBS I will be right there with my remote, recording for dear life. As you can imagine, I've watched Miss Austen Regrets, Becoming Jane, and every televised Masterpiece reproduction of her work, so on some level, and like many ardent fans, I feel I know her.
So when I read this passage again last night I had one of those ah-ha! moments. There is a reason why Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth share a special bond. To my thinking they are born from the same source. Lizzy Bennet is a quirky, quick-tongued intellectual. Through her eyes we see the people-watcher inherent in all authors; she is master of the folly she sees around her, capturing it in perfect caricature, and forming her opinions accordingly, though not always correctly. Show me an author who cannot relate to this and I'll show you an impostor. Elizabeth, flaws and all, represents the character Jane herself always wanted to be.
By all accounts Jane's own father George Austen was a scholarly, rational man, not known to be reckless in his behaviors. Though not affluent by the standards of the day, the family enjoyed a comfortable middle-class living, including regular trips to the seaside and university educations for the boys. However towards the end of his life, the family moved to Bath, which though still a respectable town had long since passed its heyday. Before his death in 1805, he turned his living over to his son, James, but when he died his daughters found themselves in financial difficulty. We see Jane's feelings regarding this matter in her reflections on Mr. Bennets economy:
Mr. Bennet had very often wished, before this period of his life, that, instead of spending his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him. He now wished it more than ever. Had he done his duty in that respect, Lydia need not have been indebted to her uncle for whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for her. The satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young men in Great Britain to be her husband might then have rested in its proper place.
This explains his pecuniary difficulties, but what of his nature? Was her father, a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice? If he was indeed a calm, scholarly man, this would hardly seem likely. So where did Jane get his character from? In the movie, Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito come from a single egg, where Arnie gets all the good genes and Danny DeVito is left with all the crud. It occurred to me that Elizabeth Bennet is the ideal to which the author aspired, but Mr. Bennet reflects all the warts and follies of the woman herself. So two halves of the same coin.
As a writer I can relate. I could never live up to the ideals of my heroines, and I throw all my daftness into my villains and sub characters. I think Austen must have done pretty much the same. Does it matter? Yes and no. We people watch to better understand ourselves and our own idiosyncrasies, don't we? And understanding how people tick brings color to the characters we write about.
Anyway, look at me, getting all rallied up when I should be dealing with more practical matters. But then nobody's perfect (thank God.) And since neither the printer nor the dishwasher will fix themselves, I better get back to them, or else all hell will break lose. And I'll write about that too, sooner or later. As is only right.
Thanks for reading,
Jill Jackson lives in Parkton with two fat cats and some serious ninja hummingbirds. She moved from London to the US in 2001, where she instantly fell in love with the people and culture.
She writes about anything that pops into her head, which most frequently includes fantasy, erotica and historical stories. She is represented by the L Perkins literary agency in NY.
Jill dreams of having a NY Times best seller and being hugged by Benedict Cumberbatch. She's not fussy about which one comes first.