I do not consider Mr or Mrs Bennet to be good parents. Jane Austen does not present them in a favourable light and I think anyone who reads this novel would get the impression that they are not good parents.
A responsibility of fathers in society in Austens day was to provide financially for his children so they have secure futures. However, Mr. Bennet does not do this. He pays little thought to the girls futures and seems to be a man who does not really consider anything seriously. We know this because Austen tells us, after Lydia had run away and Mr Bennet believes himself in the debt of Mr Gardiner, that Mr Bennet had often wished that he had saved an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife and that now he wished it more than ever. This shows us he is unthoughtful and makes foolish decisions, which later on he regrets.
Mr Bennet does not take anything seriously or talks to Mrs Bennet with respect or seriousness. This means the girls do not grow up in a very happy or secure home. The parents marriage has not gone well and Mr Bennet only married Mrs Bennet on account of her youth and good humour. We learn of his lack of respect for her as he tells her, after hearing her complain about her nerves, that he respects her nerves and says, They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.
He enjoys teasing his wife and pretends that he hasnt visited Bingley just to see the shock on his wifes face when he tells them. He is actually very cruel to Mrs Bennet, as she does not understand his sarcastic wit. This lack of understanding is reflected in Lydia, who has grown up to believe that jokes, even cruel ones, are the way to behave, thanks to her fathers behaviour and influence. In her letter telling of her elopement as she wrote to Mrs Forster, she sys that she will laugh and what a good joke it will be.
A mother in Austens day should be responsible for helping her daughters find husbands. This seems to be Mrs Bennets strong point but she seems to let this objective take over. Rather than considering their present state, she is always thinking about the future and is prepared to embarrass her girls in order to give them a chance to marry well. For example, on page 27, Mrs Bennet makes Jane ride on a horse in the hope that it might rain so she would become ill and stay all night in Bingleys house. Austen writes that Mrs Bennet was delighted when a downpour started. This shows inconsideration, little motherly love and that Mrs Bennet is obsessed with Bingley marrying Jane. Jane could have been taken seriously ill. This does not show that Mrs Bennet is a good parent.
Another responsibility of the mother was to bring up her children in a well-bred manner. I will explain in the following paragraphs how clearly Mrs Bennet does not do this.
Mrs Bennet is an attention seeker. This is shown in her continual frustrated complaints about her poor nerves. After Lydia has run away she tells anybody who will listen that she is frightened out of my with such spasms in my side, and pains in my head, and beatings at heart that I can get no rest. She also predicts her future in such a sorrowful way as to gain attention she says to the Gardiners that Mr Bennet will die in a fight with Wichkam and the Collinses will turn her out of her home. She feels sorry for herself and states but I was over-ruled, as I always am. This is resulting from the lack of respect Mr Bennet shows her.
We can see this reflected in Mary at the Netherfield ball, where she gets up to sing and play the piano. She is seeking attention and is proud of her accomplishments, although Austen tells us her voice is weak.
At the Netherfield ball, Mrs Bennet embarrasses Lizzy by talking loudly near Darcy about Jane and Bingley and the Lucases. When entreated by Lizzy to quieten down, she replies, I am sure we owe him (Darcy) no such particular civility as to be obliged to say nothing that he may not like to hear. In Austens day this behaviour would have been absolutely unacceptable and looked on with contempt as Mrs Bennet shows ill breeding. This encourages the girls to be gossips, tactless and rude. Mrs Bennet does nothing throughout the novel to teach and instruct her five girls of how to behave in society, that is, apart from how to find husbands.
Mrs Bennet has violent mood swings. When she first heard of Lydias elopement she was in hysterics and complained of tremblings spasms in my side and pains in my head and said Mr Bennet would be killed and they would be turned out of their home. When she heard that Lydia and Wickham were to be married, she immediately forgot her pains and sorrows and told everyone I knew how it would be.
Mrs Bennet also does not show gratitude a bad influence on her daughters. When apparently Mr Gardiner pays Wickham to marry Lydia, she says that who else should do it but her own uncle. This quality is reflected in Lydia, who is never grateful for anything.
We can also look at the way the parent treat their daughters directly, as well as subtly influencing them. Both parents show favouritism. Mr Bennet to Lizzy because of her sense and wit, Mrs Bennet to Lydia for being like herself, and also to Jane for her beauty. Mr Bennet also insults his children, instead of gently putting them on the right path. He tells them they are silly, especially Lydia and Kitty you must be two of the silliest girls in the country. Mr Bennet does not seem to try all at being a good father. He ignores all his children but Lizzy. Mrs Bennet does not seem to have time for her daughters except Lydia and Jane.
We can also look at the Mr Bennets reaction to Lydia running off with Wickham. He blames himself for he let Lydia go to Brighton although Lizzy warned him against it. Even in his guilt, Mr Bennet is sarcastic by telling Lizzy to allow him to feel guilty for once and then says, I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough. Then he tells Kitty that she cannot go out of the house until she has proved herself to be sensible and Kitty bursts unto tears at this.
Previously, I have looked at what the Bennet parents are like to see how good parents they are, but if we look at the Bennet sisters, we can see how they have been brought up, and the parents qualities will reflect in the daughters.
Lydia is a flirt, has no self-awareness and is very immature. We see this in the way she pleads to go to Brighton so she can mix with the officers there. When she is invited, Austen tells us in her imagination, Lydia sees herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers all at once. Mrs Bennet encourages Lydia by telling her of her own childhood flirtations I cried for two days when Colonel Millars regiment went away. I thought I should have broke my heart! In Austens day flirting would have been looked upon as unacceptable behaviour. And Lydia is fifteen, which is much to young to go to Brighton with the officers and this is proven by her immature elopement.
Kitty has a very weak character resulting from a lack of teaching and discipline from the Bennet parents. We see this in the way she constantly follows and copies Lydia. She backs her up when arguing about going to Brighton, and only when she is completely separated from Lydia does she improve. Austen tells us removed from the influence of Lydias example, she became, by proper attention and management, less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid.
Only two out of the five girls are really a credit to Mr and Mrs Bennet Jane and Lizzy. Jane is very caring and always sees the best in people. Even when she knows Wickhams true character she refers to him as Poor Wickham!
Towards the middle of the novel, Lizzy is beginning to see her family in the same light as outsiders would and becomes aware of their many failings. She also develops more self-awareness, which her parents did not teach her. Lizzy does show one of her fathers traits her humour. Lizzy makes a joke out of the hurt Darcy caused by slighting her. Austen writes, she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous. This is shown in her father at the Netherfield ball, where Mr Collins embarrasses the family and Austen writes, no one looked more amused than Mr Bennet himself.
To conclude, from Austen's use of language and the impression she gives, I believe Mr and Mrs Bennet are not good parents.
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