*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
Anyone who reads Jane Austen can quickly determine that she is hard on the mothers in her fiction. With the exception of Mrs. Morland in Northanger Abbey, the mothers are either dead, emotionally absent or physically absent from their children’s lives. But her greatest mother character among the six novels is Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
Mrs. Bennet is one of the most cringe worthy mothers in all of literature. She prattles on about nothing, openly boasts about pushing her daughters toward wealthy men, embarrasses her children on a frequent basis and seems to always have a case of the nerves.
While the reader is laughing at Mrs. Bennet, we don’t realize that she is actually not only the more engaged parent, but she is more realistic about her daughter’s future. She knows that she has no sons and that upon her husband’s future passing, Longbourn (the Bennet family estate), will automatically pass to her husband’s cousin and heir, Mr. Collins. She also knows that her husband is not the best money manager and has only left his daughters with a small inheritance. It is therefore incumbent on the girls to marry well.
The best comedy makes us think while we are laughing. In making Mrs. Bennet an over the top comedic character whose anxieties are based on real issues, Jane Austen is making the reader think. Female based inheritance was not common up until recently. Most inheritance went from father to son or father to nearest male relative. Jane Austen, in a way that only she can, is making a statement about the injustice of passing over daughters when it came to matters of inheritance, whether it be inheritance of a title, a property, family income or all three.
To sum it up: One of Jane Austen’s best qualities as a writer was to subversively make her audience think. After we stop laughing at Mrs. Bennet, we realize that in her own way, she knows what she is doing. She knows that her girls have to marry men of financial consequence. The lesson I take from this character as a writer is that there has to be to more to a comedic character than making the reader laugh. Funny is well and good, but in the end the clown has to take off their makeup at some point. That is the lesson to learn from Mrs. Bennet.