*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.
The first man in any woman’s life is her father, or lack thereof. He will forever cast a shadow over her life and is the yardstick for how she will judge the men she meets throughout her lifetime. When it comes to dating and relationships, a woman’s father will play a part, even if he is in the background of her life.
In Pride and Prejudice, when compared to his wife, Mr. Bennet can be looked at as an absentee parent. The first description of Mr. Bennet is found very early in the novel:
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.
Mr. Bennet largely spends his time in his library, sequestered away from his wife and daughters. He openly favors Elizabeth (the second of his five daughters), mercilessly teases his wife (who gets sucked in every time) and does not step in as a father should, except when he is forced to (i.e. Lydia running away with Wickham). Unable to divorce his wife (divorce in that era was not only scandalous, but difficult), Mr. Bennet is content to sit in his library and largely ignore his family.
Compared to his wife (and her hysterics), Mr. Bennet is the emotionally absent parent. Unhappily married to a woman whom he is not compatible with, he has dealt with the hand of cards life has given him the best way he knows how to. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I marvel that Jane and Elizabeth have not only come through to adulthood without major emotional trauma, but also that their marriages are much happier than their parent’s marriage.
To sum it up: Not all marriages are happy. In a time when divorce was nearly impossible and scandalous, those trapped in unhappy marriages found ways to cope. Mr. Bennet’s way of coping was locking himself in his library. We all have coping mechanisms to deal with the difficult areas of our lives, in giving characters coping mechanisms, we make them human and despite their flaws, we understand them. The main task of a writer to create characters that the audience can relate to. Without that connection between the characters and the audience, it is highly likely that the audience will walk away and never return.