Would You Rather . . . .

Would You Rather . . . .

Who do you think is the better parent in Pride and Prejudice: Mr. Bennet or Mrs. Bennet?

If you were to ask the twenty year old Elizabeth Bennet at the beginning of the novel, the answer would probably be a resounding, “Mr. Bennet!” But I wonder if she would have said the same thing a few years later, especially if Mr. Bennet had died before she and Jane had made advantageous marriages.

Mr. Bennet has his good qualities. He and Elizabeth share a love of books, a sarcastic sense of humor and the ability to laugh at the world around them. He openly proclaims “Lizzy” to be his favorite child, and he is her favorite parent.

Mrs. Bennet is described as “a woman of mean understanding,” another way of saying she’s neither intelligent nor well educated. It’s a safe guess that Mrs. Bennet doesn’t go into her husband’s library too often and when she does, it’s not to read the books. She talks too much, frequently embarrasses her family with her boorish manners, and makes no attempt to correct the atrocious behavior of her younger daughters. Her husband makes fun of her to her face, which is sad. Even worse, she doesn’t even realize it when he does.

But as fond as Elizabeth is of her father, there is one advantage Mrs. Bennet has over her husband: she takes the family’s future seriously.

Mr. Bennet has spent the last dozen years or so, since sometime after Lydia’s birth, doing absolutely nothing for his family’s financial security. He hasn’t put aside any money for them, so when he dies, each daughter (assuming they are not married) will inherit a thousand pounds and nothing else. (Keep in mind that this is during a time of war, when eligible bachelors are in short supply.) The interest from their inheritance will not be enough to support them, so they will have to live with relatives or else (horrifyingly!) find a way to earn a living. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Yet Mr. Bennet, who is painfully aware of this possible future, doesn’t do anything to avoid it. He hasn’t regularly set aside sums of money to add to his daughters’ fortunes. He hasn’t even made sure that they are properly educated. And when his youngest two daughters, especially Lydia, engage in behaviors that could damage their chances of making a good marriage even more, he does nothing to stop them.

On the other hand, Mrs. Bennet urges Mr. Bennet to form friendships with eligible men who might possibly become suitors for her daughters. She makes sure that her daughters look their best at social engagements where they might meet single gentlemen. She connives ways for her daughters and the men in question to be alone together. In short, she does anything and everything she can to throw her daughters into the paths of rich men so that they can make good marriages. Mrs. Bennet is crude and she may not be very smart, but she definitely makes the most of what she does have.

So which parent is better? Do you prefer the parent who knows what he should do and just can’t be bothered, or the one who knows what needs to happen but not the best way to go about it? It’s a tough call.

Imagine an alternate Pride and Prejudice future, one where Jane and Elizabeth do not marry well and all the Bennet daughters are still single when Mr. Bennet dies. What would happen then? My predictions:

  • Collins hears about Mr. Bennet’s death and is “kind” enough to give his cousins ninety days to leave Longbourn.
  • Mrs. Bennet and her daughters move in with Mrs. Phillips.
  • Jane accepts an offer of marriage from a Meryton shopkeeper. In her old life this match would have been a non-starter but things are different now. She marries him and hopes they will learn to love each other in time.
  • Lydia ends up going “on the town” and is never heard from again. Not in polite society, anyway.
  • Mary ends up an old maid. After all, she doesn’t have Jane or Elizabeth to bring her more into society and improve her manners.
  • Kitty, who hates living with her relatives and can’t wait to leave home, accepts a marriage offer just to get away from her family. It doesn’t work out well.

And Lizzy? Well, Elizabeth receives a marriage offer from the shopkeeper’s brother, a cobbler, but she can’t stand the idea of seeing Longbourn in Collins’ care so she moves in with the Gardiners in town. She never finds any gentleman who meets her ideals and eventually becomes a governess. In her few quiet hours of reflection, when she’s not corralling unruly children or teaching them how to play their instruments remarkably ill, Elizabeth the governess comes to realize that maybe, just maybe, her mother was on to something after all.

Let me know below what you think of all this! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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July 19, 2022 11:57 PM

I would go with Mrs. Bennet too. I prefer someone who does something than someone who does nothing and leave it to chance. Though bad, I also appreciate her being on the offensive against someone who attacked her family.

July 17, 2022 10:28 AM

My answer would have been different when I first read the book but now I would definitely say Mrs Bennet is the better parent and I agree with your assessment of what might have happened if things had gone differently.

July 17, 2022 8:43 AM

Bennet is a terrible husband and father. Mrs Bennet has her faults but she knows the reality of her and her daughters situation when Bennet dies.

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
July 15, 2022 8:12 PM

Thank you for sharing your insight!

Riana Everly
July 15, 2022 11:05 AM

Mrs. Bennet definitely had the girls’ best interests in mind, even if she wasn’t the most tactful in how she went about things. And she probably wasn’t any worse than a lot of high society mothers, all angling to get their darlings in front of some viscount or something. Just with fancier manners.
Part of me wonders, though, how Mr. Bennet would have been if Mrs. Bennet were more refined and had shown more interest in educating their daughters properly.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
July 14, 2022 7:46 PM

I agree they both had their faults. It would be interesting to try a storyline like that but it would be a sorry future for the Benetts.

Lauren Gilbert
Lauren Gilbert
July 14, 2022 10:36 AM

I don’t think either was the better parent. Both are flawed. Mr Bennet did have more affection for Jane and Lizzy, and more involvement with Jane and Lizzy’s education, but basically ignored the 3 younger girls and neglected all of his daughters’ future welfare shamefully. His behaviour regarding his wife was awful. Mrs. Bennet did have a long view for their future and tried, in her limited way, to help but again neglected to teach her younger daughters any sort of deportment or self-respect. I can see Mrs B and the 3 younger girls with Mrs Phillips, but think Jane and Lizzy would end up in London with the Gardiners, having their pick of rising young men of Mr Gardiner’s acquaintance.

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
July 14, 2022 9:06 AM

Oh-My-Gosh! What a dismal future for the Bennet family. You made very good points about each of the characteristics of the Bennet parents. I get so angry with Mr. Bennet because he shoulda, coulda, woulda, didn’t take care of his family, and his blatant neglect of the estate. I assume he was thinking why go to all that trouble only to hand over a prosperous estate to the elder Collins who was at odds with the family at the time. However, Bennet’s failure to even consider the futures of his family [his unmarried daughters especially] was too much. I have always wanted a scene where Philips and Gardiner approach Bennet and have [as we say in the south] a ‘Come to Jesus’ conversation where they explain that it is not right that he expects them to rescue his family from his neglect. Or perhaps Bennet should have a dream where he sees all the things you mentioned. Jane is too beautiful to go into service. She wouldn’t last a sennight before being importuned.
Mrs. Bennet means well but doesn’t have the understanding to know that her methods are backfiring and doing the reverse of what she intends. While their husbands are talking to Mr. Bennet, the ladies Philips and Gardiner could be talking to Mrs. Bennet. Oh, that would be fun.

Well, this was an interesting post. Thanks for sharing and blessings on all your hard work. 

Regina Jeffers
July 14, 2022 8:23 AM

I do not want to say anything about either parent, for their manner of parenting plays a big part in my upcoming tale, “Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor.” Then again, just about all the Bennets’ personalities are sliced deeper for a little different perspective in my tale. LOL!
Great piece. I love your insights.

Ann G
Ann G
July 16, 2022 2:00 AM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

When do you think your new story will be available, Regina?

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