Monday, April 18, 2011

A First Look at Chapter 1

I'd like to give the narrator the consideration she is due after asking (and then attempting to answer) some questions about the Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. The questions I mentioned in the previous post need to be answered, and while we have no need of a summary, I do suspect that some things which seem obvious now might prove richer if an attempt were made to describe them explicitly.

When I first read the opening to their conversation, I mistakenly characterized Mrs. Bennet as bothering her husband with trivial things, imposing her interests on him - or something like that. But this kind of thinking can stand only if Mrs. Bennet's point is trivial and only if Mr. Bennet can truly be said to be blamelessly suffering from his marriage. But neither of these is true.

Even if Mrs. Bennet's manner of getting to her point seems annoying for its indirectness or its impracticality, her aim is charitable, and serious. When she says, "Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune" and that he is "a single man of large fortune," the reader ought to recognize the importance of this news. In this period, it would be a mark of shame not to have a husband. A spinster is regarded as a failed woman and would be thought little of. More importantly, because a woman could not command wages sufficient for supporting herself in any occupation, she must rely on a husband when she can no longer rely on parents and family. We could very well imagine Mrs. Bennet neglecting these serious needs of her children; but, she does not neglect them: she is actively engaged in seeing to their futures. So, Mrs. Bennet's errand ought be taken seriously, and Mrs. Bennet, for her work, ought to be respected for her effort.
Objection: Some might think that a mother in this time would be praised and blamed insofar as she succeeded at marrying off her daughter. She would be accorded even higher esteem for securing a husband of high social standing. Could it be that Mrs. Bennet acts to improve her reputation? If so, Mrs. Bennet's asking her husband to see Bingley is ultimately self-serving.

What do you think, Ms. W? This objection has some credence in light of the way Mrs. Bennet behaves and competes with her peers. I think its too cynical.
Furthermore, if Mrs. Bennet's mission is a serious one, then no one can claim Mr. Bennet is suffering from a nagging wife. Instead, Mr. Bennet is juvenile - taking pleasure in bothering his wife in the face of so serious a matter.

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