In which I get ridiculously defensive of Mrs. Bennet, part 1.

10 Sep

Sorry about the break in posting, there; I was out of town for a family thing. Actually the place we were at has some historical significance of its own, but first there is this special two-part thing I have been working on for some time. You read that right: two-part. OH YES, MY FRIENDS, I REALLY DO HAVE THAT MUCH TO SAY ON MRS. BENNET.

So a few years ago I had this classmate, and we got together for lunch, and eventually the topic turned to Austen, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that two young ladies, in possession of large girl-geek-boners for the Regency and for books, must eventually discuss their feelings on Pride and Prejudice. We disagreed over the merits of the 2005 film, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFayden (I enjoyed it, she hated it). I mentioned that one of the things I liked about it was that it showed a certain amount of real affection between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and how I thought it was unfair of a lot of interpretations to portray Mrs. Bennet as not caring about her family or her husband, and she said something that made my blood run cold.

“Well,” she said, “I think that Mrs. Bennet loved Mr. Bennet as much as she was able.”

As much as she was able.

AS MUCH AS SHE WAS ABLE.

AS MUCH AS SHE WAS ABLE.

Because clearly, you know, if a lady (or a person in general, but I suspect a lot of the dislike for Mrs. Bennet is based on some of her more traditionally “feminine” characteristics) isn’t intellectual, she’s not capable of actual emotion, amirite? Like, ugh, I am the first to lament the rampant anti-intellectualism in my culture, but I am not the most intellectual person out there, either. I’m fairly intelligent, I think, but—put it this way, a friend of mine categorizes most characters in genre things as being either Thinkers or Smashers, and if I were a superhero, I would definitely be a Smasher. And like Mrs. Bennet, I sometimes enjoy stupid traditionally-girly things like dresses and daydreaming about big fancy weddings and gossiping. Sometimes I don’t like those things, but sometimes I do! And I am pretty horrified by the implication that caring about frivolous things automatically nullifies any thoughts or feelings I might have.

I mean, I am all about not prescribing gender roles, so I certainly don’t think the only things that women should care about are dresses and weddings and gossip, or that all women should care about those things. But the fact that these things are considered bad and/or stupid because they are considered feminine, and thus that anyone who cares about those things is a bad and/or stupid person (because they are liking things that are considered feminine), is awful.

This is why, for all my issues with Joss Whedon and gender, Buffy Summers was so significant. Where there had been a run of action heroines like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, who kicked ass but where completely un-“girly”, where there had been a world of Final Girls with gender-ambiguous names who only saved themselves by turning the killers’ weapon against him and thus getting symbolic phalluses of their own, suddenly you had a young woman who liked shoe shopping, and was a cheerleader, and could take you down if you fucked with her.

Part Two, where I talk about the Serious Historical Business that makes me defensive of Mrs. Bennet, to follow in a couple of days, since I’m going to be in New Hampshire for the weekend on family stuff. MULTI-PART POSTS, SO THRILLING.

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4 Responses to “In which I get ridiculously defensive of Mrs. Bennet, part 1.”

  1. Stephanie H. September 10, 2009 at 15:22 #

    Was intellectual lack of depth what your friend meant by “as much as she was able?” While I do think there may have been some affection between the Bennetts, my only feeling of limitation to Mrs. Bennett’s affection is her utter self-involvement. That’s what drives me crazy about her, that she seems utterly focused on herself. Not that she is a mother obsessed with getting her daughters married off (after all, I was raised by a mother like that.) I don’t mind that she’s a little silly at all. Silliness can frequently be a lovable trait and does not preclude one’s own ability to love.

    I look forward to part two!

  2. Beckyzoole September 11, 2009 at 12:30 #

    I don’t think the problem with Mrs. Bennet is that she’s not intellectual. She’s not stupid, only… foolish. This does not mean lack of intelligence, it means lack of *wisdom*.

    I’d always thought of Mrs. Bennet as being rather narcissistic and self-centered, a bit lacking in impulse control. Lydia is very much like her mother.

    Mr. Bennet is self-centered and foolish in his own way; Mary is a good reflection of her father’s “intellectual” self-centeredness.

    While I’m calling both Bennet parents self-centered, I don’t think they are entirely so. They each love their daughters and want the best for them; and they do love each other “as much as they are able”.

  3. Maggie Brinkley September 11, 2009 at 19:49 #

    Thank you!

    The more often I read P and P the more I appreciated Jane Austen’s subtlety in depicting the Bennets’ marriage. (Perhaps because I’ve been married for 31 years and things do change over the years!) It’s an _old_ marriage: ‘that first, fine, careless rapture’ has gone and they both _tolerate_ each other. So clever! Their relationship is one of affection for each other in spite of their differences, I think.

    Women in those days were in a position that we would find intolerable: put bluntly, marry or live in poverty. (See also: Charlotte Lucas and Fanny Mansfield, who I see as variations on a theme, if that makes sense.)

  4. Maggie Brinkley September 11, 2009 at 21:04 #

    Oops! Fanny Price in ‘Mansfield Park’ I mean! (oh dear, my brain has gone on holiday without me.) *blushes with embarrassment*

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