Considering Jane Bennet – and her Sisters — 41 Comments

    • Oh, Monica – how wonderful and how kind! Thank you so very much. (And thanks for tweeting too. You are a Pearl of Great Price – like Jane B., but wittier!)

  1. Brilliant! I had always wondered how Jane Bennet could be such a perfect character with such parents. You answered all my questions and other. Thank you!

  2. I agree that the birth order and the disappointment over the lack of heir must have affected the quality of parenting with the girls. Mary and Kitty were ignored because they were once again, not male. By the time Lydia was born, Mr and Mrs Bennett may have been informed that further successful pregnancys were unlikely and this would cause Mrs Bennet to dote on her youngest, regardless of sex.

    • I hadn’t thought of that – but yes, Mrs. Bennet does treat Lydia like the youngest child when she knows there will be no more. Like Mrs. Price with her bratty youngest daughter in Mansfield Park. Thanks for your comment.

    • Thank goodness for the influence of the Gardiners! It is presumptuous of Mrs. Bennet to expect the Gardiners to contribute to the money to save Lydia from the daughter’s folly…especially when there are four children of the Gardiners.

  3. Jane is much more than most readers give her credit for. Being an optimist and seeing good in people is not a bad thing unless it has already proven to be undeserved.

    I agree with your theory that Jane, being the first born, was probably adored by both parents who were still in the ‘honeymoon’ years of their marriage and over the moon that they had delivered a healthy baby. I think that the growing neglect with the following sisters was a product of the growing disappointment that they were not born boys. I can just hear it, ‘not another girl!’. Try again. Another girl. Try again. Another girl. Finally in Lydia Mrs. Bennet saw herself and grabbed onto that. Kitty, Mary and Lizzy were, to Mrs. B., just reminders that they had no heir for Longbourn.

    • You’re right – I was relating in my post to the different stages of the Bennets’ marriage and how it made them treat their children, but I left out the Elephant in the Room: the fact that they wanted a BOY. Thanks for your good comment.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your post on Jane Bennet and the whole family dynamics. I would agree that Jane at times was the wiser in her reaction/feelings of others. She knew her sister well enough to know that arguing was not going to win the day in changing her opinions despite the fact that she (Jane) didn’t like conflict. Thank you!

  5. Wonderful post on the Bennet family, particularly Jane. She was almost too sweet to be real, almost saintly. How she managed to remain cool, calm, and collected within the Bennet family’s chaos is a miracle. Loved your insights into the Bennet family.

    • Thank you, Carol, I’m glad my thoughts resonated with you. And you raise a point I hadn’t thought of, how very remarkable it is that Jane should be so cool, calm and collected in THAT family. The sane center.

    • Thanks for your comment, Reina. Definitely, Jane Austen wanted to show the “civilizing” influence of the Gardiners, because she needed something to explain the way Jane and Lizzy were!

    • Thank you so much, John – and now I’m wondering in what ways your family resembles the Bennets! I was an only child, myself, and my son is an only child, so I’m only working from imagination here (smile).

  6. I don’t see Jane as having a serene temperament in the sense that I think she works for it. She has in her the perception of people as hard and mean and unloving and unfriendly and mercenary as Elizabeth has; what she says to Elizabeth when Elizabeth presses her is important. Yes at first she says Elizabeth is not balanced. But when they talk again and again and especially after her visit to London, she tells Elizabeth not that Elizabeth is wrong but that it pains Jane too much to have to live with such a perception however true it might be. That is, she represses her insight because it makes her deeper self unhappy. That’s far from bland. It accounts for how Mrs Bennet’s continual harping on the hypocritical behavior of the Bingley’s is so disturbing to her it makes her sick. So Mrs Gardiner removes her. It accounts for why she rushes from the room when her father makes a joke about how the mother harps (she must be grateful to have this ever brought up) and how Mr Wickham will jilt Elizabeth creditably. In fact he does. Mr Bennet’s vision is vindicated by the novel.

    Jane is not Cassandra Austen; she is a compound drawn from Jane Austen’s own complex motivations for writing her books the way she did. Your blog has brought me to dialogue with you over this. I’ve only heard one reader do justice to Jane: Irene Sutton (I believe was her name) in an old Cover-to-Cover reading of an unabridged text.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ellen. Yes, I’d agree that Jane is certainly a person of great sensibility, who strives and struggles for serenity. But that’s not something Elizabeth would ever strive for. I don’t recognize the Irene Sutton or Cover to Cover reference, is it lit crit, or a performance?

      • I guess I’m questioning whether she is serene and not from trembling inability to cope with the truths she does see, but from a judgement that what she sees suggests an awful world. She presents a holding firm against it.

        I see here a clue to much of our debates: the double life of Austen, the two different perspective; is this collusive fiction or fiction which exposes. The line of social life that Jane Bennet chooses is not quite the same as Elinor. Elinor says she will keep her genuine thoughts to herself, not repeat cant. Jane is saying she deliberately obscures her thoughts from herself to get through life.

        This might enable the writing of such books which are seen as so positive by some and not by others.

        I see as much Austen in Jane as I do Elizabeth Bennet — the way her brother, James, said there was as much of his sister in Marianne as Elinor Dashwood.

        We have said in previous older threads how there is far far more about Jane and Elizabeth’s relationships, debates presented through them than there is at all of Darcy and Elizabeth. and it’s ditto for Elinor and Marianne in Austen’s book.

        Sutton’s is a dramatic reading of P&P – a performance if you will.

  7. Really enjoyed your thoughts about Jane which set me thinking that perhaps she was surrounded by wise and loving grandparents. Because of their age and experience they might have been more serene and secure with their first grandchild. The nervous young mother may have gratefully sat back while they doted on and cared for Baby Jane. When Baby Elizabeth arrived they may have kept Young Jane frequently in their company leaving (nervous) Mrs. Bennet free to practice motherhood.

    You mention Cassandra’s and Jane’s personalities and are they Jane and Elizabeth. I just finished reading, again, Fay Weldon’s “Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen”. She quotes a female cousin’s comments on both young sisters: “Yesterday they all spent the day with us, and the more I see of Cassandra the more I admire – Jane is whimsical and affected.” Sometimes a younger sister has to try harder.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Irene. I confess I never took the grandparents into consideration in my thinking, as Jane Austen didn’t have them appear in P & P – but of course, even if they were gone by the time the girls were grown up, the grandparents (at least some of them) may certainly have been a great influence on their granddaughters in their early years, just as you conjecture. I remember the quote about JA being “whimsical and affected,” it’s wonderful, and no stretch at all to believe that a girl with her mental qualities might not be playing parts and trying out attitudes in girlhood: something very natural about that!

  9. I liked this post very much, and the description of how the Bennets’ evolving marriage may have formed Jane’s personality. Jane is often described as not as overtly “clever” as Lizzy in terms of being witty and well-read, but your post points out to me how Jane is sometimes more astute than Lizzy in how she navigates the personalities in her family. By being a calm, serene, gentle person, and looking for the better in people, she probably gets along with her family members, and doesn’t herself create more chaos in what seems to be a family that is often at odds, if not just boisterous and lively. Her personality lends itself to more family harmony, than Lizzy’s, who probably was quicker to criticize and judge.

    • Jane Austen so wonderfully presents Lizzy as brilliant and Jane as merely sweet, that we scarcely notice that sometimes, when Lizzy is being wrong headed, it is Jane, in her quiet way, who is in the right. You make a good point, too, that her serene presence probably was a very good coping (and soothing) mechanism in such a chaotic family, while Lizzy was more abrasive. And these are reasons why we always see more and more in Jane Austen! Thank you for commenting, Kathy, and I’m glad you liked the post.

  10. I remember that – in the end of the tale – ‘Jane was not deceived’ by Miss Bingley, and that even Jane could not tolerate her mother’s frequent visits to Netherfield, thus forcing the Bingleys to move north. So she is not one for confrontation. I agree with you about her being the firstborn child in responsibility, but I also think she and Lizzy were able to visit often with the Gardiners as young children, something that decreased in frequency as the Gardiners started having their own babies.

    And then there is always the ‘switched at birth’ scenario. XD

    • True – I wasn’t taking into consideration how much Jane did resist being a doormat. This is all testimony to her having good intelligence and not being a pushover, despite her being a softer, more forgiving character than Lizzy. And yes, that’s an excellent detail, that the Gardiners did obviously have great influence on their nieces but it would have lessened as their own family grew! Thanks for the insightful comment…and the “switched at birth” is a whole novel in itself, isn’t it!

  11. I enjoyed this look into Jane’s character. I found it very interesting how the birth order of the sisters and the devolving of the Bennett’s marriage affected each of them. I have thought about it in the past, but never in such depth. Thank you for sharing.

  12. My experience in working with Children, Youth and Families, in being a teacher for a few years and in rearing my own three is that each child is born with certain personality traits. Now the parents have to guide and mold those traits and some parents are better with some, some are better with all but you MUST know of adults reared in the same home environment with fair and equal treatment who turn out so differently. As a caseworker we all adhered to the case of peer group pressures causing a great many surprising behaviors. Jane’s calm, Elizabeth’s quick wit, etc. to me are inborn traits.

    • Interesting and intelligent comment, Sheila – thanks so much. I’m in agreement with you, because even our cats had their distinct personalities as kittens! I’ve always thought nature is responsible for the largest share of people’s traits. You don’t see this said very often but I think it’s true. And I think Jane Austen thought so too.

    • Thank you so much for sharing my post, Samuel! Much appreciated. And it gave me an opportunity to find out about YOUR page, and join! Be seeing you around, methinks!

      • Your welcome and thank you! Yes, my page allows me an outlet for my love of Jane Austen and her stories. It is also pretty fun to “hang out” with like-minded individuals.

        Interestingly, I discovered Jane Austen from the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley. All of the females at my work were going on and on about it. I love a good Chick-Flick so off I went- and I was hooked. I have since learned that that version is inferior to the Six Hour BBC version with Colin Firth. And, of course, the book is superior to them all.

        I love your little article about Jane Bennet and I am sure my Janeite friends will too. I have also enjoyed the conversation going on in this comment thread.

        • I was so pleased you liked my article! And it’s a delight to discover your lively page. Reading it, I can tell we see eye to eye on a lot of things. Well met, Samuel!

  13. As one of three sisters, I also think Jane and Lizzy would have greatly influenced each other’s development. With different inborn personalities, they sort of balanced each other out, in their different ways, and supported each other in a family where there really appeared to be no guiding force of wisdom from the parents. They could share and modify each other’s view of the world and offer each other comfort and hope for making their own lives different, perhaps more like the Gardiners.

    • Absolutely, Sallianne. That’s a very thoughtful and sensitive comment, born of experience. This is wisdom you have that I don’t possess – as an only child, and mother of an only child! You give me food for thought. Thank you.

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