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Is Jane Bennet a Saint? by Mary Simonsen — 35 Comments

  1. I think you are right. I also think that Jane would not seem too good to be true were she the main character, and a little more attention was, thus, focused on her.

    I have often thought that Anne Elliot might be what Jane would be like were she the main character. Sharp enough to know the faults in other (even, one might say, particularly in her own family), but forebearing enough, and, dare I say it, CHRISTIAN enough to keep her opinions to herself.

    Unlike Anne, we never see things from Jane’s point of view, so her kindness, seemingly without effort, unlike Anne’s, might seem hard to believe, because we do not see the inner struggle she wages to be the person she knows she ought to be.

    • Hi Jim. Persuasion is tied with P&P for my favorite Austen novel. Even though Anne keeps silent (for the most part), we at least understand that she recognizes weakness and shallowness when she sees it. Short of being hit with a sledge hammer, Jane doesn’t seem to see it. Thank you for your comments. I enjoyed them.

      • I think Jane sees the bad but she’s still so young that she doesn’t have the language to express herself. Anne Elliot sees the bad, has the language to frame it, but knows if she says anything aloud, she’s toast.

  2. I think it would be hard to be so nice all the time. Jane sees good in everyone so could easily be imposed on. Although she is not the only one as we see Elizabeth believing Wickham. However Jane still finds it hard to believe Wickham is not a good man even after Elizabeth gives her the proof. It is lucky she married Bingley or someone could have taken advantage of her trusting nature I think.
    Thanks for this post Mary. I would agree that Jane is very saintly but I would prefer to be more like Elizabeth (especially if I got Darcy!) 😊

    • I agree. I want to be like Elizabeth. I don’t want to look for bad in people, but one has to be realistic! Thanks for commenting.

  3. I think Jane is almost too good to bFortunately she found someone e true. She takes every offence against her and her family as well as every slight without anger or resentment. She sees good in everybody including Wickham and cannot believe that Caroline could not like her or lie to her. She is too trusting and vulnerable. I think Jane Austen may have been more like Elizabeth, if I had to choose one character in Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps Jane’s sister, Cassandra, was more the model for Jane Bennet, but exaggerated a bit. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Mary. It certainly got me thinking this morning.

    • I have read that Jane Bennet was modeled on Cassandra, but that is just one of many scholarly opinions. I suspect their is some truth in it. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I love your assessment of Jane and agree with it wholeheartedly. I also have four sisters so my reading of the book was coloured by that fact; however, I did not find Jane to be too good to be true because my older sister was the type that did what was right, proper and expected. 🙂

    • I was very fortunate in that my three older sisters were responsible and, for the most part, kind. They had a lot of responsibilities for their ages, and sometimes the youngest three just got on their nerves. When I was put in charge of my youngest sister, who was quite a handful, I could better appreciate what they did for us. It’s great that you had such a kind sister.

    • “What about other Janes?” I’ve always thought of S&S as Austen working on her craft. I think she perfected it in P&P. As P&P was her second novel, she may have chosen her own name for the reasons stated, but this is just my opinion. We’ll never know. I have read that Jane Bennet is a homage to Cassandra Austen.

  5. I have no sisters and would dearly love one. Sometimes I would want to give Jane a shake as she only sees the good in people especially Mr. Bingley’s sisters. I am more like Elizabeth – outspoken!!!

    • My mother had a very sweet sister. When she died in her thirties, my mom described her as being “too good for this world.” When I read P&P, I think of my Aunt Helen as being Jane Bennet.

  6. I have a sister who was almost exactly a Jane Bennet when she was growing up. While she may seem like a saint (and she really is probably the kindest person I have ever known), her very kindness in some ways was a fault, because she had a tendency to let people push her around (even her sister who was four years younger). I think in any family that has a Jane, you also need an Elizabeth, because the faults and strengths of each other can balance and help each other learn. I don’t view Jane as perfect, but she does grow through the novel. At the end, it says that she would no longer be deceived by Caroline, but could not help but be affected. She’s no fool, just a person who genuinely looks on other with love and kindness.

    • Growing up, I was more like Jane and my younger sister was more like Elizabeth. I was extremely shy, and Sally would tell me what to do, and it got to be that I wouldn’t do anything if Sally didn’t do it first. Although I was younger, she always took the lead. Good thing or I would have been a total lump.

  7. What an interesting perspective and something I never really thought about in depth until recently. I do think at times that Jane doesn’t like conflict but at the same time your point of good Christian values and following them are personified in her. Then, Ms. Austen, uses Mary to spout Fordyce and show the difference between talking about these values and acting on them. I have two older sisters and none of us are saints!

  8. Wonderful analysis and commentary on the character of Jane. She is indeed a “better angel” whose kindness and goodness we can all aspire to.

    Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking article!! I truly enjoyed it. 🙂

    Warmly,
    Susanne 🙂

  9. Hi Mary,
    thank you for your thoughts about Jane Bennet. Since I only have brothers, I can’t compare Jane to any sister of mine… but I sometimes ask myself, if she is not so much angelic, but rather “conflict-shy”, as we would say in Germany, meaning that she tries to avoid conflict whenever possible. Perhaps she doesn’t like to fight. Maybe she isn’t confident enough? After all, she is always praised for her beauty, never for her wit or intelligence…she doesn’t seem to be as quick-witted as Lizzy, so perhaps she is sometimes a bit tongue-tied?
    But I totally agree with Jim that we can only guess and don’t get to know enough of her thoughts, as we would of a main character.
    Thanks again for your wonderful article!

    • Hi Nicola. I agree that Jane was “conflict-shy” or surely she would have challenged some of her mother’s most absurd and publicly embarrassing statements. But if you look at her initial response to almost anyone and anything, it’s always looking for the positive. She had to be practically hit over the head to believe that Wickham was a scoundrel. I appreciate your comments.

  10. Very interesting characterization of Jane Bennet. She’s almost to perfect. Her belief that everyone is good and respectable, in my opinion, leaves her open to heartbreaking experiences. Take Caroline Bingley – she was able to pull the wool over Jane’s eyes, whereas Elizabeth saw through her false behaviors. When it finally dawns on her, she is mortified that Elizabeth was correct about Caroline and Louisa. She tried to please too many people, assumed everyone had a good heart, and couldn’t seem to judge people at all. If not for Elizabeth’s ability to distinguish character in people ( even though sometimes wrong as the Darcy/Wickham debacle ) Jane could be taken in by so many people, because even good people can be turned to trouble.

    • I agree. The saddest thing is that if this were true, Jane had a very good chance of losing Bingley forever b/c she believed Caroline’s lies. Good think Jane Austen gave her Lizzie. Thanks for commenting.

    • I’ve actually seen Louisa Hurst grow out of being a copy cat of Caroline, and I like her better. Mr. Hurst was also better in some variations than he was in the original P&P. Anytime we can separate Caroline from Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, all the better.

  11. Perhaps Jane was the other end of the spectrum from Elizabeth. Jane had many good qualities, but the areas she lacked in left her very vulnerable. Both she and Elizabeth needed a few qualities of the other to balance things out. However, we are imperfect beings so maybe aiming for in-between the two could be a goal. Would be interesting to know what Ms. Austen was really trying to accomplish.

    • It really is too bad that we can’t interview Jane Austen. I bet a lot of things we think we know about her books were not what she intended. Thank you for commenting.

  12. This was such an interesting post! I agree with a lot of the points you raised. I think Jane was supposed to be a foil to Elizabeth. She is the ‘good’ sister and yet, that kind of character is flawed in that they cannot see the world clearly and since she was entirely without cynicism it’s likely that she’d have gone through the rest of her life like that and possibly having her good nature taken advantage of. Elizabeth is hasty in her decisions and has her opinion clouded by her pride and offended vanity but she learns from this experience so I think she is likely to overcome the faults in her character, whereas Jane would struggle to learn cynicism. Maybe Austen is highlighting the fact that bring angelically good isn’t really such a good thing in practice.

    It just occurred to me that another book with a mostly ‘good’ elder sister is Little Women, yet the main character is the more flawed second sister. Perhaps their quests to be better people resonate with the reader more. I think a mostly perfect character can be less fun to read and I suppose any conflict in the story that happens would have to be generated externally. I also think that for many readers it’s easier to identify with a flawed character.

    It also occurs to me that if Jane had been the central character of P&P she’d have accepted Mr Collins! That would be after excusing Mr Darcy of any bad conduct and not attracting him with any impertinent wit 🙂

  13. The closest person I know to Jane Bennet was my uncle, who similarly couldn’t see other people’s faults. He started a trading company, and as you can imagine, that wasn’t a good trait in business. He had people stealing from the books all the time, but even though at one point that forced him to declare bankruptcy, he refused to convict anyone, and he continued to be good natured and believe in the goodness of others. Somehow the gods favored him because he did pretty well in his business despite the setbacks, though sadly, after his death, one of his employees got away with a lot of his money and by doing that cheated my aunt out of a chunk of her inheritance. So I understand it when Mr. Bennet predicts of Jane and Bingley, “every servant will cheat you.” It really resonated.

    My grandfather was this way, too. He was very religious, though. The complete opposite of my father, who is the most cynical person alive and actually has some majorly paranoid tendencies, perhaps because he saw his father and brother taken advantage of. Go figure!

    So I don’t think Jane was too good to be true. There are people who are like that. Not sure if that makes them candidates for sainthood since it can be a bit of a flaw.

    • Hi Monica. I think everyone knows someone like your uncle. In my family, it was an aunt. Fortunately, she had a large family that kept an eye out. Thanks for commenting.

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