Mrs. Bennet and her place in society

In Part II of Mr. Bennet and the Entailment I mentioned the fact that the Bennet girls do not have any familiarity with household tasks such as cooking (and presumably cleaning). After further consideration of that point, I have a theory that Mrs. Bennet’s sensitivity on this issue could come from the relative difference in social standing between the family she grew up in and the family she married into.

I think it is likely that as the daughter of a Meryton attorney, a young Miss Gardiner did assist with the cooking and perform other tasks that a young Miss Bennet does not have anything to do with. I also wonder if part of the reason Mrs. Bennet is so willing to broadcast the fact that her daughters do not need to do household chores is that she wants to advertise that she and they do belong in the gentry class. It is quite possible that due to her circumstances she doesn’t feel secure or comfortable in her place as a gentleman’s wife, she is certainly concerned about what will happen if she becomes a gentleman’s widow.

Going into the realm of pure speculation, I wonder if a young, pretty but not too intelligent Mrs. Bennet had some difficulty in the local society, if she had some well-meaning (or not) comments directed at her due to her less favorable family connections and her possible lack of familiarity with the customs of the gentry. I do find it interesting that even though their are twenty-four families that the Bennets dine with, and some of those families are well-off enough to spend their winters in London, the only women we see or hear about Mrs. Bennet socializing with regularly are Lady Lucas, whose husband was formerly in trade in Meryton; Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Bennet’s sister, whose husband is in trade in Meryton; and Mrs. Long, who appears to be a widow living on a smaller income.

In conclusion, there is evidence that some of Mrs. Bennet’s anxiety could come from the perils of marrying up the social ladder, particularly since she lacked many of the resources of sense, education, and her husband’s support which would have helped her settle in and become comfortable in her role as a gentlewoman in late eighteenth and early 19th century England.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Lana Lou

    Very interesting! I agree with your theory about Mrs. Bennet, it makes sense!

  2. austenette

    Indeed, we don’t hear of Mrs. Bennet ever associating with anyone higher, however, we also don’t see anyone higher there. Would the family of Miss King be?

    Once the families that spent winter in town return we hear that the Bennets will be spending time together with them, but we don’t see that.

    However, as far as the closest acquaintances go Lady Lucas, Mrs. Phillips and Mrs. Long close the list. We don’t see the oldest Bennet girls associating with other people either, although Kitty and Lydia do.

    I think it’s very likely that Mrs. Bennet never felt that she really belonged to gentry, while Jane and Lizzy felt balancing on the border of the two. As Lizzy told Lady Catherine she was a gentleman’s daughter, but as that lady told her, her mother wasn’t a gentlewoman. Her favourite uncle and aunt are from trade as well.

  3. Melissa Renee

    Thanks for the comments!

    There isn’t enough information to know where Mary King’s family fit on the social scale exactly, the fact that Miss King inherited 10,000 pounds indicates that they are probably quite well off, but social standing involved more than just monetary concerns.

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