Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a novel that is centred around the Bennet family and explores their relationships and paths they take in life. Their characters are an integral part to the book, as they add a whole new dimension when reading, as well as the other characters that are met along the way.
The Bennet’s consist of Mr and Mrs Bennet and their five daughters Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia.
*Mr & Mrs Bennet*
This husband and wife duo are a humorous couple due to Mrs Bennet’s simplicity coupled by Mr Bennet’s dry humor, sarcasm and wit.
Mrs Bennet is a simple woman who dedicates her attention to ensuring that her daughters are married and busies herself in idle gossip. She suffers a great deal from her “poor nerves” which are inflamed by almost any situation which is not to her liking, much to the amusement of Mr Bennet. Lydia, the youngest who is closest to Kitty, are her favourites as they have plenty in common, namely the girls’ enjoyment of balls, flirting and chasing officers, all of which their mother encourages.
Mrs Bennet is “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper…The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”
Mr Bennet however is a solemn and private man who spends most of his time in his library and only interacts with his family when needed. His favourite is Elizabeth (Lizzy) for whom he has utmost respect for, and by association, also respects Jane. He is so much an “odd mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice, that…three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character.”
Although Mr and Mrs Bennet’s relationship offer plenty of entertainment, it is also shadowed by an element of sadness at their mismatch, which is compounded when Mr Bennet ensures that Lizzy is sure about marrying Mr Darcy by saying “let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”
The mismatch of Mr and Mrs Bennet is often reflected through their children, whereby Lizzy represents her father and Lydia represents her mother. and is all too often the source of much embarrassment on the part of Lizzy, who realises the inappropriateness of their behaviour in certain social situations.
Jane the beauty of the family, is the eldest Bennet daughter and has a close relationship to Elizabeth. Through their relationship we learn a lot about Jane’s character, who is sensible, calm and good. She always thinks the best of people and situations, sometimes much to her discredit like when she refused to believe that Wickham could be anything but good, an opinion which is severely disappointed through the course of the novel. However, her ability to not always believe what is said about people also shows a good sense of judgment when she has faith in Darcy’s character when under attack by Wickham’s accusations which he divulges to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s comment to Jane when talking to her about her first impressions of Mr Darcy describes Jane’s character accurately – “You never see fault in anybody. All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes. I never heard you speak ill of a human being in my life.”
From early in the novel, Jane and Mr Bingley develop a romantic connection that takes the course of the entire novel to result in marriage. Although she is a likable character, through her reactions to their relationship makes the reader feel slightly distant towards her when we see how she is so unable to express anger and negativity as this makes her slightly unnatural and naive when she decides to control her feelings and no longer love Bingley when she suspects he is no longer interested. Although, this can also be attributed to her immaturity in comparison to the opinionated Lizzy, and her almost saintly behaviour is what makes this be her coping strategy for heartbreak.
Elizabeth Bennet, Lizzy, is the main character of the novel and her fiesty nature, opinions, anger and independence makes her extremely likable. She is a headstrong girl, an aspect which the reader naturally grows to admire, and is encouraged by her father. Her mother dislikes many of her traits but one can’t but help feeling like this could be attributed to an element of jealousy towards her relationship with Mr Bennet.
She shares a close friendship with her eldest sister Jane, and takes the responsibility of her younger, more socially inept sisters, on her shoulders. Often it is due to embarrassment, but it develops to be fuelled by her pride which is made stronger by Mr Darcy’s seemingly judgmental and snobbish character.
It is Elizabeth who travels through the most romantic journey in the novel with Mr Darcy, a relationship which is responsible for exposing the most of her character. She has a quick temper which we see at the start when she is enraged by Darcy’s comments against dancing with her, and she is fast to decide what her opinion of him is. We then see how stubborn she is which is coupled with her pride and unforgiving nature, when she then takes every opportunity possible to directly challenge Darcy’s character.
Although she sees her behaviour as a means to defend herself and be true to her pride, through her behaviour with Darcy, she shows a strong sense of character, which contrary to her wishes, encourages Darcy to fall in love with her.
Their romantic journey goes through an episode of vast misunderstanding when she is charmed by Wickham, who accuses Darcy of wrong doings, which unknown to her, are complete lies. At seeing how she readily believes Wickham because of her opinions of Darcy, the very reasons why you admire her character as the reader, cause frustration, and Jane’s character, normally seen as being naive, holds more value. Jane is open to their being an alternative version of events and is aware that they have only heard one side of the story, but Lizzy is convinced that he must be right about Darcy, simply because she doesn’t like his proud and snobbish behaviour, and consequently, she makes Darcy suffer for it.
Through the novel we see growth in Lizzy’s character, unlike any other, when her pride is humbled when she realises she is wrong about Darcy, is exposed to his real character, and is harshly proved wrong about Wickham.
Mary is a character who bores her sisters but entertains the reader. She is not pretty and compensates by reading vastly and practicing her musical skills – but fails. She is interestingly enhances theme of pride in the novel, through her vanity of her accomplishments and intelligence, whereby she tries to show it off at any opportunity she gets – much to the embarrassment of her sisters.
She is not a character who the reader is able to warm to, as she often displays a sense of coldness through her inability to tailor her moral statements to take into account the feelings of her listener.
However, when looking at the dynamics of the family, one does pity her, because unlike her sisters, she does not share a close bond with any, nor her parents. And her isolated character alienates her further from every one around her.
Kitty is the older of the duo that she forms with Lydia, but is a passive character in comparison, and is therefore influenced and led by her younger sister. However, her lack of character and intelligence often means she is punished more so for actions which Lydia is more accountable for.
Throughout the novel we see her as a character that follows and leans on Lydia, but when Lydia marries, for the first time she is alone, and we are encouraged that she will, under the good influence of her older sisters, grow to be a fine young lady.
Lydia is a vivasious, spoilt (by her mother) and irresponsible character, who is a product of her mother’s encouragement, and her father’s lack of discipline or restraint. It is this that ultimately makes her desires overcome her good sense through her elopment with Wickham.
She is a character who is selfish, which is greatly seen when she shows no gratitude towards Dary’s crucial involvement in marrying her to Wickham, and has been raised so badly, lacks social manners and awareness. Once married, the reader anticipates that she will embark on a steep learning curve.
Mr Darcy is our hero of the novel who is first seen as a proud and reserved man, but upon closer inspection, we see that this portrayal is largely contributed by his social shyness. The first time he becomes a character who the reader may grow to like, is when he starts falling in love with Lizzy, as we see a softness to his otherwise hard exterior. However, we realise that he has a lot of development yet to come before we can love him, when he realises that he “had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her [Elizabeth]. He really believed, that were it not for the inferiority of her connections, he should be in some danger.”
However, we learn about how those who know him intimately see a different side to him, through his housekeeper and inadvertently, through his friendship with the friendly and good Mr Bingley. We also see him be humbled by his love for Elizabeth when he realises that the nature of his original proposal to her was by no means flattering but instead condescending, and he finally loses his social snobbery.
We also see his depth of compassion towards his family through his close relationship with his sister, his continual support for Wickham, in honour of his late father’s wishes and when he and Elizabeth marry, we feel confident that they will have the best relationship of all the characters in the book.
This article has explored the main characters in the novel, but as with any great novel, there are many other prominent characters who add to the characterisation of the main ones, but also enhance the story. Such characters are the arrogant and lonely Lady Catherine, Austen’s version of Dickens’ Miss Havisham, the comical yet annoying Mr Collins, the good natured Mr Bingley, the sly Miss Bingley and Miss Hurst, the materialistic and traditional Charlotte Lucas and the dishonest and shameful Mr Wickham.