Headscratchers / Pride and Prejudice

Colonel Fitzwilliam
Isn't it weird that Fitzwilliam Darcy's first name is the same as his cousin's last name?
  • Actually, not at all. One of the ways surnames became first names is by a son being given his mother's maiden name (usually as a middle name, but occasional as a first name). Thus any of his cousins from his maternal uncles would have a last name the same as his first name.
    • Thank you for clearing that up!
    • Exactly. And the narrative clearly states that Darcy's mother, Lady Anne, was the sister of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam's father, who is an Earl.
  • Wait. Fitzwilliam is the Colonel's surname? I always thought the cousins shared the same first name.

Mr. Collins
The male-entailed Bennet estate can be inherited by someone named Collins, not Bennet. Could Jane's son inherit instead if he's born before Mr. Bennet dies? If so, why does everyone act like the estate's going to Mr. Collins no matter what?
  • It's rather complicated, but basically the estate can't descend through the female line (ie. from Mr. Bennet to a son of one of his daughters) unless there is no available heir descended from a male line—so Jane's son would inherit after Mr. Collins and his family, not before. It was also not uncommon in Austen's time for a man to change his surname in order to honor a benefactor, which would explain why Mr. Collins and Mr. Bennet have different names despite sharing a paternal line. See here and here for more detail.
    • Specially when you consider that Mr. Collin's father is necessarily Mr. Bennet's younger brother; he might even have been a clergyman himself (which was considered a perfectly good option for a gentleman, as seen in Mansfield Park. He might have taken upon his parish's benefactor surname. I'll bet that given the option, Mr. Collins will name his children Bourgh.
      • I don't see any proof that Mr. Collins's father would be Mr. Bennet's younger brother. If Mr. Collins was that closely related, Mr. Bennet would without a doubt refer to him as "nephew", but instead he calls him "cousin". This term was used at the time to describe all sorts of relatives. They might well be first cousins, i.e. the late Mr. Collins might've been Mr. Bennet's uncle. Or they may be more distantly related. There really is no proof one way or the other. However, this troper is inclined to believe that they are more likely to be distantly related - far enough that Mr. Bennet and the late Mr. Collins felt no obligation to be on friendly terms.
      • Since Mr. Collins is Mr. Bennet's nearest male relative (that was what the entailment law required) they can't be very distantly related.
  • I thought the terms of the entailment were the property has to go to the father's nearest male relation, at least judging by Mrs. Bennet's mission to get her daughters married and acquire either sons-in-law or grandsons to replace Mr. Collins in this position. It's established, of course, that Mrs. Bennet is an idiot who has no idea how entailments work, and they could really have no hope of keeping their house after the patriarch dies regardless of being married, but I also got the impression from Mr. Bennet's letter to Mr. Collins (about how Mr. Darcy "has more to offer" than his aunt) that he could now name Mr. Darcy the heir of the estate Mr. Collins was planning to inherit.
    • The whole point of the "entailment" problem is that Mr. Bennett could NOT name the heir of the estate — it would AUTOMATICALLY go to Collins as the nearest male relative. (Incidentally, the reason Americans are unfamiliar with entailments is that Thomas Jefferson hated the idea and banned entailments in US law — "The Earth belongs to the present generation")
    • I don't think there's much in that letter suggesting Mr. Bennet intends to make Darcy his heir - Longbourn pales in comparison to the wealth Darcy already possessed. Also, why would he name Darcy and not Bingley? Clearly simply acquiring a son-in-law isn't enough for them to retain the house- on his first visit Mr. Collins thought Jane was as good as engaged, but continued behave as if he would eventually inherit the property. He regarded proposing to a Bennet daughter as something of an act of charity, which wouldn't have been necessary if there was a good chance of them keeping the property through some other means. Mrs. Bennet's obsession with marrying off her daughters was out of fear of ending up homeless with five daughters to care for. Every marriage meant one less daughter to worry about, and a potential place to live when Mr. Bennet died.
    • 'Mr. Darcy has more to offer' refers to his influence in the church and the fact that he will have more priest jobs to offer Mr Collins than his aunt. For this reason Charlotte thought Mr Darcy was a better match for Lizzy than Colonel Fitzwilliam. (In later Trollope novels the clergy are limited to two positions and couldn't just collect as many as possible as was allowed in Austen's time).
    • The reason why Mrs. Bennet was so upset at Elizabeth for not marrying Mr. Collins specifically is because she saw a chance to keep Longbourn in her family. Otherwise, no matter how the daughters married, the estate would still go to Mr. Collins. That was why she was so anxious to see them well married - she knew that they could not stay home, because they had no home once their father died.
  • Possibly an entailed estate could only be passed through male bloodlines (i.e. women would be considered as non-existent when figuring out who would inherit). The purpose of an entailment was to ensure that the land stayed in the family, and women were considered part of their husband's family, not their father's family, and thus passing an estate on to a daughter's son would cause the estate to pass to a different family.
  • In light of all this, just how was Anne de Bourgh allowed to inherit her family's estate anyway? Was that another privilege of the rich?
    • Entailments aren't mandatory. You can have estates that are entailed to the male line, entailed to the female line, entailed to any descendants, and not entailed at all. (See the relevant article from the other wiki.) Lady Catherine says that the de Bourghs never thought it necessary to entail the estates away from daughters. It depends on how the original grant was worded.
    • Entailments weren't generally-applicable laws; each estate had its own rules. Longbourne can not pass to (or through) Mr. Bennet's daughters, but must go either to his son should he have one, or else to the next-closest male descendent of Mr. Bennet's dad. Rosings had no entailment.
    • And for anyone who's interested, everyone now holds land in England "Fee Simple," which means it goes to whomever the guy or girl who owns it wants it to go to. Entailments were abolished in 1925, and I can't help but think this novel helped along some MPs...
  • But how did this whole Entailment business work in general? One head of the family at one point decided that an estate should be entailed to the male line and then no future head of the family could ever change those rules? Seems very inflexible, illogical even. But I'm probably missing something.
    • This is gonna be a bit over-simplified — as well as a bit of an essay — but there's two key things you have to remember / understand about British society at this point.

      Firstly, at the time of the novel Britain operates, and has done so for a while, on a fairly strict basis of class and hereditary income; for the most part a family's wealth, income and possessions are passed down across the generations, meaning that future generations are in many ways dependant on what the older generations have managed to hang on to, since there's nowhere near the kind of career and job opportunities and social mobility we take for granted today and thus little other way for said descendants to earn a living outside of this. An entailment, in theory at least, essentially acted as a guarantee that the property would be 'kept in the family' so that the future generations would have something they could inherit and thus earn a living from; if you were a landowner like Mr. Bennet, then then if you entailed it to a descendent then unless you really crapped out on your fortunes and/or squandered everything, your descendants would be able to earn a living from the land and the rent that was paid to them by the tenants who occupied that land. You wouldn't change it because you'd have no reason to; it was protecting your family's future livelihood (not to mention that these things have often been operating unchanged for generations going back centuries in some cases, and Britain is a very tradition-based society in many ways). Of course, it didn't necessarily work out this way in practice, as we see in the novel — sometimes the family line was cut short with no children, sometimes the intended descendant was a wanton spend-crazy jackass or, as in this case, of the wrong gender; this meant that the entailment would then be passed on to the next likely candidate according to the stipulations of the will (which might, as in this case, be a different family entirely).

      The second thing you also have to remember/understand, however, is that Britain at this point is also a very patriarchal society. Women are second-class citizens, have few legal rights (although not necessarily none entirely) and, upon marriage, the woman leaves her birth family and legally becomes part of her husband's family, with no independent standing (unless she or her birth-family stipulated otherwise at the time of the marriage). In practice, she essentially becomes his 'property', and everything she owns to all intents and purposes becomes his property as well — including any inheritances she might be claimant to. Since the purpose of the entailment is to keep the property in the original family and not let it go to someone else, leaving it to a woman under such circumstances would seem to defeat the purpose (although it's not unheard of); therefore, the best way to ensure this is to leave it to a male heir, since the son always remains part of the family, so to speak. Which puts you in a bit of a tricky situation if, like Mr. Bennet, you've bet the farm on some day having a son only to have five daughters instead.

      Of course, to us as you say it seems utterly absurd and illogical that things should work like this — but that's because we've gone through 200 years of massive societal shifts since the writing of the novel, among them modern capitalism, which has radically shifted how we think about income and inheritance, and feminism, radically shifting how we view and treat women. The former of which at least the novel (very cleverly IMHO) suggests through characters like the Gardiners and to a lesser extent the Bingleys, who have earned their fortune through trade rather than inheritance — the novel is set at the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when these radical shifts are in their very early days and when the British Empire was really beginning to come into it's golden days as a trade superpower, meaning that there's new ways of earning money that render the old system (as represented by entailments) antiquated and increasingly absurd.

    • The legal situation was actually even more complicated than this. It's not just a question of people being reluctant to leave property to their daughters because daughters would leave the family; legally, you could only leave land or property to your daughters to be split evenly between them. (Money could be split unevenly, but not land.) There was no way under English law at the time to leave your whole estate to only one of your daughters, or even one of your sons other than your firstborn - either all the property went to your eldest son, or all the property was divided evenly between your children, thus putting an end to the estate as an entity. (If you wanted to leave your estate to say, your third son, you'd have to completely disinherit and possibly even disown the older two, and they'd probably be able to take you to court over it.) The purpose of entailment was not just to keep land in the family, but to keep it intact as an estate. Anne de Bourgh is able to inherit Rosings only because she is an only child. If she'd had a sister, her father would probably have entailed the property rather than have it split in half.

  • This book provides an excellent, detailed, quick lesson in what an entail was and how it worked — it cleared up everything that once sounded strange to me about this practice.

Mr. Darcy
  • So Darcy's major reason for discouraging Bingley's courtship of Jane is a belief that Jane's affection is not sincere, due to Jane's inveterate shyness. Um, how is this Darcy's business? If he had reason to believe Jane was only chasing Charles for his money, that's reason to break them up. This is obviously not the case, so where does he get off?
    • He knew Bingley well enough to realize he was honestly falling in love with Jane, but he had reason to think Jane was just being... polite. He recognized in the letter to Lizzy that Jane had many personal virtues to recommend her, but being open about her affections was not one of them. Add to that the other "disadvantages" of the match: No connections, a "silly" family, (relative) poverty, and poor relations, and Darcy had a point in not wanting his friend to marry Jane when the principal selling point (Love) is in doubt of existing. Honestly, you're right, it wasnt his business except in as much as a concerned friend should warn of a potentially loveless marriage, which he did. It's a Jerk Ass move and Lizzy rightly What the Hell, Hero?'s him on it, but that's the point. It's part of his ungentlemanly pride that he had not realized was a defect and later sets out to correct. That he "OK's" the match to Bingley and owns up to hiding Jane's presence in London isn't just to get in good with Lizzy, but because he realized he had done wrong by his friend.
    • Meddling in others' lives for the better is an older-sibling instinct (as I sadly know from experience), and Bingley would have and should have come to the same conclusion about Jane (everyone besides the Bennets apparently did) if he wasn't so naive. In a way, Bingley's and Darcy's beliefs about Jane's feelings parallel Jane's and Elizabeth's chosen views of the world. That aside, like the above troper said, Darcy was concerned for his friend and didn't want to see him get his heart broken. If that doesn't suit you, there is the more interesting motivation that I half-not-seriously thought of when I first read the novel...
    • Her mother's loud pushiness on the issue and nakedly transparent desire for the marriage to take place (to the extent that she's pretty much acting like it's a done deal even after the two have only just met) probably didn't help either; if you don't really know her (and even if you do, kind of), Mrs. Bennet just gives the impression of being a total Gold Digger-By-Proxy, and Jane's just mild enough to be swept up along with her. It's not entirely impossible that someone who didn't know her well might jump to this conclusion.
    • It is mentioned towards the end of the book that, although he would never admit it, Darcy hoped that Bingley would marry his (Darcy's) younger sister. Just one more added reason to get him away from Jane Bennet.
    • Also, once Mr. Bennet dies (assuming he predeceases his wife), responsibility for supporting Mrs. Bennet would fall on Jane (and thus Mr. Bingley) as the eldest child. So there's a certain element of "You may love Jane, but do you love her enough to put up with her mother?"

Mrs. Bennet
  • This JBM actually comes out of a "discussion question" in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but it stuck in my head. Does she have any redeeming or positive qualities? She's "illiberal", meaning she's bad at managing the expenses of a household, so their family has negligible savings it can use as a dowry, and that is due solely to Mr. Bennet not being a very extravagant man. She's not just ignorant, but lacks common sense, and worse she's loud about it in front of people she has every reason not to want to think poorly of her. Her parenting skills are non-existent: she's an indulgent mother to Lydia and Kitty, doesn't help Mary come out of her shell, can't connect at all with Elizabeth and doesn't know how to promote Jane's interests. These defects combine when Lydia runs off with Wickham, all she can see is a wedding dress with no idea what a horrifying loss of face for the entire family it represents if it gets out. Even Lady Catherine, her "rich" counterpart, has a great deal more common sense, and she's successful at being pushy about her views, whereas everyone pretty much ignores Mrs. Bennet. (Not saying that being pushy is a good thing, but Lady Catherine is good at it, at least with anyone who isn't Lizzy or Darcy.) Lastly, she's not even pleasant to be around. I mean, she probably does love (most of) her children... but is there anything beyond that?
    • No, she doesn't have any redeeming qualities, but this is intentional and supposed to be a criticism of Regency England society. Jane Austen's culture wanted women to be Brainless Beauties who didn't worry about cultivating their mind, just being beautiful and content with "lady-like" activities like balls, gossip, and marriages. As Mr. Bennet can testify, this benefits no one (including the men), only creating a miserable marriage.
    • Just RE: Lady Catherine, however, one of the reasons that Lady Catherine de Bourgh is more successfully pushy than Mrs. Bennet is that she's, well, Lady Catherine de Bourgh; she's hereditary aristocracy and old money, and because of it people are a lot more willing to put up with her crap and a lot less willing to do the Regency equivalent of telling her to shut up and piss off than they would be from Mrs. Bennet, who by comparison is just some foolish little woman married to a mildly prosperous middle-class country landowner who can be safely ignored. Common sense-wise they're probably not that far apart, it's just that people are more frightened of / willing to humour Lady Catherine.
      • The problem with Mrs. Bennet having NO redeemable qualities is that it's so unbelievable for Mr. Bennet to have married her. She could have been the most attractive creature that ever lived in her youth but if she had the same complete and utter lack of even basic manners that she does now, how would Mr. Bennet have been able to stand being around her long enough to propose?
      • I think Elizabeth asks herself the same question sometimes, judging by some of what we see of her inner monologue. There is a notation about him being deceived by the appearance of youth, beauty, and good humor, which suggests that Mrs. Bennet may have been more likeable (or at least better at pretending to be) when she was younger than she is during the time of the story.
      • I seem to remember there being a conversation between Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet about his marrying for looks instead of real love, and that he didn't want Elizabeth to fall into a similar trap.
      • Never underestimate superficiality; plenty of people have gotten married for superficial reasons such as looks and wealth and have gone on to regret it. Really, in a modern day work Mr. and Mrs. Bennet would have probably been the type of couple who'd have ended up getting divorced way before the events of the novel; it's just that divorce wasn't possible for the vast, vast majority of the population.
      • It's also wasn't that uncommon for couples to get married after knowing each other for a short time (remember, you couldn't pursue a sexual relationship without being married). So it's very conceivable that Mr. Bennet found Mrs. Bennet REALLY, REALLY, REALLY hot and convinced himself that she was smarter than she was. Mrs. Bennet, while silly, is over all good hearted (if incredibly selfish) and very friendly. Most likely, Mr. Bennet followed his other head into the match.
      • Mr. Bennet was probably the same retiring and indolent bookworm as a youth he is in the novel, and might not have taken many opportunities to meet girls. Mrs. Bennet (or Miss Gardner as she was at the time) decided to pursue him, as he was of a higher social class than herself. She dazzled him with his beauty, and as he couldn't be bothered to play the field anyway, decided "what the heck, might as well marry this gorgeous woman!" Only too late did he discover his mistake.
      • Her main redeeming feature is that she is actually trying to look out for her daughters (and probably herself) by seeing them married off, however ineffective her meddling seems. When Mr Bennett dies, the family will be homeless (and likely destitute) or dependent on the charity of Mr Collins (a decidedly unattractive prospect) which is why it is important to get the daughters safely married off. In this respect, it's Mr Bennett who is letting the family down by not looking out for his daughters.
      • It should possibly be noted that from what we see, Mrs. Bennet seems far more concerned about what effect her husband's death will have on her rather than her daughters; most of her discussion of this issue is less concern for what will happen to her daughters as much as it is self-involved whining about what will happen to her, and she tends to use her daughters more as props to secure a husband (and thus a comfortable lifestyle for her) rather than concern over their welfare. Remember, she's so desperate to get Jane married to Bingley that she has her ride through a rainstorm to his house (and not surprisingly, Jane catches a cold — which, in the days before penicillin, wasn't necessarily a small thing either) and her response to her youngest daughter marrying a man known to be incredibly disreputable at best is to just focus on silly-headed giggling about how she's finally got a daughter married off. If anything, she actually seems just as disinterested in the welfare of her daughters as Mr. Bennet is when it gets down to it.
      • It should also be noted that while Mr. Bennet is initially quite disinterested in parenting, unlike Mrs. Bennet by the end of the novel he acknowledges his own failings in this area and the harm it's caused, and takes steps to temper the damage by being a better parent to his still-unmarried daughters. Compare Mrs. Bennet, who's typical reaction to being proved wrong is to retroactively adjust her own memory of events so that she can convince herself she was right all along.
      • Well, one redeemable quality. She's apparently good enough at nursing/doctoring that Elizabeth feels that she must come see Jane, despite knowing that Mrs. Bennet would be a complete embarrassment in the situation. Once Mrs. Bennet starts acting like everything's fine with Jane, Elizabeth stops worrying about Jane's health, and gets on with enduring the situation until they can leave. She also sets a very good table. Meaning she can pick a good cook, and keep her satisfied enough to produce good meals.
    • Ultimately the problem with Mrs Bennet is not that she's wrong to consider it urgent that her daughters get married, it's that she views marriage as the end in and of itself, rather than being a means to an end — that end being, the future stability, happiness and prosperity of her daughters. It's pretty clear throughout the novel that she's not particularly picky about who they marry, or whether that man is suitable or will make her daughters happy. It's most obviously apparent in her ridiculous giggling and fawning over Lydia and Wickham's marriage when it should be immediately obvious to any halfway responsible parent with a modicum of good sense that this particular marriage is nothing to be celebrated and that Wickham is far from a suitable son-in-law.
    • Social levels need to be considered here. Mrs. Bennet is a commoner who married a gentleman, and she seems to get along just fine with people of her own rank (Mrs. Phillips, for instance, or the friends she talks to at the parties). But she married a gentleman, and in most of the book she is dealing with people in higher social circles, and she's never bothered/managed to learn to adapt. (Certainly her husband hasn't bothered to teach her anything, as he's lazy and is probably amused by the way she upsets people.) As far as being illiberal, she probably thinks "I'm a gentleman's wife, surely we have all the money we need!" Think how many people win the lottery and then end up ruined because they get carried away.

The Values Dissonance regarding Lydia
I realise values were very different back then. It still really bugs me that when the Bennets' fifteen-year-old daughter runs off with a grown man, they're oh-so-relieved when she and he get married. In fact, Darcy, The Hero, makes sure the grown man marries the teenage girl. I'm not sure how my mother would react if I had ran away with a grown man when I was a teenager, but I know for sure she wouldn't have said, 'Oh God, if he doesn't marry her...' I've known some conservative families, who I'd be willing to bet if their teenage daughter ran away with a grown man, their reaction would be to track the man down, forcibly reclaim their daughter, and threaten police intervention if said man went anywhere near said daughter. Granted, they would be furious with the daughter and embarrassed as hell by her actions, but pushing marriage would be not even an option.
  • True, but context is everything here. Lydia wasn't a teenaged girl in her society; she was a woman of marrying age. Wickham didn't rape her, he didn't kidnap her, they both willingly ran away together, and there was no legal age of consent. It wasn't the equivalent of a girl running off with a grown man to us; it was the equivalent of two people eloping to us. The elopement didn't throw the family into panic because their daughter was kidnapped (she wasn't); it was a disaster because it was a threat to their honor. The problem was that Lydia was too stupid to realize Wickham was using her and had no intention of marrying her, and when word got out that she had premarital sex (whether completely true or not), she would be a societal outcast, her family would be disgraced, and her sisters would have little to no chance of ever getting a respectable husband themselves. Keep in mind that in context, this would not be the equivalent of parents only being embarrassed and not caring about Lydia; the only threat in their mindset was to her honor, not her safety or her psychological health, and the only way to save Lydia was to save her honor, by making her marry him.
    • Also, if you recall, Jane and Elizabeth were both very concerned about Lydia marrying Wickham and worried that she wouldn't be happy with him, but they realised it was the only possible course of action at that point. And Darcy - when he first tracked them down in London - initially tried to extract Lydia from Wickham altogether and send her back to her family, but Lydia blankly refused and insisted on marrying Wickham. All in all, it was her own decision to marry him more than anyone else's.

When Jane is invited to Netherfield to dine with Miss Bingley, she asks her father for the coach, which he seems inclined to do. Her mother, though, insists that she ride a horse so that when it rains she has to stay the night and presumably spend some time with Mr. Bingley. At this point, Elizabeth pipes in to encourage the horse-riding plan. This ends up help her mother's plans, which in the rest of the book Elizabeth despises, and she does so completely ignoring Jane's feelings and preferences. What the Hell, Hero?
  • Elizabeth's 2 lines of contribution to the conversation were clearly sarcastic (transcript from novel):
    Jane: Can I have the carriage?
    Mrs. Bennet: No, my dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night.
    Elizabeth: That would be a good scheme if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home.
    Mrs. Bennet: Oh! but the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley's chaise to go to Meryton, and the Hursts have no horses to theirs.
    Jane: I had much rather go in the coach.
    Mrs. Bennet: But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennet, are they not?
    Mr. Bennet: They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them.
    Elizabeth: But if you have got them to-day, my mother's purpose will be answered.
    • I always read that as Lizzy being sarcastic, and Mr. Bennet is forced to own that, yes, he can't spare the horses.

Income from WHERE?
They keep emphasizing how Bingley and Darcy are so rich and "make 5000-10,000 a year", but where are they getting it from? Is their job ever mentioned?
  • The same place as Mr. Bennet's income, the same place as any landed gentry's income from their land. That's why they're landed gentry.
    • To elaborate briefly, basically they're landlords; they own quite a lot of land and either employ people to work it for them and/or rent it out to tenants and then collect rent from them.
    • Ahh, that explains. Guess that mystery is solved. Still, it was fun to imagine that Darcy might secretly be a pirate.
  • And investments.
  • There's also hints that Bingley is Nouveau Riche, that he or his father made his fortune in trade or industry and now tries to gentrify the family by acquiring property. It is most obvious in the Bingley sisters' snobbery, and probably why the reader is made aware there is a hope that the Bingleys marry into the Darcy family, either by Charles marrying Georgiana, or Caroline marrying Darcy himself.
  • Piketty's book on Capital explains some of this ( He uses Jane Austen and Honore de Balzac to illustrate how money worked in the past) The British government needed money to fight wars (in this era, against Napoleon) so they offered high interest rates to people who kept their money in the Bank of England, where the government could use it. Governments of the time were not allow to run deficits and were limited how much they could tax. From Darcy's point of view, the interest was guaranteed income of so-and-so per year.

Mrs. Bennet's reaction to Lydia's marriage
If Mrs. Bennet's primary motivation is to make sure that her daughters marry well enough that them and herself won't have financial problems after Mr. Bennet's death, then why is she so ecstatic about Lydia marrying a man so poor that *her family* has to pay off his debts? I know everybody is supposed to be relieved because she is saved from being a "fallen woman" and Mrs. Bennet probably wants to defend her favorite child against the negative feelings of the other family members, but shouldn't her positive reaction have been mixed with some ambiguity at least? In fact in the 1995 miniseries, she's as upset as anyone when she first hears about Lydia's "elopement" (i.e. before they figured out Wickham didn't intend to marry her) but she's positively joyous later when they actually do get married.
  • It's one more indication of just how changeable — and unreasonable — Mrs. Bennet is. Both qualities are on full display when Mr. Bennet reads Mr. Collins's letter to tell them of his first stay with them: she thinks reasonably well after the letter is read, when before she had thought him... unpleasant because he happened to be next in line for the entail (though entails were fairly common back then)
    • It's also an illustration of how utterly single-minded yet careless and foolish she is in her quest to get her daughters married; she's ultimately not that bothered by who they marry, just that they marry someone, even if that someone is clearly inappropriate. Essentially, she's viewing marriage as the end itself rather than as a means to the end; instead of her objective being "get my daughters married to a suitable, respectable man who will secure their safe, happy and prosperous future", she's just viewing it as "get my daughters married, and the rest will sort itself out".

All the "Miss Bennet"s
Why is Elizabeth addressed as "Miss Bennet" many times in the novel? Isn't only the oldest unmarried daughter supposed to be "Miss Bennet", and all the rest "Miss [first name]"?
  • When they're together, yes — Jane would be "Miss Bennet," Elizabeth "Miss Elizabeth," Mary "Miss Mary," etc. When the eldest isn't around, though, it's allowed to address the only Miss Bennet present as "Miss Bennet." Note the scene in Mansfield Park when Mary Crawford says she's glad Tom Bertram has gone on a trip so his younger brother Edmund can be "Mr. Bertram again" (she hates thinking of and speaking to him as "Mr. Edmund" because it reminds her that he's a younger son and not an heir).
Thank you. So, a related question: So if Mary, Lydia and Kitty were together somewhere without the older sisters, would Mary become the "Miss Bennet" and the others "Miss Lydia" and "Miss Kitty"? Or would all three of them be "Miss Bennet"s?
  • Not the original respondent above, but I believe so, yes. The rules of etiquette as I understand them would suggest that the eldest daughter present would be "Miss Bennet" and the others would be "Miss [First Name]". So if Jane or Elizabeth weren't around, Mary would be "Miss Bennet", and so on.

Mr. Wickham
Ok, so Lydia is a silly fool. But why does Wickham run off with her? At least in the 1995 miniseries, he's not portrayed as particularly in love with her, or even capable of such emotion. His attempt to seduce Miss Darcy made sense because she had money and as revenge on Darcy. Lydia had no money, and if he was after what little her family could come up with for a blackmail dowry, then hiding from them while the scandal grows makes no sense either. He's portrayed as calculating, not stupid, so what was his plan?
  • He doesn't love her at all. The main reason Wickham fled to London was to escape the many people he owed money he couldn't pay back to, and he basically dragged Lydia along because she was easily seduced, not very bright, unattached and quite attractive. Basically, he's just using her for sex and a bit of company. The plan was, once the heat had died down and he'd grown bored with Lydia, to dump her and go somewhere far away from anyone who might know him or have a grudge against him.
    • But why does he think it would be that easy? After all, Lydia isn't an orphan, she isn't somebody's neglected ward or anything. She's a primary member of a very solidly upper class (if not particularly rich or influential) family who would definitely be very invested in saving her honour, who therefore wouldn't be willing to let him get off the hook so easily.
      • Because (a): Wickham's reckless, impulsive and governed by his base desires. Look at his vices and the trouble he gets into throughout the novel. He turns down a perfectly good inheritance simply because it doesn't interest him and when he gets a huge wad of cash instead he completely blows through it in a matter of months. He tries to seduce the sister of a wealthy and influential man (who would easily be better equipped to find his sister and punish Wickham than the Bennets would be) basically out of spite. He runs up huge gambling debts despite having nowhere near the funds or the connections to be able to pay them back. This is not exactly a criminal mastermind with a mind of intricate clockwork who's always twelve steps ahead we're talking about here. He's a charming and manipulative but basically rather impulsive and reckless hedonist who is not particularly clever and mainly coasts by on his charms. The fact that his plans are short-sighted and flawed should not be a huge surprise.
      • Thank you, most of this is true but I can't agree with you on the matter about Georgiana. Since Wickham intended to actually marry her, there wasn't much Darcy could do once the marriage had taken place and been consummated.
      • Well, what I was meaning was that Darcy would have better connections and be much better placed to find his sister and either prevent a marriage in the first place or, if failing to do so, make life more difficult for Wickham in revenge than the Bennets would in either case. But yes, point taken.
      • And (b): Wickham's hiding in a very big city absolutely teeming with people in an age where there was very little in the way of police departments or investigative units devoted to finding people who had gone missing, particularly if they didn't want to be found. I think you're underestimating just how hard it is to find missing or hidden people, particularly back when the novel was written and even more particularly when the people doing the searching have no experience in finding missing persons, no matter how much it is in their interest to do so. Note that Mr Bennet and his brother-in-law spend a fairly substantial amount of time looking for them in London and get absolutely nowhere; it's only because Mr Darcy gets involved, with his near-limitless resources and previous knowledge of Wickham's habits, that they get anywhere at all. There's no CCTV or GPS or tracking capabilities or online paper trails to help them; heck, they don't even have Sherlock Holmes to call on. All Wickham really has to do is keep his head down in a place where he's unlikely to be found for long enough for the trail to get cold, and once it does he's pretty much home free.
      • Also, consider something as simple as the fact that there are no photographs - meaning that everybody involved in the search would have to personally know what Wickham and Lydia look like, or go on second-hand information about what to look for (and when you're working on second-hand information, you can definitely be very easily thrown off track by something as simple as someone shaving off a mustache or something of the kind). That, or they would have to be shown drawings/paintings of them, which might be more reliable, depending on the skill of the artist - but none of the Miss Bennets draw (as we are informed during Elizabeth's conversation with Lady Catherine), and so they simply might not have any recent record of what either Lydia or Wickham look like.
      • This is actually addressed in the book. Her uncle notes: "It appears to me so very unlikely that any young man should form such a design against a girl who is by no means unprotected or friendless, and who was actually staying in his colonel's family, that I am strongly inclined to hope the best." Elizabeth's response notes that Lydia has no brothers to step forward on her behalf, and the behavior of her father suggests that he is indolent and unlikely to stir himself, even to save his own daughter. (As Mr. Bennett departs almost immediately for London, this conjecture imparted to Wickham is, in fact, false.) In short, yes, Elizabeth believes that Wickham has every reason to think that there will be no repercussions; at least, no repercussions that he cannot handle.
  • I wouldn't be surprised if Lydia found out he was leaving and begged him to take her with him, and he was too overcome by lust to say no. It could be that he never actually said anything about "marriage" (he's pretty careful about his choice in words), and Lydia talked herself into believing that they were going to Scotland.

So does Mr. Darcy know that Elizabeth overheard him?
At the beginning when Darcy slights Elizabeth, the text says "Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for [Elizabeth] to hear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley" and that "[Darcy] looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own". So she's sitting near enough that she can hear them talking, and Darcy actually knows where exactly she's sitting (and he's actually made sure he's got her attention by turning around and staring at her!) This passage makes it seem like Darcy **deliberately** insulted Elizabeth, fully aware that she heard every word he said. But his later behaviour (such as being completely oblivious to any reason why Elizabeth might not like him enough to marry him) seems to suggest that he doesn't know he offended her badly that one time. So which one is it?
  • Darcy might not have thought she could actually hear him or that she was listening. She was "near enough" to hear him, but that doesn't necessarily mean she was right next to him, and they were at a dance, which would probably be quite noisy in and of itself. If he did intend to insult her and knew she was listening (which, if nothing else, is perhaps a bit unlikely given what a premium he's shown to place on proper social conduct), that works as well; remember, Darcy's legitimately quite big-headed until Elizabeth shoots him down after his first proposal. He might have simply assumed that she found him and his bags of money awesome enough to overlook his insult when they first met, or that she simply didn't remember it.

"Had old Mr. Bennet ever had a son!"
What would it change for the girls, in terms of marriage prospects, if their parents did have a son? I was inclined to think the whole entailment plot simply explained why they really really needed to marry, but not why their marriage prospects were somewhat bleak. As I understand, with a brother, yes, they would have a moderately wealthy man to take care of them and a house to live in after their father's death. But Longbourn would still be his estate and all its income his money, so how could that make the girls more attractive to suitors? What income would they have to bring to their husbands even in this case?
  • Their marriage prospects are somewhat bleak because the dowry that Mr. Bennet can spend on them is rather small due to poor saving practices by both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and, in the case of the younger sisters at least, because they aren't incredibly attractive personality-wise. While this wouldn't really change with a Bennet son unless he started saving more wisely upon inheriting the estate, he'll still be able to buy his mother and sisters somewhere decent to live from the income of the estate, which removes some of the urgency at least. They might still have trouble attracting men, but things won't be life-or-death desperate for them to do so.
    • My question was prompted by a scene in the 1995 miniseries, where Wickham comes to see Elizabeth after his engagement to Miss King is announced, and tries to make an explanation, only to be interrupted by Elizabeth who says she understands his material concerns and everything would be different if Mr. Bennet had a son. I can't find the same dialogue in the novel, though.
    • They also wouldn't have to fear losing the house if there was a Bennett son. When Mr Bennett died, the estate would pass to his son. But since he doesn't, the house will go to Mr Collins when the time comes. So Mrs Bennett and her daughters will pretty much be dependent on Mr Collins's kindness for a roof over their heads. If there was a son, they'd still have the house and therefore could marry in their own good time - as opposed to rushing it along. In fact Lizzie's conflict is that she may not get to marry for love like she wanted if she has to marry someone who's able to provide for her.
    • If the eldest son is 21 or more, he and his father can together file a petition with the Court to break the entail. Then Mr. Bennett, Senior, could either sell some of the land and use the money to dower the girls, or break up the land and settle parcels on the girls, then re-establish the entail of the rest upon Mr. Bennet, Jr. and his descendants—perhaps putting in a clause allowing it to descend to a daughter should the same situation arise later.
    • FWIW I suspect this might be the passage of the novel the OP is looking for; the mini-series fleshes out in dialogue a lot of things that are only alluded to or described in the novel (it appears in the second-to-last paragraph of Chapter Twenty-Seven):
      [Wickham's] apparent partiality had subsided, his attentions were over, he was the admirer of some one else. Elizabeth was watchful enough to see it all, but she could see it and write of it without material pain. Her heart had been but slightly touched, and her vanity was satisfied with believing that she would have been his only choice, had fortune permitted it. The sudden acquisition of ten thousand pounds was the most remarkable charm of the young lady to whom he was now rendering himself agreeable; but Elizabeth, less clear-sighted perhaps in this case than in Charlotte's, did not quarrel with him for his wish of independence. Nothing, on the contrary, could be more natural; and while able to suppose that it cost him a few struggles to relinquish her, she was ready to allow it a wise and desirable measure for both, and could very sincerely wish him happy.
    • As I understand it, unless and until the entail was broken, Mr. Bennet couldn't even make 'improvements' to the estate, meaning he couldn't do anything, except spend less money, to raise his income. If the entail is broken, he can take out a mortgage on the estate, and use the money to buy more land, better farming equipment, more animals, etc. With the entail in place, he is severely limited in what he can and cannot do with the estate, which, in turn, severely limits his income.
    • Also worth noting that even if the entail wasn't broken, a Bennet son would be responsible for his mother and unmarried sisters after his father's death. With no son, that responsibility falls to the sisters' husbands; any reasonably well-off man marrying a Bennet sister could expect his obligations towards Mrs Bennet and any of her unmarried daughters to be written into the marriage contract. So as the situation stands in the book, the Bennet girls aren't just bringing very little money to a marriage, they're actually bringing liability to it. Having a brother wouldn't necessarily give them any more money, but at least the liability would be removed.
  • Thank you all, and you were right, I've found (or rather, come across) the passage that explains why Mr. Bennett having a son would have meant more money for the girls (it's in Chapter 50): ""When first Mr. Bennet had married, economy was held to be perfectly useless; for, of course, they were to have a son. This son was to join in cutting off the entail, as soon as he should be of age, and the widow and younger children would by that means be provided for."