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It is easy, I think, to dismiss Jane Bennet in many instances as being a milquetoast or too wishy-washy or too kind-hearted or some such thing. Certainly she has a less forceful personality than does Elizabeth, our acknowledged heroine. She seems, indeed, pale next to Elizabeth, which might have something to do with why she's been cast as blonde to Elizabeth's rich brunette in the most recent versions of Pride & Prejudice (both the 1995 BBC and 2005 movie productions) - Jane is quite literally made paler than Elizabeth. I would argue that the 2005 production got right, however, something that the 1995 production did not, in casting a more stunning actress in the role of Jane (Rosamund Pike), who is supposed to be the acknowledged beauty of the family (no offense meant to Susannah Harker, but Jennifer Ehle was prettier than her). But I digress.

The point is that one can be so easily pulled into Elizabeth Bennet's orbit that it can be hard sometimes to appreciate other characters when their opinions diverge from hers. This is true of Charlotte Lucas, who has opted to marry Mr Collins - Charlotte is willing to overlook his odious personality in favor of his house and income and the prospect of being mistress of her own establishment and having a family of her own. (Were Mr Collins not so stupid, pedantic, obsequious, etc., I'd have no problem understanding Charlotte's choice, by the way, even if it's not one I'd make myself.)

The same is true of Jane Bennet, who Elizabeth repeatedly tells us wants to see only the good in other people. That is, I believe, an oversimplification, but one that it's easy for the reader to buy into. I'd like to take a moment, however, to focus on what Jane is saying in this chapter, and to pick up on what she said back in chapter 17, when Lizzy first told her Wickham's tale about Mr Darcy.

Elizabeth has made the point that Darcy and the Bingley sisters (that's my new band: Darcy & the Bingley Sisters) want Bingley to marry Georgianna Darcy and/or that they do not want him to marry Jane. Elizabeth believes that all of them want Bingley to marry a woman with better social standing and more wealth, and that Caroline wants him to marry Georgianna Darcy because Caroline hopes to marry Darcy herself and she thinks that closer family connections will only help her cause. Her arguments are forceful and, I might add, seem likely, which makes it that much easier for us to dismiss Jane's opinion:

"Beyond a doubt, they do wish him to choose Miss Darcy," replied Jane, "but this may be from better feelings than you are supposing. They have known her much longer than they have known me; no wonder if they love her better. But, whatever may be their own wishes, it is very unlikely they should have opposed their brother's. What sister would think herself at liberty to do it, unless there were something very objectionable? If they believed him attached to me, they would not try to part us; if he were so, they could not succeed. By supposing such an affection, you make every body acting unnaturally and wrong, and me most unhappy. Do not distress me by the idea. I am not ashamed of having been mistaken -- or, at least, it is slight, it is nothing in comparison of what I should feel in thinking ill of him or his sisters. Let me take it in the best light, in the light in which it may be understood."

Jane, you see, prefers to think well of people until they are absolutely proven to be bad.

Speaking of bad people, now that it's clear that the Bingleys and Mr Darcy are gone from the neighborhood for quite some time, word of Mr Wickham's treatment by Darcy is being spread throughout the community, both by Mr Wickham and others. "Miss Bennet (that would be Jane) was the only creature who could suppose there might be any extenuating circumstances in the case, unknown to the society of Hertfordshire; her mild and steady candour always pleaded for allowances, and urged the possibility of mistakes -- but by everybody else Mr Darcy was condemned as the worst of men."

Whereas Elizabeth lets the subject of Bingley drop, not wishing to hurt Jane further by belaboring it, Mrs Bennet cannot let it go - instead, she repeats pretty much the same conversation day after day. Mr Bennet is more philosophical. Time will tell whether he is also prescient:

"So, Lizzy," said he one day, "your sister is crossed in love I find. I congratulate her. Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of, and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions. When is your turn to come? You will hardly bear to be long outdone by Jane. Now is your time. Here are officers enough at Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country. Let Wickham be your man. He is a pleasant fellow, and would jilt you creditably."


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Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
fuzzyfostermom
Jan. 26th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
One of my best friends is very like Jane, giving everybody the benefit of the doubt until it's no longer possible & even then, feeling more pity than anger. I can say from more than 20 years of experience that people of this type are both rare and, when they occur in real life, generally overlooked - to everybody's else great loss. We are not a society that truly values niceness (in all the best senses of that much abused word).

I've also found, with many years of practice, that giving people the benefit of the doubt is an enriching hobby. If nothing else, it gives you a chance to get creative, working out 5 different reasons why the person who just cut you off in traffic isn't a waste of genetic material. It's brilliant for the blood pressure.
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 04:35 am (UTC)
It would take me a lot of practice to be able to be able to work out reasons people might act like idiots.
fuzzyfostermom
Jan. 26th, 2011 05:28 am (UTC)
What, you've never cut somebody off in traffic 'cuz you just didn't see them? Imagine what they must have been thinking of you!

I think all Jane is doing, is assuming people are just making a mistake when they do something dumb, instead of assuming stupidity is an integral part of their character - until they prove otherwise.

Which I suspect would not be Jane Austen's natural bent, just as much as marrying for an establishment. Again, perhaps why both Jane & Charlotte come across as somewhat more shallow characters than Lizzie.
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC)
I've definitely cut someone off by accident, and I can assume that others have done the same - but FIVE different explanations for their behavior is going above and beyond!

I rather agree with your suspicion about Jane Austen; she doesn't seem like someone who tolerated fools easily (although she shared Mr Bennet's fondness for laughing at them).
(Deleted comment)
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 04:36 am (UTC)
Dead right.
nottygypsy
Jan. 26th, 2011 02:45 am (UTC)
I love Lizzy's reply to her Dad. Paraphrazing, "we can not all have Jane's good luck, a less amiable man will do for me."
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 04:45 am (UTC)
Hee.
wordsrmylife
Jan. 26th, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
I want to be a back-up singer in the Darcy & the Bingley Sisters!

I completely agree--Jane is supposed to be beautiful and sweet. Elizabeth is the girl with Spunk. They're each right for their respective match. (Elizabeth would lead Bingley a sorry dance, to use the language of the era.)
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 04:46 am (UTC)
You are correct - and Jane would be no match for Darcy.
rachelswardrobe
Jan. 26th, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC)
I too have known someone like Jane Bennet, I always find people like that refreshing, and it makes me think I should be more like that myself.

The point Jane makes about if Bingley felt that strongly about her, no one could succeed in parting them, is a good one, and would slightly lesson my opinion of Bingley if I were Jane and it turned out that he was kept away from her by his sisters and darcy persuasion.
However, back when Jane and Lizzy were staying at Netherfield, I remember Bingley mentioned that a friend might persuade him to stay, when he had decided to go (or something like that); something which Lizzy commended him for.
It should therefore not be so hard to believe that they could persuade him to stay up in London. This doesn't mean they could persuade him to be in love with miss darcy though... or not to love Jane....
rachelswardrobe
Jan. 26th, 2011 02:28 pm (UTC)
p.s. although in the '95 version, my opinion is that overall, Lizzy is the prettier... I've always thought that Jane has a more classic look, which the men of the time might find more attractive....
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
Agreed, but since the show wasn't cast for an audience of Regency viewers . . .
rachelswardrobe
Jan. 26th, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
I see you point: )
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Your analysis of Bingley is spot on - they can persuade him to stay in London, but not to forget he loves Jane. And I agree that Jane is correct - if they could persuade him not to love Jane, he wouldn't be worth having!
mostly_irish
Jan. 26th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
You know, I have always liked Jane. She seems to me like a great example of how someone can truly be nice and kind without also being kind of dumb and naive.

Of course, I am nothing LIKE her, but I have a friend like her and she's quite handy to have. :)
kellyrfineman
Jan. 26th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
Agreed - Jane is wonderful that way. And, like you, I'm nothing like her. I'm far too quick to judge - rather like Lizzie. And Jane Austen.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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