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Home » » Discuss 'Parenthood' as a theme in Pride and Prejudice?
According to Jack Daglish 'Parenthood' is an important theme in Pride and Prejudice. He traces the importance of upbringing in the formation of character in the novel.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as inappropriate Parents:

A revealing example of the quality of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as parents occur early in the novel. In Chapter VII, we are told of the preoccupation of Catherine and Lydia, whose 'minds were more vacant than their sisters', with the officers of the militia regiments. They constantly visit their aunt, Mrs. Phillips, who is as silly and vulgar as her sister; and she encourages their passion for regimentals. After listening to their chatter one morning, Mr. Bennet colly observed, "From all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected it some time, but I am now convinced."

His observation is true enough, but the detachment that accompanies it is utterly wrong. If two of his daughters behave in an indecorous and foolish way, Mr. Bennet must be held partly responsible. He has done nothing to check them in the past and he does nothing now. Mrs. Bennet defends them in a manner which reveals that she not only indulges them:

      "If I wished to think slightingly of anybody's children, it should not be of my own...." but shares their tastes.

      "I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well and indeed so I do still at my heart."

In Chapter XXIX, in the course of Lady Catherine de Bourgh's insolent interrogation of Elizabeth about her family there is a significant paragraph. To Lady Catherine's remark that they must have been neglected without a governess Elizabeth replies: "Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such of us as wished to learn, never wanted the means. We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle, certainly might."

The Need for Education and Inculcation of Sound Principales:

It could only have been Mr. Bennet who encouraged them to read. Equally obviously, his indifference and their mother's stupidity were responsible for the idleness of those who wished to be idle Catherine and Lydia. Character and intelligence are seen by Jane Austen as of enormous importance; but they require to be supplemented by education and inculcation of should principales. Elizabeth and Jane have become what they are almost in spite of their parents. Mary affects learning as a compensation for being the only plain daughter in the family and her 'erudition' is accompanied by a total lack of commonsense and sincerely held values. Lydia and Kitty, lacking in character and intelligence have been encouraged in folly by the indifference of their father and the indulgence of their mother. So the embarrassments suffered by Elizabeth and Jane can directly be attributed to the inadequacy of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet as parents. The ultimate effect is exemplified by Lydia. We are shown in Chapter LXI the delight of Lydia and Mrs. Bennet at the invitation to accompany Mrs. Forster to Brighton; the concern of Elizabeth, who 'considered it as the death warrant of all possibility of common sense for her sister, and the cynical indifference of Mr. Bennet when Elizabeth begs him to intervene, "Wherever you and Jane are known, you must be respected and valued, and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of or I may say three very silly sisters. We shall have no peace at Longbourn if Lydia does not go to Brighton." Mr. Bennet is thus, ready to buy his personal peace at the cost of the family honour and Elizabeth and Jane have been disadvantaged because of their sisters.

This theme of the effect of upbringing is not confined to the Bennet family. Darcy's pride is also a part of his parent's wrong instructions to him. In Chapter VIII he tells Elizabeth: "As a child I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principales, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son, I was spoiled by my parents, who, though good in themselves, allowed, encouraged almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing----to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own."

Similarly Mr. Collins has suffered as the greatest part of his life had been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father.


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