Jane Bennet: Character Analysis in Pride and Prejudice

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      The novels of Jane Austen were written by her as a protest against what might be termed ‘romance’. There was an excess of sentimentalism in the novels of the preceding age and the time was ripe for a reaction against such an unnatural display of feelings. Hence it was that the ‘domestic and realistic’ novels of Jane Austen became highly popular. The novelist guards herself against “being run away with her feelings.” Still, it is of interest to note that almost all her novels contain one character who is ‘sentimental.’ This character is not the heroine. A shrewd wit which is the enemy of sentiment is characteristic of her heroines like Elizabeth. Still, there is usually a secondary character in whom gentility and sentiment play a predominant part and such a character in Pride and Prejudice is Jane Bennet, the elder sister of Elizabeth.

      Sweetness and gentility are the essence of Jane Bennet's character. It is these aspects that strike us from her first appearance. She is the most beautiful of all the daughters of the Bennet's, and indeed of all the girls in Meryton. She does not possess the liveliness of mind and spirit that is characteristic of Elizabeth. But she is not the less interesting on that account. She is as sensible as her younger sister and her looks and smiles radiate the essential simplicity and lovableness of her character. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. Bingley should single her out, from his first acquaintance with her. As Darcy says later, Bingley had been in love many times before meeting her. But it had been of a temporary nature and he had forgotten the girls concerned the moment he was away from them. The fact that Bingley is not able to forget Jane in spite of the impressions about her created by his intimate friend, is the greatest tribute to her attractiveness and sweet nature. Bingley feels that some how she is ‘different.’

      Jane’s capacity for right judgment is shown in her choice of Bingley as her lover. For, he is of the same temperament as she, mild, lovable, and refined. Just as he yields to Mr. Darcy’s superior judgment, Jane too is often found to lean on her spirited sister, though it is true that she is not as pliable as Bingley. It is a matter for interesting speculation whether Jane would have been led by Elizabeth in matters of love as Bingley is by his friend. We would not be wrong in concluding that she would have exercised her individuality to a greater extent in the matter. Still, in general, she has absolute confidence in the judgment of Elizabeth.

      The suitability of the match between Jane and Bingley is appreciated by all the people of Longbourn and Jane has the good wishes of all except Miss Bingley and Darcy. The former is motivated merely by snobbery and the latter by another consideration too. The second reason for the disapproval of Darcy brings to light another element in the character of Jane. Though she has a warm heart, she is by nature undemonstrative. She is very pleasant to Mr. Bingley and has many occasions to spend long hours in his company. Every minute increases her spotless love for him. Still, her behaviour is such that strangers are not able to understand her fully. She knows the strength of her love, Elizabeth knows it, and Mr. Bingley too knows it. But it is not visible to strangers. Even Mr. Darcy who is a shrewd observer of others is not able to read her heart correctly. It is because he feels honestly that Jane does not love his friend as warmly as Bingley does her, that he discourages the latter from his pursuit. Elizabeth, who knows her sister fully, is shocked when Darcy gives this as the reason for his interference in his friend’s affair. But she realises later that there is some truth in what he says. She remembers also that Charlotte had given the same opinion in the matter. The latter tells Lizzy that though Jane’s close friends and relatives might be able to understand her heart, strangers might not, and it would be better for her to make her feelings known a little more plainly. But Jane is constitutionally incapable of displaying her feelings. This results in the delay in the realisation of her dreams for quite a long time. But such modesty endears her to the others all the more when she is understood aright.

      Above all these qualities stands the tendency of Jane never to think ill of others. She is not only virtuous but is incapable of imagining evil in others. Being innocent herself, she cannot understand duplicity and meanness in others. These are vices which are non-existent in her dictionary. Elizabeth is clear-sighted in this respect and is able to understand the defects of others almost at first sight. Jane is blind until the very end, and even when her eyes are opened to the existence of the defects of others, she admits the fact very reluctantly. She places the best construction on the speeches and actions of Miss Bingley. She cannot understand that Miss Bingley does not desire the alliance between herself and her brother. She places her faith in the jealous and proud woman implicitly, in spite of all the arguments of her sister. It is in the course of her visit to London that her eyes are opened to the true character of Miss Bingley. Even while admitting the other’s opposition to the match, she feels that Miss Bingley might not be wrong in desiring a better wife for Bingley. Elizabeth indeed feels impatient over such excess of innocence. The same unwillingness to see evil in others is revealed in Jane’s attitude to Wickham and Darcy. When her sister tells her about the account given by Wickham about Darcy, Jane is disposed to defend Darcy. She wonders whether anyone could be so wicked as to ill-treat a favourite of his father in that manner. She tries to explain it away that the misunderstanding might have arisen because of others. Elizabeth touches the right point when she remarks whether Jane would be willing to blame the other who might have brought about the misunderstanding. For, then she will have to admit that those persons, responsible for the misunderstanding, are to be condemned. The only reply that Jane gives is that something is wrong somewhere. Elizabeth realizes that Jane’s attitude to Darcy has been right when the gentleman proposes to her and writes a letter in his defence. Strangely, Jane is disposed to defend Wickham, when she is informed of the facts. Just as formerly she wondered whether anyone would be so mean as Darcy was represented to be, she wonders now whether Wickham would be guilty of ingratitude. Elizabeth gives the right answer to such doubts that Jane cannot have it both ways. Jane admits the truth of the reply. In all such difficult cases she tries to escape from the problem by shutting her eyes to it. ‘She does not know what to think of it all.’ It is her innate good nature that hopes against hope that Wickham would marry Lydia after all. She is indeed fortunate that she is given the shelter of the affectionate bosom of Mr. Bingley. She might not have been happy with a stronger man.

      It must not be concluded from her soft nature that Jane Bennet is a colourless personality. It is true that she does not make an impression in comparison with her strong sister. But Jane too is capable of heroism in her own silent way. It may be that she cannot hold her own against personalities like Darcy or Lady Catherine. She might have been completely subdued by the impertinent and overbearing attitude of Lady Catherine. But a kind providence has so disposed affairs that it is only Elizabeth who has to deal with such persons. Jane is made to come into contact only with persons like Bingley, or the children of the Gardiners. But she displays a silent heroism in her disappointment over the love of Mr. Bingley for some time. She resigns herself to her lot, though her heart has been sorely wounded. She “sits like Patience on a monument” under the apparent indifference of her lover. Even when he meets her again, with the permission of Mr. Darcy, she decides to look upon him as a friend and nothing more. But, once again, Providence is kindly disposed towards her and she gets what she deserves. “Think no evil, speak no evil, act no evil,” is the basis on which her character is formed and no reader can be untouched by this tender little flower.

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