These were reflections that required some time to soften;
but time will do almost everything (Chapter XLVIII)
Both Sir Thomas Bertram and Mr. Bennet have a daughter that runs away with a lover. Maria Rushworth (née Bertram) leaves her husband and runs away with Henry Crawford, and Lydia Bennet runs off from Brighton with Mr. Wickam. Each of the fathers experiences regret because of their lack of care for their daughters. Sir Thomas did his best to care for his daughters, “but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self-denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that could profit them.”
Too late he became aware how unfavourable to the character of any young people must be the totally opposite treatment which Maria and Julia had been always experiencing at home, where the excessive indulgence and flattery of their aunt had been continually contrasted with his own severity. He saw how ill he had judged, in expecting to counteract what was wrong in Mrs. Norris by its reverse in himself; clearly saw that he had but increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him, and sending them for all their indulgences to a person who had been able to attach them only by the blindness of her affection, and the excess of her praise. …
Bitterly did he deplore a deficiency which now he could scarcely comprehend to have been possible. Wretchedly did he feel, that with all the cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had brought up his daughters without their understanding their first duties, or his being acquainted with their character and temper.
The high spirit and strong passions of Mrs. Rushworth, especially, were made known to him only in their sad result. (Ch. XLVIII)
All of the Bertrams suffer when Maria runs away, but “Sir Thomas, poor Sir Thomas, a parent, and conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent, was the longest to suffer.” (Ch. XLVIII) “He felt that he ought not to have allowed the marriage [between his daughter and Mr. Rushworth]; that his daughter’s sentiments had been sufficiently known to him to render him culpable in authorising it; that in so doing he had sacrificed the right to the expedient” (Ch. XLVIII). However he is eventually comforted in his other children, finding that his daughter Julia’s husband was not as trifling as he had thought, that his son Tom regains health without “regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits” and becomes useful and steady, and that his son Edmund, after “wandering about and sitting under trees with Fanny all the summer evenings”, improves so much in his spirits “as to be very tolerably cheerful again”.
These were the circumstances and the hopes which gradually brought their alleviation to Sir Thomas, deadening his sense of what was lost, and in part reconciling him to himself; though the anguish arising from the conviction of his own errors in the education of his daughters was never to be entirely done away. (Ch. XLVIII)
Mr. Bennet had “talents, which, rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters” (P&P, Ch. 42), but, against his daughter Elizabeth’s advice, he sends Lydia to Brighton. Lizzy represents to him “all the improprieties of Lydia’s general behaviour” and points out that the temptations of Brighton “must be greater than at home” (P&P, Ch. 41), but he tells her, “Lydia will never be easy until she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances.” (P&P, Ch. 41) So she goes, and the result is disaster for her and her family.
“My poor father! how he must have felt it!” Lizzy says after Lydia runs away. “I never saw anyone so shocked,” Jane tells her. “He could not speak a word for full ten minutes.” (P&P, Ch. 47) Mr. Bennet goes to London to search for Lydia, but returns without having found her.
When Mr. Bennet arrived, he had all the appearance of his usual philosophic composure. He said as little as he had ever been in the habit of saying; made no mention of the business that had taken him away, and it was some time before his daughters had courage to speak of it.
It was not till the afternoon, when he had joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”
“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.
“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.” ….
Then after a short silence he continued:
“Lizzy, I bear you no ill-will for being justified in your advice to me last May, which, considering the event, shows some greatness of mind.” (P&P, Ch. 48)
Mr. Bennet had very often wished before this period of his life that, instead of spending his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum for the better provision of his children, and of his wife, if she survived him. He now wished it more than ever. Had he done his duty in that respect, Lydia need not have been indebted to her uncle for whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for her. The satisfaction of prevailing on one of the most worthless young men in Great Britain to be her husband might then have rested in its proper place.
He was seriously concerned that a cause of so little advantage to anyone should be forwarded at the sole expense of his brother-in-law, and he was determined, if possible, to find out the extent of his assistance, and to discharge the obligation as soon as he could. (P&P, Ch. 50)
Both fathers make mistakes in the upbringing of their children—and suffer for it. However, the deep-feeling Sir Thomas did his best for his children, whereas Mr. Bennet makes little attempt to see that his children have proper guidance. They both suffer, but in different degrees and for different lengths of time. Sir Thomas, whose conduct had been less reprehensible, suffered much more and for much longer than Mr. Bennet, whose behavior had been much more blameworthy, in that he had not even striven to do the best he could for his daughters. Mr. Bennet, a “true philosopher”, after recovering from the initial blow, faces his situation with as much humor as can be found in it.
“He is as fine a fellow,” said Mr. Bennet [of Mr. Wickham, his new son-in-law], as soon as they were out of the house, “as ever I saw. He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all. I am prodigiously proud of him. I defy even Sir William Lucas himself to produce a more valuable son-in-law.” (P&P, Ch. 53)
Notes: All chapter references labelled P&P refer to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The rest refer to Mansfield Park. The pictures in this post are of Sir Thomas Bertram and his wife, Lady Bertram, played by Bernard Hepton and Angela Pleasence, in the 1983 adaptation of ‘Mansfield Park’, and of Mr. Bennet, played by Benjamin Whitrow, in the 1995 version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
A continuation of this post is here: Sir Thomas Bertram & Mr. Bennet, Part II.