Sir Thomas Bertram & Mr. Bennet, Part II

Both Sir Thomas Bertram and Mr. Bennet have a daughter that runs away with a lover… and both refuse to countenance their daughters’ misconduct. Sir Thomas will not have Maria back to live at Mansfield Park after she finally leaves Mr. Crawford.

Where she [Maria] could be placed became a subject of most melancholy and momentous consultation. Mrs. Norris, whose attachment seemed to augment with the demerits of her niece, would have had her received at home and countenanced by them all. Sir Thomas would not hear of it …. Sir Thomas very solemnly assured her that … had there been no young person of either sex belonging to him, to be endangered by the society or hurt by the character of Mrs. Rushworth, he would never have offered so great an insult to the neighbourhood as to expect it to notice her. As a daughter, he hoped a penitent one, she should be protected by him, and secured in every comfort, and supported by every encouragement to do right, which their relative situations admitted; but farther than that he could not go. Maria had destroyed her own character, and he would not, by a vain attempt to restore what never could be restored, by affording his sanction to vice, or in seeking to lessen its disgrace, be anywise accessory to introducing such misery in another man’s family as he had known himself. (Ch. XLVIII)

As for Mr. Bennet, as Lydia was eventually married to the man she had run off with, her disgrace could not be so deep as that of Maria’s. Nonetheless, Mr. Bennet was determined not to have her and her husband living with his family. He even refused to give her money to buy wedding clothes.

Her husband allowed her [Mrs. Bennet] to talk on [about finding a house for Lydia and Wickham close by] without interruption while the servants remained. But when they had withdrawn, he said to her: “Mrs. Bennet, before you take any or all of these houses for your son and daughter, let us come to a right understanding. Into one house in this neighbourhood they shall never have admittance. I will not encourage the impudence of either, by receiving them at Longbourn.”

A long dispute followed this declaration; but Mr. Bennet was firm. It soon led to another; and Mrs. Bennet found, with amazement and horror, that her husband would not advance a guinea to buy clothes for his daughter. He protested that she should receive from him no mark of affection whatever on the occasion. Mrs. Bennet could hardly comprehend it. That his anger could be carried to such a point of inconceivable resentment as to refuse his daughter a privilege without which her marriage would scarcely seem valid, exceeded all she could believe possible. She was more alive to the disgrace which her want of new clothes must reflect on her daughter’s nuptials, than to any sense of shame at her eloping and living with Wickham a fortnight before they took place. (P&P, Ch. 50)

Mr. Bennet is eventually persuaded to allow his daughter to visit his home before leaving for the North after her marriage, but further than that he will not go.

His daughter’s [Lydia’s] request, for such it might be considered, of being admitted into her family again before she set off for the North, received at first an absolute negative. But Jane and Elizabeth, who agreed in wishing, for the sake of their sister’s feelings and consequence, that she should be noticed on her marriage by her parents, urged him so earnestly yet so rationally and so mildly, to receive her and her husband at Longbourn, as soon as they were married, that he was prevailed on to think as they thought, and act as they wished. (P&P, Ch. 50)

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Apart from the similarities between their erring daughters, Sir Thomas and Mr. Bennet, for different reasons, find themselves changing their minds about the marriages of their “daughters”, Fanny Price and Elizabeth Bennet—to the entertainment of their neighbours. Mr. Bennet thinks that his daughter Elizabeth would never marry Mr. Darcy, and doesn’t wish her to, as he thinks she would be unhappy. When the idea is suggested to him by Mr. Collins, he tells Lizzy, “Had they fixed on any other man it would have been nothing; but his perfect indifference, and your pointed dislike, make it so delightfully absurd!” “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” he asks her teasingly (P&P, Ch. 57).

However, Elizabeth convinces him that she deeply loves Mr. Darcy, and he gives them permission to marry. “He then recollected her embarrassment a few days before, on his reading Mr. Collins’s letter; and after laughing at her some time, allowed her at last to go” (P&P, Ch. 59).

After his own daughters’ disgrace, Sir Thomas is done with mercenary plans. When his son Edmund falls in love with Sir Thomas’s niece Fanny, whom he had raised as his daughter, he approves, even though when he first thought to take her in, he had had some qualms because of his two sons. He had thought uneasily “of cousins in love, etc.” (Ch. I), but decides to take Fanny in anyway. Now, one of his sons is asking to marry this same Fanny, but by this time

It was a match which Sir Thomas’s wishes had even forestalled. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine satisfaction on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the high sense of having realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment. (Ch. XLVIII)

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Notes:

This post is a continuation of the post Sir Thomas Bertram & Mr. Bennet.

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 details of watercolor illustrations by C. E. Brock—the first being for an edition of Mansfield Park and the second for one of Pride and Prejudice.

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Sir Thomas Bertram & Mr. Bennet

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’s brother-in-law, Mr. Gardiner, is in London when Lydia is found, and is party to arranging a marriage between her and Mr. Wickam.

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)

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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.