This week we turn our thoughts back to Jane Austen's characters. I have often debated over which wife is sillier: Mrs. Bennet or Mrs. Palmer. Oh, I know Mrs. Bennet has become the standard bearer for silly wives everywhere, but I suspect this is because Pride and Prejudice is so popular. Mrs. Palmer's perpetual smiles and cheer coupled with a lack of common sense must grate on all who know her. So think long and hard before you vote for
Mrs. Palmer, Sense and Sensibility
Mrs. Jenning's younger daughter Charlotte is as silly and good-natured a woman as was ever devised by an author. Perpetually in a good mood, she has only kind words to say about all and sundry. The problem is, she cannot distinguish good from bad or silly from sensible. Married to a churlish man, she chooses to ignore the fact that Mr. Palmer has no interest whatsoever in her constant chatter or vapid observations, pretending that she consults him on all matters and that he finds her plans equally as important and fascinating as she. Of course, we all know better, as evinced by this masterful dialogue in Chapter 20, Volume 1 of S&S.
Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
With five unmarried daughters, one can forgive Mrs. Bennet's hysteria in seeing that they are well-settled and married. Her husband's estate is entailed to Mr. Collins, who was spurned by Lizzy. Unless Mrs. Bennet can arrange to have at least one of her daughters comfortably established, she faces the specter of living in relative poverty after Mr. Bennet's death, turned out of her home, and dependent on only the income that 5,000 pounds can provide. (About 200 pounds per year.) In addition, Mr. Bennet ignores her and makes fun of her at her expense. As I grow longer in the tooth I see that Mrs. Bennet is as much to be pitied as not, and I feel for her predicament. Be that as it may, Mrs. Bennet overreacts to everything, suffers from spasms and the vapors at the slightest provocation, has vulgar tendencies, and possesses a spiteful bent to her nature (witness her reaction to the Lucas family after Charlotte agrees to marry Mr. Collins).