Ever wondered what it would be like to become Mr Bennet, if only for a moment? Read on, imagining yourself as Mr Bennet; then, based on your knowledge of Pride & Prejudice, decide what you will do at the end of this chapter.
Twenty-five years ago you strayed into this world and were unaccountably bewitched by a mere mortal. You can only assume that this simpering empty-headed female had even darker powers than yourself.
Foolishly, you allowed yourself to marry her and beget five daughters, although only one of them appears to have inherited anything from you. Indeed, you have high hopes of your favourite - Lizzy.
You live your days quietly - or as quietly as your dreadful wife allows - on your little estate at Longbourn in Hertfordshire. You are waiting … for you know not what. Perhaps for life to get interesting again?
One horribly bright autumn day, as you go about your business in nearby Meryton, you hear what passes for thrilling news amongst the small-minded townsfolk: a man has rented a house!
Your heart sinks. You know what will happen - if he is single, your wife will shriek with excitement and have him married to one of your daughters within a month; if he is married, she will shriek with dismay at another house in the neighbourhood going to waste.
You listen to the gossip about him, which seems to have taken on a mysterious life of its own. One minute he is Mr Chandler Byng from America, something in the sugar trade, with a fortune of £50,000; the next, he is Sir Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley) Bington-Leigh (pronounced Bintley), an English aristocrat worth £500,000, whose usual country seat in Buckinghamshire is being refurbished over the winter; and then he becomes plain Charles Bingley, a manufacturer’s son from The North, with a not-so-plain income of £4,000 a year ...
Only one thing is certain: the house he is renting is Netherfield Park, a large estate only three miles from Longbourn.
The next morning, while you are minding your own business in your library, Mrs Bennet hurtles through the door like a dog after a rabbit, your younger daughters Kitty and Lydia yapping at her heels. Your other daughters, Jane, Lizzy and Mary, follow at a safe distance.
“My dear Mr Bennet,” your lady gasps, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
You pretend you have not heard anything of the sort, and wonder aloud whether anyone but a half-wit would want to rent that crumbling pile?
She lets out an ear-piercing shriek - you know from bitter experience that this is only the first of many. “But it is, for Mrs Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”
You make no answer and attempt to continue reading.
Your wife shrieks again. “Do you not want to know who has taken it?”
“You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”
As you might have suspected, this is invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?”
“Is he married or single?”
A shriek-infested burst of laughter. “Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
You decide to toy with her mean understanding. “How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr Bennet, how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”
“Is that his design in settling here?”
This woman would not recognise sarcasm if it introduced itself to her as the richest bachelor in England. “Design!” Another shriek. “Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
“I see no occasion for that. You and the girls may go, or you may send them by themselves, which perhaps will be still better, for as you are as handsome as any of them, Mr Bingley may like you the best of the party.” And carry you off for ever, please God.
“My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now. When a woman has five grown-up daughters, she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
Mrs Bennet is angling for a compliment here, but you choose to forgo the opportunity. “In such cases, a woman has not often much beauty to think of.”
A swift change of subject. “But, my dear, you must indeed go and see Mr Bingley when he comes into the neighbourhood.”
“It is more than I engage for, I assure you.”
“But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.”
“You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr Bingley will be very glad to see you; and I will send a few lines by you to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls; though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.”
“I desire you will do no such thing. Lizzy is not a bit better than the others; and I am sure she is not half so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.”
“They have none of them much to recommend them. They are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.” And something else, perhaps, something of the dark side; but that must remain a secret, until I am sure ...
“Mr Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion for my poor nerves.”
Ah, The Poor Nerves; you were wondering when they would put in an appearance. “You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.”
“You do not know what I suffer.”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see many young men of four thousand a year come into the neighbourhood.”
“It will be no use to us, if twenty such should come, since you will not visit them.”
Stupid woman - has she never heard of the Laws of Probability? “Depend upon it, my dear, that when there are twenty, I will visit them all.”
Which would Mr Bennet choose? Click on the link above and see if you're right, and come back next week for the next chapter!