Mrs Bennet is my favourite of all the mother characters in Jane Austen’s novels. I do not think she is the sort of person that I, or anyone else for that matter, would ever wish to have for a mother, but there is something delightful in her complete lack of self-awareness and her inexhaustible capacity to embarrass her daughters. Most of us had moments growing up when we cringed in mortification at something said or done by parents unintentionally or perhaps, as in the case of my mother showing my boyfriend a family photo album including a picture of my eight-year-old self dressed up as Madonna, intentionally. However, few of us would have suffered much in comparison to Lizzie Bennet.
I wonder how any of the other Jane Austen heroines would have coped with a mother like Mrs Bennet. Many of Austen’s novels do not feature the heroines’ mothers. Emma Woodhouse and Anne Elliot have lost theirs. Fanny Price and Catherine Norwood travel away from their mothers for the duration of Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. Mrs Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is a loving and attentive mother to her daughters. Only Mrs Bennet manages to make Elizabeth’s life more difficult and complicated through her interference.