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.
To be fair to Mrs Bennet, she is a victim of unfortunate circumstances. The looming threat of five unmarried daughters with her husband’s estate to be entailed away would be a source of anxiety for any mother. However, Mrs Bennet faces this gloomy prospect of destitution with such self-centred melodrama that the reader is spared from feeling too much sympathy with her plight.
While Mrs Bennet is my favourite motherly figure in Austen there is something in her character which made it very easy to recast her as a serial killer in Murder & Matchmaking. The idea that Mrs Bennet might begin murdering the most beautiful young women of Hertfordshire in order to increase the chances of her own daughters snaring a husband did not seem too great a shift in tone or character. Her canonical decision to send Jane off to Netherfield on horseback because it looks like rain reads as a calculated risk. To push that calculation one step further into the sinister and vicious act of murder was not too far a stroll down the literary garden path. Indeed, a mother who can insist upon her daughter marrying the ridiculous Mr Collins is clearly a mother who will go to extreme lengths.
Mrs Bennet is a delight and a terror. She was no less delightful to write about than she was to read. Whilst her tireless scheming to see her daughters married takes a deadly turn in my novel, Mrs Bennet does not possess the wit or intellect to pose a formidable opponent for my Sherlock Holmes inspired Mr Darcy. The battle of the wits has to be fought by Darcy and Elizabeth. Murder and Matchmaking is more of a 'who-solves-it' than a 'whodunit', and the great Mr Sherlock Darcy has no intention to give any encouragement to an amateur lady detective.
About Murder and Matchmaking
Miss Elizabeth Bennet could not be more pleased when the famous London detective Mr Sherlock Darcy makes it his business to solve the mystery of three young ladies’ deaths – not least because he shares her suspicion that there must be more behind the deaths than mere accident. But even she never could have guessed, as they embark upon the investigation, how close to home the solution lies.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mother in possession of unmarried daughters must be in want of eligible bachelors. Less well known are the lengths to which she might go to attract them…
Bursting with subterfuge, flirtation, and murder most foul, Murder & Matchmaking will lure you into a world of romantic intrigue, family drama, and amateur detectiving. Jane Austen’s witty prose meets the perplexing mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a book that finally answers the question: if Mrs Bennet is so concerned about her daughters finding suitable matches, why doesn’t she really do something about their chances?
Murder and Matchmaking is available from Amazon
Debbie Cowens is a Kapiti-based writer and English teacher. She co-authored the award-winningMansfield with Monsters and her stories have been published in both New Zealand and international publications and anthologies.
Murder & Matchmaking is her first novel and it weaves together many of her favourite things: Jane Austen heroines, a Sherlock Holmes-inspired detective, mischievous canines and intrigues. She is a little surprised that more chocolate didn’t sneak its way into the narrative.
You can follow her on Twitter @debbiecowens or find out more at her blog http://debbiecowens.blogspot.