Posted on 2015-06-15
Mr Bennet's Story.
Dear reader: I am not insensitive to the fact that I am seen by some as wanting as a parent and indeed as a man. It has been hinted that I am deeply indolent, lackadaisical and uncaring as to the future of my family, that I should have put away more funds to endure their continued security on my becoming an entry in the family Bible, and that I am generally at fault for not being a good father. I would say this to such people, take a close look at reality:
I live in an era with some glaring inadequacies. Our very ruler is hardly a man to use as a role model for a person worth respecting. He runs a court of posturing mannequins, both male and female and can hardly be a much better man than I if general behaviour and a God-fearing lifestyle are marks of character. If lack of money is a yard-stick to measure one's status by, then indeed I will fail miserably when my case is judged. The whole business of the Longbourn entail was never in my hands or within my powers to arrange or change. It was legally foretold by those before me. That mine and my family's home and estate should, on my demise pass to a total stranger who has never so much as darkened a doorway, does but show the lunacy of our land laws. Had nature allowed me just one son, the problem would never have occurred. I raised five girls over twenty two years and for almost sixteen of those kept them all in plenty and short of naught. Food, clothes, transport and whatever schooling the chose for themselves- for in truth, education was never mandatory in the lives of ladies of leisure as they would never know the need to be gainfully employed- was provided uncomplainingly and at their choice. My function is to provide, that of my family to be provided for, and yet I come under fire for my actions? Such then, is life in Regency England. Until recently my prospects for financial stability were somewhat less than bleak, but my story, as all stories should, must begin at its beginning. You shall hear it and judge for yourselves
My name is Frederick Bennet, master of all I can survey from my library window. Theoretically, I am current owner of Longbourn, estate, that well-known ladies playground, visiting and flirting rendezvous for passing regimental Romeos, and gossip, rumour and information centre for the county of Hertfordshire. I am, I assume, currently just about still in charge of my own destiny and almost, I must imagine, my sanity, at least until my demise, from whence onwards it will be a matter of little importance anyway as I shall have no say in its course. When that monumental time does occur, that self-serving, cap-doffing fountain of nonsense and ecclesiastical buffoonery, the Vicar of Rosings Lane, William Collins, will no doubt come thundering up the drive in a shower of gravel to claim his heavenly benefits whilst my dying breath is still vapour on the air. At the time of my writing these mental ramblings, certain events are taking place here that seem to have collaborated to blow apart my last vestiges of credibility as a sane member of society.
For my sins, I live with my wife, Jane Elizabeth Bennet - nee-Gardiner, and five daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia Bennet, at Longbourne Estate, Meryton, in the aforementioned county of Hertfordshire. With the crushing burden of keeping all of them in the manner to which they have become accomplished, that is, one of perpetual eating, playing host to our four and twenty neighbours in a vicious circle of all pretending we can afford such lifestyles, riding aimlessly around in carriages on gossip excursions in a bid to justify owning horses, and all six trying to outdo each other in owning the most clothes and shoes in southern England, I am, to coin a phrase, almost at my wits end. Our needs, and thus the demands on the estate revenue, are over heavy and the bank balance not sufficient to service them. If only my wife could be made to understand that the trees in our orchards grow apples, pears, cherries and some lemons, but not, unfortunately, money.
Twenty three years ago I was a young man of quite some consequence, recently acquiring the Longbourne estate on an entail which, when I die will now pass on to a distant cousin, the said William Collins, who will have done nothing to earn it except visit, fill his face with our excellent boiled potatoes and bore us all to tears with his overblown morality and tales of the condescension of his dowager patroness dispensing pearls of wisdom and eating instructions down in the wilds of Kent somewhere. Apparently where, had she ever learned, she would be in her rightful place sitting on a throne of gold and ruling Europe. In fairness, the Longbourne bequest was a family lack of forethought, and not the fault of the Vicar of mirth, who is actually a statistic rather than anyone rightful. A man less likely to be in charge of an estate I cannot imagine. I doubt he could manage to cultivate weeds in a rhubarb patch without mishap. That regardless, he appears to have attended a university at some time, where he must have earned some sort of a degree in writing thank you and apologetic letters, for he is not, in my opinion, a sensible man. Enough of him for now however, for he is of no real consequence until I "shuffle off this mortal coil", as the saying goes.
If most males at twenty are classed as young and foolish, then I fitted the mould to perfection. I met my dear wife at an Assembly ball, she being at that time, a rather handsome lady with more than passable good looks, no, wait, I do her an injustice, she was a very beautiful young lady with a respectable young man for a brother and a somewhat sillier lady for a sister. I was captivated and very quickly plighted my troth in marriage, but unfortunately my good lady's fine appearance proved a better asset then any sense granted to her, for in matters financial she had little interest except waging war on reducing our fortune at a rapid rate. With no children and a handsome annual yield from the estate, life was carefree and gay and there was money aplenty.Our mutual thoughts turned to raising a family.
I had hoped for a son when Jane was born, indeed I hoped the same thing when Lizzie, Mary, Kitty and finally Lydia arrived. Alas, it was a vain hope. No male child emerged to be left the estate. By this time, at the age of twenty seven I still believed a boy would come in due time, but Mrs Bennet raised the ramparts and called enough at five children. Rearing them all was proving very expensive on my behalf, and nerve-wearing on hers, and the constant fear of further burden on the family budget from more pregnancy somewhat subdued both my ardour and my wife's conjugal desires. Initial argument on both caused a gradual withdrawl from any lines of communication and resulted in a situation of Mrs Bennet giving all her time and energies to the girls, and I to retire ever more and more to the tranquility of my library. Six women in a house with one male is a somewhat unbalanced scale, and, with no manly company to share my thoughts and views except an odd visit from Sir William Lucas, who's repetitive " I'll be quite happy to introduce you at St James's", became mind-numbing after the first dozen hearings - I can think of nothing more horrendous than the thought of bowing and scraping amongst all those bewigged and powdered sight-seers and time-wasters - and even rarer communication with my brother-in-law, who is indeed a stout and sensible fellow, I fear I must have become addicted to horror stories for perusal of our financial ledgers became almost compulsive self-punishment. It is at times like this that I must put them aside and take temporary refuge in the wisdom of the good Doctor Johnson and the delights of Defoe, or plan imaginary sea voyages with my world atlas. Can I really be blamed for this?.
When first I heard of a single young man of large fortune arriving as tenant at Netherfield Park, it was of as much real interest to me as how many dead leaves were descending from the trees. Another rich young man to while away his time on social panderings to those of his ilk . Oh yes, I eventually made the social contacts necessary to be a member of civilized society in the land of twenty-four, but tales of how Mister Bingley, for such was the villain's name, danced first with one girl, then another, then another, then back to the first, made my head spin as my wife reeled off such world-shattering triumphs with all the eagerness she normally reserves for attempting to make the local milliners and dressmakers rich beyond their wildest dreams. I was soon heartily sick of the sound of the name Bingley. His friend, Darcy, apparently, twice as rich and, if local rumour is to be believed, ten times as rude and arrogant, also became a name to be dropped in the raffle hat of potential marriage targets. I made sure that, barring outright bad manners, I avoided contact with either at every possible opportunity. Such high-flying company is a little rich for my blood pressure and slightly above my two thousand a year financial yield. I would, I readily confess, rather make sport of their foolishness.
It was then, that somewhere amidst the mad whirl of frenzied, social excitement that exists amongst the boulevards of romantic Meryton, a new and wonderous soldier of fortune (well, other people's fortunes actually), appeared to enchant the female population with honeyed compliments, and what would later prove to be tales of woe, and lies of such sheer magnificence that angels bid him good day on the street and asked for lessons. George Wickham was a class apart as a rake, liar and philanderer. Even dear Lizzie, normally a haven of tranquility in the whirlpool of nonsense that is home life at Longbourn House, apparently found him sufficiently believable as to be taken in by his charms. Mrs Bennet has been trying unsuccessfully to marry off all or any of our girls for some considerable time. So far, she has had little luck and just the one poem to show for her efforts. With three eligible males suddenly coming within reach of her talons she was almost beside herself with the possibility of creating a global record in spending money on clothes, bonnets, shoes and wedding cakes. Thus, with such talent on display, how ironic that it should be that bumbling master of the apologetic, Mr Collins, that fired the first arrow of desire. He had been instructed by the dowager dame of wild imagination, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, that he should marry and took the notion that he should dispense his benevolence upon his relations on a visit of goodwill and partner selection. Marriage, it seems, he thought was like choosing a library book, pick one and go home for lunch. He enquired about dear Jane, whom my wife had already mentally married to Mr Bingley, switched his affections to Lizzie who, thankfully, saving the entail or no, refused to make me his father in law - with a little help from myself I readily admit - then hot-footed off to Lucas Lodge and proposed to Charlotte Lucas, who should have had more sense. Then again, with my estate, goods and chattels as a prize, how foolish was she really?
So, despite Mrs Bennet's best efforts at nuptial arrangement, she had to accept those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that the good bard penned of as she suffered the sheer indignity of losing the race to the altar against Lady Lucas.
How terrible was the mood within our walls as my good lady ranted and railed at poor Lizzie as if she was responsible for every evil that fate had ever bestowed upon mankind. Her poor nerves were in thunderous assault in every direction. A prime target had not only escaped the net, but been bagged by the enemy. To add to the misery, the twinkle-toed mischief maker of Netherfied Park decided to absent himself from the scene just as his five-thousand a year earnings were being mentally added to the compensation pot. All that careful rain-dancing jn the moonlight and heavenly manipulation of the elements was for naught as Bingley and his entourage departed for the capital in a cloud of dust and a rattle of iron-rimmed wheels. Was there ever a better time for a man to seek solace in literary genius and an odd glass of claret? If so, then advise me of it, do.
Jane, my eldest and reasonably sensible child, went off to meditate on kismet and spend her time staring at the frost and snow of Gracechurch street in the vain hope that Beau Bingley would appear driving a sleigh to carry her off to dreamland in a flurry of rainbow coloured snowflakes, whilst my two youngest off-springs spouted juvenile lunacy about chocolate soldiers to the accompaniment of thorough base on the pianoforte from Mary's mindless, musical meanderings. I love them all dearly, but, in truth they assault my very sanity on an almost hourly basis. Lizzie, as ever was my own source of solace and sensibility amongst it all. When she gaily announced her intention of sallying northwards for a few weeks with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner later in the year, charming people as they may be, my own mood took a huge downward plunge of indescribable proportion. It would become worse as the news that she planned to visit the now married Charlotte Lucas at her parsonage home in the shadow of Lady Catherine's regal pile down in Kent emerged. The only glimmer of happiness in my sea of discontentment was that the weather was prohibitive of daily family invasions of milliners and dressmakers and even those stout guardians of fences, farmyards and chicken coops, the bold regimental fusileers, were postponing social visits in favour of log fires, mugs of porter and polishing of brass buttons and belt buckles in house, thus nicely eliminating the need for any flirting excursions. Mud, rain and snow are veritable passion killers of some considerable merit, it would seem.
Lydia, the youngest, and thus expectedly, the least sensible of my brood, is a committed attention-seeker who thinks the world was created for her personal pleasure. She has the persistence of a bulldog and the focused tunnel vision of a foxhound on the scent when she fixates upon an idea or desire. Bodily developed and aged before her time in maturity in all the wrong directions, she was always going to embarrass both herself and the family from the very first time a scarlet clad soldier smiled in her direction. Very unfortunately, her mother shares and encourages the same senseless pursual of anything in breeches who is single and may be a marriage prospect. Brains are not a mandatory requirement as long as the subject knows how to breathe and can dance a cottilon or gavotte, preferably at the same time. Kitty, my next to youngest child is regrettably an agent provocatur in encouraging and accompanying Lydia's forays into romantic lunacy. Despite my own and their elder sisters attempts at restriction and advice and mainly due to constant opposition to such by their mother, the pair are two extremely silly girls. I weary of their nonsensical ideals. They giggle insanely in corners and whisper of who knows what foolishness?
Wickham, regrettably as a candidate for sport with his tales of victimization and persecution, but no loss for any other reason, disappeared for a time in search of
the new love of his life, one Mary King, until her grandfather, an apparently very sensible man, threatened to disown her from his money unless she exhibited sanity and disassociated herself from him. Wickham made the decision for her. With the excitement of fortune gone, romance quickly died. Gloom descended as surely and rapidly as the weather improved until Lizzie's visit to Rosings Park was eventually at an end. For a short time she was back home to bring welcome humour and conviviality to brighten my days. Jane returned from London with her, and life at home took a decided turn for the better. An invitation for Lydia to visit and stay with the newly married bride of Colonel Forster of the militia, who had recently upped tents and departed for Brighton, caused irrational joy for Mrs Bennet, anxiety for Lizzie and Jane, fiendish delight from Lydia, bitter jealousy from Kitty and a sermon on morality from Mary, and did little to improve my own sense of tranquil normality. To my later deep regret, I ignored the advice of Lizzie in favour of my wife's frantic insistence that sea-bathing cures all ills, and agreed to allow the visit for the sake of peace. It was a drastically wrong decision on my part and an exhibition of poor credibility on my wife's. For that we must both take blame. I do so, but my wife, in her own eyes, is just incapable of error so will accept no such thing..
Lizzie took off for a sight-seeing tour of points north of Birmingham and, she has since told me, visited Derbyshire and encountered that rude Darcy fellow, and he apparently has a sister who makes him behave more like a human being. Peace reigned at Longbourn but, as ever, Lydia upset the apple cart with aplomb. She is just turned sixteen and unbelievably, she coolly writes to inform Kitty that she has eloped with that fly in everyone's ointment, George Wickham. Is that really to be believed? Is that truly a fault in her upbringing and lack of attention on my part, or just a sheer determination to just ignore everyone and do as she damned well pleases? So stories then begin to abound that I care not and just left poor Lydia to her dues in London. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite her folly and however much anger and pain she caused me personally, she is still my daughter. I also care deeply, another cause for my anger, of the shame and scandal she caused the whole family without one whit of remorse or humility. What should I feel at that if not anger? Should I think, " Oh, poor deprived child", or be truthful and admit she thinks only of herself? I did immediately leave for London in vain search of her and it was brother-in-law Gardiner who persuaded me my place was at home with my family and that he, a citizen of London should be left to explore familiar territory and find the hapless couple. What did I find on return, my wife looking to share worry and pain together? No, indeed she was being served tea in bed whilst she told the world how unfair on her poor nerves it all was. She had never moved a muscle in anything but complaining and when resolution came in the unlikeliest fashion, she immediately started examining which local mansion we should purchase for the Wickhams. Dear Lord, is it to be wondered that I was less than ecstatic? That I chose not to march nearer to my demise with needless and fruitless worry is a trait of my character rather than a fault. I had not one word allowed in any settlement negotiations that occurred, yet
took the blame for indifference. How wrong can thoughtless assumptions be?
And so, every parent's dearest wish, George Wickham for a son-in-law, became a painful reality. My anger again had to be put aside as Lydia, Kitty and their dear mother fawned over the far from reluctant hero of what was almost a drastic stain on our family. Oh, how I rejoiced at the news that he was joining the regular arms and being posted immediately to Newcastle. But for the fact that Lydia would go with him, oh, would that it could have been Newcastle, Australia.
Now, first Jane and then even my dear Lizzie announce temporary insanity in acceptance of marriage proposals from twinkle-toes and even more shocking, the Darcy chap. Oh, my wife is ecstatic calculating assets, whilst I must just hope that Lizzie has truly found love. That is my dearest wish. There is also an added bonus of Pemberley boasting a fine library. Jane is so like Bingley that they will try to share the same egg-cup, she will learn a dozen dances to please him and he will take up embroidery. The others will be as they will be, Kitty in particular, and maybe in time Mary may find a tone-deaf vicar with high moral values and a taste for thorough base. Of the future of Longbourn on my eventual demise, for I plan to live to be a hundred, I waste no brain power in perusal of thoughts of. The erstwhile vicar will no doubt produce eleven sons just to be on the safe side.
That is my story and my claim that whatever else I may be, feckless I am not. You will, dear readers, undoubtedly judge for yourselves.
Frederick Bennet.The End