Sunday, 15 June 2008

Literary fathers

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book has prompted this post, with his post today.

He asks who our favourite literary fathers are. I commented on his post, here, but I feel so strongly that Mr Bennet is the best literary father in my literary world that I've turned my comment there into a post here.

Mr Bennet is undoubtedly the best literary father, to me, for these reasons: when Lizzie Bennet turns down the obsequious Mr Collins's offer for her hand in marriage (a match that would keep the Bennet house in the family, that would save the Bennets from losing the roof over their heads when their father dies, but a match that Lizzie cannot make because she cannot love Mr Collins) Mr Bennet says:

'Well, Lizzie, from this day henceforth it seems you must be a stranger to one of your parents.' (He looks at her while she nervously awaits his decision. He keeps her waiting ... .) Then he says: 'Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins ... and I will never see you again if you do.'

Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Mr Bennet's deep love for his favourite daughter shines through these words, as does her subsequent relief, her slight surprise and then her gratitude and her laughter at what he has to say.

And Mr Bennet's amused, and sometimes not-so-amused tolerance of his desperate-to-marry-off-their-daughters wife (see here for some more of the wise and wonderful words Jane Austen gave him, adapted for various screenplays), his asking of the right questions of his daughters at crucial moments and his understanding of them (for instance, when Jane becomes engaged to Mr Bingley it is Mr Bennet who understands why they will never quarrel - because they can only see good in each other) - all these things make him the father of literary fathers, to me.

But I also feel this deeply because my own too-long-dead father loved Mr Bennet himself, and sometimes thought himself in a similar twentieth-century version of Mr Bennet's position because he had four daughters of his own and no sons.

Why don't you suggest your own favourite literary fathers, either in comments here, or where the idea began, over at Stuck in a Book, here.

4 comments:

oxford-reader said...

I have to say I adore Mr Bennett, because of the very line you've quoted here - but I have to say that I agree with Lizzie's feelings about the fact that he's not a very good role model in the way to behave in marriage, or even how to treat less favoured children.

Having said that, he is, I think, my favourite male character in the book, so all my protestations aren't worth that much!

Angela Young said...

I know you, Oxford Reader, (and Lizzie) are right that Mr Bennet wasn't a universally good father to all five of his daughters and nor was he a particularly good role model as a husband ... Simon (of Stuck in a Book) made the same (father) point in an email to me recently.

So I have to confess to thinking from Lizzie's point of view ... he was a wonderful father to his favourite daughter.

Juxtabook said...

I couldn't agree more. A man with many faults who was not a 'good' father necessarily but one who draws all his character in the novel from being a father, and as you rightly point out can be witty, tender and loyal where Elizabeth is concerned. He is a wonderful portrait and my favourite too.

Angela Young said...

Juxtabook: 'One who draws all his character in the novel from being a father ... ' is so right.