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Thread: Mr. Bennet's Favourite Son-in-law (Sarcasm?)

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    Tea (and book) Addict Jazz_'s Avatar
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    Mr. Bennet's Favourite Son-in-law (Sarcasm?)

    I recently took a quiz on Pride and Prejudice, and one question bothered me.

    Q: Who is Mr. Bennet's favourite son-in-law?
    A: Mr. Wickham

    In the novel he does say "I admire all my three sons-in-law highly, Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane's" - but I have always thought the first half of this sentence was blatantly sarcastic...

    I believe that he prefers Bingley, then Darcy and doesn't like Wickham at all.

    Agree/Disagree?

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Well, as Pride and Prejudice is a satire/comedy of manners, it is clear that Mr Bennet functions as the one who finds everything very funny. But, at the same time, he himself is part of it (like Elizabeth) and is more indoctrinated than he himself wants to admit. He has sadly seen his mistake too late...

    My opinion on '[his] favorite son-in-law' Wickham is that Wickham is this true rebel: he courts girls without intentions, he elopes without honorable intentions and the only scruple he has is money. We could well see an attempt to bribe Darcy in the elopement with Georgiana, and the elopement with Lydia. Shame for him that the last one went wrong and he had to get married. See more in my thread 'was he going to propose again?'. In a sense I could see Mr Bennet admiring Wickham for his guts, as it were. Mr Bennet might have had it with the world/society, but he isolates himself, while Wickham has tons of fun and even gets money for being bad.

    I am not sure if dishonorable behaviour could finds its way to a positive light in Austen, but it being a comedy of manners, it is well possible. After all it is hilarious and what is more hilarious than a very honorable Mr Darcy who gets followed around by the really dishonorabl Wickham who doesn't cease to gain from his bad behaviour?
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    Tea (and book) Addict Jazz_'s Avatar
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    Very true, thanks. I never considered that. I just always thought after saying Lydia must marry him though "he is such a man", he harboured a dislike towards him.

    Perhaps he does admire Wickham's lifestyle, if he ignores his dealings with his daughter he may like him the most - you've given me something to think about

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Well said, Kiki.

    Mr Bennet's reactions when confronted with the dark side of life are too complex to be explained away as merely sarcastic. He deals with unpleasant situations by substituting an opposite emotion to the one he ought to be feeling. He finds enjoyment in the absurdities of the situation, and the more unfair or preposterous things are, the more he laughs. So he professes to like Wickham the best because he can get the most enjoyment out of him.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  5. #5
    Or maybe Mr Bennet just finds Wickham to be able to provide him with the most to laugh at, as opposed to Bingley and Darcy. XD

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    Woman from Maine sciencefan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazz_ View Post
    I recently took a quiz on Pride and Prejudice, and one question bothered me.

    Q: Who is Mr. Bennet's favourite son-in-law?
    A: Mr. Wickham

    In the novel he does say "I admire all my three sons-in-law highly, Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane's" - but I have always thought the first half of this sentence was blatantly sarcastic...

    I believe that he prefers Bingley, then Darcy and doesn't like Wickham at all.

    Agree/Disagree?
    The question should have read, "Who did Mr. Bennet say was his favorite son-in-law." Then the answer of Wickham would have been more true, for I don't believe Wickham was ACTUALLY his favorite, but rather I agree with you that he didn't like him at all.

    I think Mr. Bennet's statement needs to be understood in light of the comment he made to Lizzy two chapters earlier in Chapter 57 when he says, "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?''

    This statement reveals a fundamental principle that underlies Mr. Bennet's thinking... that laughing at each other's foolishness is what we live for. And in that vein, Wickham will provide him with lots of entertainment for years to come.

    So yes, I agree with you. Mr. Bennet was being sarcastic when he said that.
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    I became a widow in April of 2009.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sciencefan View Post
    The question should have read, "Who did Mr. Bennet say was his favorite son-in-law." Then the answer of Wickham would have been more true, for I don't believe Wickham was ACTUALLY his favorite, but rather I agree with you that he didn't like him at all.

    I think Mr. Bennet's statement needs to be understood in light of the comment he made to Lizzy two chapters earlier in Chapter 57 when he says, "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?''

    This statement reveals a fundamental principle that underlies Mr. Bennet's thinking... that laughing at each other's foolishness is what we live for. And in that vein, Wickham will provide him with lots of entertainment for years to come.

    So yes, I agree with you. Mr. Bennet was being sarcastic when he said that.
    So laughing at dear Wickham's foolisness for the rest of his life and in the grave probably too...

    'Favorite' though, could also be read in terms of laughability, not really in terms of loving the most (like Lizzy is his favorite daughter). Compare it to a favorite 'Tom and Jerry'-film... It is not that you feel love for it as such, but it is that you can laugh the most at it.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    The genius of Jane Austen is shown in that the several interpretations of Mr Bennet, given in this thread, were probably all intended by the author!

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    Woman from Maine sciencefan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    So laughing at dear Wickham's foolisness for the rest of his life and in the grave probably too...

    'Favorite' though, could also be read in terms of laughability, not really in terms of loving the most (like Lizzy is his favorite daughter). Compare it to a favorite 'Tom and Jerry'-film... It is not that you feel love for it as such, but it is that you can laugh the most at it.
    Yes... that's what I meant. He said Wickham was his "favourite" because Wickham would provide him with the greatest amount of foolishness to laugh at.

    Personally, I think Mr. Bennet is the fool for being that shallow. Foolish people are not that funny when they are ruining the lives of your family members.
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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Yes, such a person is kind of sad in a way... Why would one laugh at the mistfortunes of others?

    But I also think that he might be a little jealous of Wickham. Because, here is this man who has all the pleasures he can get (even cheating on his wife as is implied at the end) despite a wife, and there is Mr Bennet, clearly made the wrong choice of wife because she was a beauty, and what does he do: he enjoys his own company and that is it.

    So it is kind of sad, because it is mostly frustrated people who tend to laugh at others' misfortunes in order to take their own attention away from their own misfortunes as it were.

    What do you think?
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    Yes, such a person is kind of sad in a way... Why would one laugh at the misfortunes of others?
    I feel Mr. Bennet's irony suggests something more subtle than crude schadenfreude. He has something of the Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights or the Meursault from The Stranger: a startling ability to stand outside his culture and look in dispassionately to echo, "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity".

    For me, Mr Bennet is the most fascinating character in Pride and Prejudice.

  12. #12
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    You've got to be kidding me - he is simply being ironic, since he hates Whickham - Wayne C. Booth mentions this exact quote in his book The Rhetoric of Irony, right in the beginning, where he mentions a student bringing up the same misreading as an example of unstable irony, since the actual implication of interpretation is not spelled out, yet we can, in comparison with the other trends of the book, decipher a sort of intense irony here, where he mocks Whickham by calling him his favorite. It's not meant to show a preference for Whickham, but merely show a dislike for Whickham, as he loathes the guy, or certainly likes him less than the others but admittedly doesn't wish to decide whether he likes Bingley or Darcy more.


    I thought that was relatively clear,

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    You've got to be kidding me - he is simply being ironic, since he hates Wickham ... he mocks Wickham by calling him his favorite.
    The quote is certainly irony but not, I think, simple irony or, more accurately, simple sarcasm. Your reading is too trite given the context; and far too tame for ironic Austen. The full quote is:

    Elizabeth had the satisfaction of seeing her father taking pains to get acquainted with him [Darcy]; and Mr. Bennet soon assured her that he was rising every hour in his esteem.

    "I admire all my three sons-in-law highly," said he. "Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane's."
    I understand Mr. Bennet to say:

    Yes, Wickham is untrustworthy, scurrilous and unscrupulous. He has ensnared my daughter and others before her, but now that Wickham and Lydia are respectably married, life must go on. No matter how despicable he has proved, he is nevertheless a companionable and ever charming son-in-law. Despite or perhaps because of duplicity, Wickham is the more admirable in that he is better company than the stiff and proper Mr Darcy or the sociable, malleable Mr Bingley.

    Always complex, hiding away from society as he does, Mr Bennet is beyond crude and simple sarcasm.

  14. #14
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Exactly what I thought.

    There is more to the man than simple irony or sarcasm.

    Why was Elizabeth and not Lydia his favorite daughter then? Surely, if he was permanently simply ironic, then Eliabeth must have been the last of his daughters he preferred...
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'me ne se vide ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scne VII)

  15. #15
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Have fun with that - you are clearly misreading, but to each his own.

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