Mrs. Bennet’s exact age is never explicitly stated in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. However, based on contextual clues and details provided throughout the book, many readers and scholars have attempted to estimate her approximate age range during the events of the story.
What We Know About Mrs. Bennet’s Age
Here’s what we know about Mrs. Bennet’s age from the text of Pride and Prejudice:
- She has five daughters of marriageable age. Her oldest daughter Jane is stated to be 22 or 23 years old. Her youngest daughters Kitty and Lydia are stated to be too young to be presented at court, so they are likely around 15-17 years old.
- She frequently complains about her “poor nerves” and anxiety regarding her daughters marrying well. This suggests she is middle-aged.
- She herself is not described as elderly. References are made about Mrs. Bennet potentially living long enough to see her daughters married, implying she is not of advanced age.
- Her age is described in relation to her husband’s. Mr. Bennet is around 50 years old. We’re told “he was captivated by youth and beauty” when marrying the “handsome” Mrs. Bennet.
Using this information, we can make some educated guesses about Mrs. Bennet’s likely age range during the events of the novel.
Estimates of Mrs. Bennet’s Age
Many readers and scholars estimate that Mrs. Bennet is approximately 35-45 years old during the events of Pride and Prejudice. Here are some key reasons for these age estimates:
- Mrs. Bennet married Mr. Bennet when she was 19 or 20 years old, and he was around 30. This would make her approximately 35-40 years older than when she married if Mr. Bennet is currently around 50.
- As the mother of five daughters ranging from ages 15-23, Mrs. Bennet is likely in her late 30s at the very youngest. She could not plausibly be younger than 35 with daughters this age.
- Mrs. Bennet is described as still being anxious about marrying off her daughters and complains of “poor nerves.” This suggests she is likely not over 45 years old, when women would be considered past prime marriageable years.
- Most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice depict Mrs. Bennet as being somewhere between 35-45 years old. This age aligns well with her characterization and role as a wife and mother in the story.
Evidence for Mrs. Bennet’s Age Being 35-40
There is significant evidence that Mrs. Bennet is likely in her late 30s during the events of the novel:
- Mrs. Bennet married Mr. Bennet around age 20. If Mr. Bennet is 50 now, this would make her about 40 if they married 30 years ago.
- As the mother of a 23 year old, Mrs. Bennet would have to be at minimum 38-40 years old for this to be plausible.
- Women marrying in their late 30s was common during the Regency period in which Pride and Prejudice is set.
- Mrs. Bennet is still described as being anxious about her marriageable daughters, which matches the behavior of a woman in her late 30s more than one in her 40s.
Given these clues, it is very likely that Jane Austen imagined Mrs. Bennet to be around 38 or 39 years old during the events of the novel. This aligns well with her having a 23 year old daughter and being in the phase of life focused on marrying off her other eligible daughters.
Evidence for Mrs. Bennet Being 40-45 Years Old
There are also some textual clues that Mrs. Bennet may be a bit older, likely 40-45 years old:
- Mrs. Bennet notes she is “not so young” as she used to be, hinting she may be in her early to mid 40s.
- As the mother of a 15 year old daughter, Mrs. Bennet would have to be at least 40 for this to make sense.
- Her “poor nerves” and intense focus on marrying off her daughters may suggest an older woman beyond her prime years.
- If Mr. Bennet is 50 years old, a 45 year age gap is plausible based on when they married.
With evidence of both a younger and older possible age range, a good compromise estimate would be to place Mrs. Bennet’s age at somewhere between 40-43 years old.
Though her exact age is never definitively stated, based on textual evidence and historical context, the character of Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is most likely intended to be approximately 35-45 years old. Many readers and scholars conclude she is likely 38-43 years old during the events of the novel based on her life stage as a mother focused on marrying off five daughters. While not exact, this estimated age range helps bring the character of the anxious, marriage-focused Mrs. Bennet to life in a plausible way that aligns with her role in the classic novel.
Background on Marriage and Motherhood in Regency England
To better understand Mrs. Bennet’s probable age range, it helps to explore the historical context of marriage, motherhood, and women’s roles in Regency England when Pride and Prejudice was written and set:
Typical Marriage Ages
- Women in Regency England generally married between the ages of 19-23, though it was not uncommon to marry a bit later up to age 25-30.
- Men typically married in their mid-to-late twenties or early 30s during this period.
- An age gap between husbands and wives was common, with the husband being 5-15 years older on average.
- Mrs. Bennet’s marriage to Mr. Bennet at about age 20 when he was around 30 fits these societal norms.
Motherhood and Family Size
- Having 5 or more children was typical for the Regency era. Large families with 4-8 children were the norm.
- Women continued having children until their mid-to-late 30s or early 40s generally.
- Most women married and had children in their 20s and 30s. Being an older first-time mother was rare.
- Mrs. Bennet’s family of five daughters was average for the time period.
Focus on Marriage and Status
- Status and stability for women came from making an advantageous marriage.
- Middle- and upper-class mothers were deeply concerned with marrying their daughters well.
- Women were expected to marry within a few years of entering society at age 16 or so.
- Remarrying and marriages later in life were rare for women in Regency England.
Mrs. Bennet’s focus on her daughters marrying well and her lack of status apart from them aligns with the gender roles and realities for women of the era.
Comparing Mrs. Bennet’s Age to Other Characters
Looking at the ages of other characters in Pride and Prejudice also provides helpful context for considering Mrs. Bennet’s likely age:
- Mr. Bennet is approximately 50 years old or slightly older during the events of the novel.
- This would make him about 10-15 years older than the 35-45 year old Mrs. Bennet.
- Their age gap is consistent with common marriage patterns of the early 19th century.
The Bennet Daughters
- Jane Bennet is 22-23 years old.
- Elizabeth Bennet is 20 years old.
- Mary Bennet is possibly 17-19 years old.
- Kitty Bennet is in her mid-teens, maybe 15 or 16 years old.
- Lydia Bennet is 15 years old.
With daughters ranging from ages 15 to 23, Mrs. Bennet is likely at minimum late 30s in age and more probably early 40s.
- Lady Catherine de Bourgh – older, in her 50s
- Mrs. Gardiner – younger, early 30s
- Charlotte Lucas – late 20s in age
Compared to these mothers, Mrs. Bennet is appropriately middle-aged as the mother of adult daughters ready for marriage.
What Adaptations Reveal About Mrs. Bennet’s Age
The way Mrs. Bennet’s character has been portrayed and aged in Pride and Prejudice adaptations also provides useful insight:
Film and TV Versions
|1940 film||Mary Boland||Late 50s|
|1980 TV series||Priscilla Morgan||Early 40s|
|1995 TV series||Benjamina Walker||Late 30s|
|2005 film||Brenda Blethyn||Late 50s|
The actresses cast as Mrs. Bennet range from late 30s to late 50s, but many portrayals align with an age in the early 40s.
In theater productions of Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet is also typically played by an actress in her late 30s or 40s to align with the character’s stage of life and maturity.
Many literary critics and analysis of the novel also conclude Mrs. Bennet is likely intended to be around 40 years old or slightly younger, based on her life phase and role as a wife and mother in Regency England.
Significance of Mrs. Bennet’s Age in Understanding Her Character
Considering Mrs. Bennet’s probable age range of 35-45 years old, though imprecise, is helpful for understanding her characterization as the anxious, husband-focused mother in Pride and Prejudice. Some insights include:
- Her age aligns with her status and role as a gentlewoman and mother in Regency society.
- It contextualizes her preoccupation with marrying off her daughters urgently.
- She is middle-aged but still active, anxious, and lively in temperament.
- Neither a young debutante nor elderly matron, she is a grounded middle-aged wife and mother.
- Her age gap from Mr. Bennet highlights the differences in their temperaments and outlooks.
While minor, considering Mrs. Bennet’s probable age brings greater understanding to her actions, relationships and overall role in the narrative of this classic novel.
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the central character Mrs. Bennet’s exact age is never definitively stated. However, based on contextual clues including life stage, behaviors, and historical background, most readers and scholars estimate Mrs. Bennet to be approximately 35-45 years old during the events of the novel. A likely age range is late 30s to early 40s, or around 38-43 years old. This places her plausibly as a middle-aged wife anxious to marry off her five daughters and establish their futures. While her specific age is left unspecified, considering Mrs. Bennet’s probable age range brings greater insight into her character and motivations within the novel.