I hope you all aren’t too sick of Jane Austen posts, because I have another one for you today! 🙂
My mom is reading a book entitled The Birth Order Book* by Dr. Kevin Leman, and as she was telling me a bit about it over coffee this morning, I was reminded of Jane Austen (I know it sounds strange). In the book, he discusses the personalities and traits of children based on the order of their birth, and it’s surprisingly accurate. Naturally (for me, at least), I thought of the five Bennet sisters and began to compare. It fit almost perfectly.
Dr. Leman names these traits for the firstborn: Leadership ability, aggressive, compliant (easy to work with), perfectionist, organized, driver, list maker, logical, and scholarly. While Jane is not all of these things and is more on the quiet side, she leads from behind the scenes. She wants things done right in an organized, orderly fashion. She does nothing spur-of-the-moment, but rather thinks things through thoroughly. Even in the face of a broken heart, she doesn’t break down, but remains strong, and when Mr. Bennet goes to London to search for Lydia and Wickham, she is home caring for her mother, so aside from a couple of things (such as aggressive), she has these firstborn qualities.
Middle children are said to learn not to be spoiled. They have reasonable expectations (realistic) and are social lions. They are also independent thinkers, compromising (know how to get along), diplomatic (peacemakers), and secretive.
Sound like Elizabeth? Because she is not the eldest or the youngest, she becomes used to not being spoiled, and sometimes even being slighted, but because of this, she is realistic (occasionally even to the point of being negative); however, she values family and friends above all else. She’s confident in her own thinking and opinions, while, at the same time, remaining willing to compromise in order to preserve the peace. She could be called a mediator in the family. For example, when Lydia plans her trip to Brighton, Elizabeth is the one that goes to her father in an attempt to persuade him otherwise and preserve her sisters reputation. She is also good at being discreet, such as in the case of Mr. Darcy’s first proposal.
Mary is also a middle child. It is harder to read her because she is a lesser character than Elizabeth and Jane; however, we can still detect some of the middle child traits in her. She has her own (rather strange) way of thinking, and when reading the book we can see that she rarely reveals her true feelings.
While we read slightly more about Kitty than Mary, it is still rather vague compared to Elizabeth or Jane. Still, we see a few middle child qualities. For example, she lives in the shadow of her lively younger sister Lydia. While she allows herself to be influenced by Lydia, and is therefore more lively than Mary, she still finds it hard to measure up.
Lydia is the baby of the family and extremely accurately fulfills Dr. Leman’s description of the last born child: Charming, people oriented, tenacious, affectionate and engaging, uncomplicated, and attention seeking. Because she is spoiled mercilessly by her mother, she is used to having her own way and she wants to keep it that way. She is occasionally manipulative, undisciplined, and unfortunately, easily taken advantage of… But despite all this, she is lovable and entertaining.
‘”What does this tell us, Alyssa?” Jane didn’t have a birth order book to go by… answers weren’t a click of a button away. This reveals once again to us what an unusual understanding Jane Austen had of human nature and people in general. So much so that she could observe and recreate the personalities of those around her based on their place in a family. Maybe you didn’t find this as interesting as I did, but I hope you still see it the way I do: as proof that Jane’s skill in character creation, development, and description remains unsurpassed.
*Leman, Kevin. The Birth Order Book: Revised and Updated. New York: MJF Books, 2009.