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A line from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice confuses me:

Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. Her mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.

I'm aware that Mrs Bennet is less intelligent than her husband (this line is talking about her) — however surely if her mind was less difficult to develop, then it would mean she was more intelligent. Surely the more difficult it is to develop a mind, the stupider a person is?

I feel as if I'm being stupid and missing something — but I really don't understand it.

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"develop" here roughly means "explain", as TML's answer says: "Her mind was less difficult to explain/describe". –  ShreevatsaR Sep 20 '11 at 2:23

4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Once again, I find going to period-appropriate dictionaries helps make the meaning clear. In Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary, if we look up the word 'develop', we will see definition #1:

  1. To uncover; to unfold; to lay open; to disclose or make known something concealed or withheld from notice.

Her way of thinking is easier to understand than his is.

(This word is still used this way sometimes, e.g.: to develop film negatives.)

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The idea of using period-specific meaning is key. From the OED, definition #2b, "To unveil or lay bare to oneself, to discover, detect, find out." Representative quotation — "1802, M. Charlton tr. A. La Fontaine Reprobate I. 153 — To live amidst men whose real characters you will find it difficult, sometimes impossible, to develop." –  tolkienfan Sep 20 '11 at 6:02

To me, it seems like Jane Austen meant that her mind was less difficult to develop than her husband's, meaning that she is a lot less complex than him. Develop, in this context, probably means the entire process of her life and experiences to get her mind to where it is currently.

I don't think that the description was meant to describe her as stupid, but to descern that she's a lot simpler (and maybe a little more ignorant?) than her male counterpart.

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That would make perfect sense - thanks a lot! :D –  Joesavage1 Sep 19 '11 at 17:37
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You got it wrong. See TML's post - (s)he go it right. "develope" meant to discover, to unveil, to understand. –  Alex B. May 3 '12 at 16:58

I think Austen means that Mrs. bennet is easy to read. She wants her daughters all married "well," and everything she does refers back to that goal. Mr. Bennet thinks a little more deeply, such as, will such and such a marriage lead to happiness? Does happiness require anything other than money? And so forth.

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Austen is speaking of herself as narrator--she is the one who would find more difficulties in "developing," that is, working out, explaining in detail, Mrs. Bennet's mind, because it is simpler and less interesting, than in "developing" the subject of Mr. Bennet's mind.

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