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Jane Austen Parents and Parenting

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									 Jane Austen: Parents and Parenting
Austen’s Representations of Parenthood in Pride and
         Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion

                  Sarah de Vink 0220833
           MA Thesis Western Literature and Culture
                 Supervisor: Paul Franssen
                        July 2008

                                     Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                  3.

Chapter 1: Raising Children in Austen’s England                               8.

1.1 Family                                                                    8.

1.2 Raising Children                                                          11.

Chapter 2: Parents and Parenting in Pride and Prejudice,
Emma, and Persuasion                                                          13.

2.1 Pride and Prejudice‘s Parents                                             13.

2.1.1 Mrs. Bennet: Character and Influence                                    14.

2.1.2 Mr Bennet: Fatherhood and Negligence                                    19.

2.1.3 Elizabeth: Parental Influence on Sisterhood                             24.

2.2 Absent Parents in Emma                                                    27.

2.2.1 Mr Woodhouse: inadequate but loving father                              27.

2.2.2 Ms Taylor-Weston, Governess and Substitute mother                       33.

2.2.3 Emma and Isabella: Mother‘s child and father‘s child                    34.

2.3 Persuasion: Fatherhood and Vanity                                         37.

2.3.1 Sir Walter: Combining Narcissism and Fatherhood                         37.

2.3.2 Lady Russell: Substituting Lady Elliot                                  41.

2.3.3 Elizabeth and Mary Elliot: Inadequate Father Makes Inadequate Sisters   46.

Conclusion: Austen’s Views on Parenting Revealed                              49.

Works Cited                                                                   54.


       Jane Austen‘s novels are famous all over the world and have inspired years and years

of debate. Critics have discussed amongst other things her authentic style of writing, the

heroines that Austen constructed and Austen‘s view on marriage and social class because all

of these subjects are very prominent in her work. Another thing that critics have picked up on

is the fact that Austen is very concerned with social education in her novels as well. For

example, in Domestic Realities and Imperial Fictions: Jane Austen’s Novels in Eighteenth-

Century Contexts Maaja A. Stewart notices that the social and economic well-being of the

heroines of Austen‘s novels is very much dependent on the ―ability of [having] relationships

with the father and mother‖ (54). Furthermore, in ―The Business of Marrying and Mothering‖

Lloyd W. Brown argues that ―maternal failure [is] an extension of the inadequacies of the

woman‘s education and individual development‖ (39) and that this is of influence on the

social education and development of the children. Claudia L. Johnson claims that ―Austen, as

critics have long recognized, typically removes her heroines from the parental abode

altogether precisely in order to free them from [filial obedience] and to oblige them to think

and act for themselves ‖ (84). Finally D. W. Harding in Regulated Hatred is convinced that

―the family as a psychological matrix and as a social institution‖ (30) in Austen‘s novels is

limited. Austen shows this in her novels by having children lack a perception of what is

socially acceptable, like for example Maria and Julia Bertram in Mansfield Park, and by

having parents lack the ability to form a genuine and responsible relationship with their

children, like for example Sir Thomas Bertram. The general consensus amongst these critics

seems to be that the social behaviour of the heroines is negatively influenced by the

relationship or the lack of a relationship with the parents.

        Many times social education, or a lack of social education, turns out to be the cause of

many problematic character flaws of the novels‘ protagonists. For example, Lydia Bennet

from Pride and Prejudice is a perfect example of a girl who has never learnt the basics of

proper behaviour in nineteenth-century society. The reader only has to look at how her

behaviour embarrasses her family, the best example being of course her elopement with a man

of doubtful reputation, Mr. Wickham.

        Having a lack of education does not always mean that the girl does something to

embarrass her family: sometimes it causes her to make the wrong decisions at the wrong time

which will not only influence her personally but also affect those who are closely involved.

For example, the reader should think of Anne Eliot, who in her youth declined an offer of

marriage from Captain Wentworth because of the interference of Lady Russell. Usually the

reason for the heroines‘ odd and sometimes improper behaviour can be found close to home.

In almost every case of the heroines not behaving as they should the reader only has to take a

closer look at the parents to find out where the real trouble lies. After a closer look, it turns

out that in almost every novel Austen wrote there is something wrong with the parents; either

they are absent and have somebody else step in as a surrogate or the biological parents do not

parent very well.

        This master thesis will attempt to find out the exact role the parent-child relationships

play in three of Austen‘s novels and how those relationships influence the decisions of the

heroines, whether they are right or wrong, for several reasons. First of all, it is common

knowledge that children take after their parents and it is interesting to see to what extent

Austen‘s heroines do too. For example, the reader might wonder if it is possible to assign

certain character traits of the heroines to a particular parent. Secondly, there is also the

question why Jane Austen seems to include this particular element, the parent-child

relationship, in most of her novels and whether or not she does that for a particular reason.

Perhaps Austen is warning her readers against bad parenting by showing them the negative

influence parents can have on their children and how their treatment can affect their children‘s

future. It is also possible that Austen is reflecting on her own situation and how her own

parents influenced her life. Thirdly, sometimes the biological parents are absent altogether

and in that case Austen usually provides other characters who take on the role of surrogate

parent, like for example Miss Taylor in Emma, but the question that needs to be answered is

whether or not they fulfil the exact same function as the real parents would or if the fact that

they are surrogate parents inhibits their ability to educate the child properly.

       In order to figure out the parent-child element of Austen novels, three books will be

thoroughly analysed. First of all, Pride and Prejudice will be discussed because it is a novel

where the influence of the parents is very obvious. Mrs Bennet is always urging her daughters

to marry and goes to considerable lengths to ensure that her schemes will work. Furthermore,

the whole family suffers from her nervous breakdowns. Mr. Bennet‘s influence is mainly

detectable in Elizabeth and in the way she copes with certain events and situations. Emma is

also very interesting to look at because of Emma‘s father, who also plays a prominent role in

the novel. As with Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Woodhouse very much claims everyone‘s attention and

everything has to be arranged around him because of his frail and feeble constitution. Finally

Persuasion will be looked at as well. Whereas in Emma and Pride and Prejudice the parents

seem at least to have some love for their children, Anne Eliot‘s father does not seem to care

for his two younger daughters at all.

       Furthermore, in order to see how these parent-child relationships function, a close

analysis will be made of each novel, looking in particular at how the parents deal with their

children, what kind of effect their treatment has on their children and to what extent the

children‘s own decisions are influenced by their parents. The main focus will be on the

heroines of the novels, namely Anne Eliot, Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet. For all

three heroines it is interesting and necessary to look at their siblings as well in order to come

to a better understanding of the exact influence of their parents. For example, in Anne‘s case

it might very well be that she is more inclined, or perhaps less inclined, to try and be accepted

by her father because he seems to be getting along with her elder sister just fine, which will

ultimately influence Anne Eliot‘s behaviour one way or the other. The children of the Bennet

family have very different personalities and it is interesting to see for example to what extent

these different personalities, exaggerated or not, reflect back upon the characters of the

parents and what sort of an effect this has on Elizabeth‘s behaviour. In Emma‘s case it is

interesting to see how her father‘s character has influenced her sister‘s and if that influence

has lessened since Emma‘s sister married and left home in order to find out if this has any

consequences for Emma‘s behaviour and personality.

       To be able to answer the question why Jane Austen focuses mostly on what she

believes to be flawed parent-child relationships the analyses made from the situations in

Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion have to be placed in context. Parenting in the

eighteenth and nineteenth centuries should be looked at in order to be able to understand what

family life was like in that period and in order to be able to say something substantial about

the parent-child relationships in Austen‘s novels. For example, Roger Sales suggests in his

book Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England that the political situation of the

time of writing of Austen novels may have played a part in her representation of parents and

children. Sales argues that the crisis brought on by the Prince regent‘s incapability of reigning

the country is partly to blame on his personality and that Austen reflects upon this using the

flawed parent-child relationships in her novels. However, this paper will focus on Jane

Austen‘s representation of the parent-child relationships. This paper will also focus on

Austen‘s use of substitute parents to see if Austen values surrogate parents the same as

biological parents. For example, in Persuasion the role of Lady Russell and Mr. Eliot will be

compared to see for example if they make the same mistakes when it comes to Anne‘s

upbringing and education and in Emma the role of Miss Taylor will be compared to that of

Mr. Woodhouse. Furthermore, it could very well be that Jane Austen used her own experience

in describing the parent child relationship, which might indicate that her own childhood was

not very happy and this paper attempts to shed some light on that as well by looking at

different biographies written of her life.

                     Chapter 1: Raising Children in Austen’s England

       Nowadays parents are very much concerned with the upbringing of their children and

there are numerous books available offering a multitude of ways to successfully raise children

and create a lasting bond between parent and child. Moreover, the focus on proper upbringing

in modern society has evolved to such an extent that it is possible to punish parents in cases of

child neglect or abuse. However, in Jane Austen‘s era the parents‘ point of view of what was

appropriate in childrearing was very different and the way the parents treated their children

created much more emotional distance between parent and child. These eighteenth and

nineteenth-century views on raising children need to be explained in order to help understand

Jane Austen‘s approach to parent-child relationships in Emma, Pride and Prejudice and

Persuasion. Therefore, Lawrence Stone‘s book The Family, Sex and Marriage in England

1500-1800 will be used to explain how eighteenth and nineteenth-century families raised their

children and what other values they thought important in family life.

1.1 Family

       The first thing that needs clarification is the term family because the meaning of this

term has changed considerably over the decades. The modern term family mostly refers to a

unit that consists of parents and children who have developed strong emotional ties and bonds

with each other. However, according to Lawrence Stone in The Family, Sex and Marriage in

England 1500-1800 this type of family only came into existence in the late-seventeen-early-

eighteenth-century. In his book Stone distinguishes between three types of families, namely

the nuclear family, the household and kin. Stone refers to nuclear family as consisting of

―those members of the same kin who live together under one roof‖ (28) which means parents

and children and in some cases live in grandparents as well. With household, Stone refers to

all persons that live under one roof, which includes boarders, servants and apprentices (28)

and continues by saying that ―this composite group was confusingly known as a ‗family‘ in

the sixteenth and seventeenth century‖ (28). Finally, Stone refers to kin as being ―persons

related by blood or marriage‖ (28), who are nowadays mostly referred to as extended family.

       Earlier types of family in the late medieval and the early sixteenth centuries were

predominantly preoccupied ―with the preservation, increase and transmission through

inheritance and marriage of the property and status of the lineage, of the generations of

ancestors stretching back into the remote past‖ (Stone, 69) and consequently emotional

relationships and attachments were of minor or no importance as long as the survival of

property and social status were safeguarded. For example, Stone argues that the principal

considerations for marriage were ―past lineage associations, political patronage, extension of

lineage connections, and property preservation and accumulation‖ (70) and furthermore he

argues that marriage was a ―collective decision of family and kin‖ (70). Another issue that

heavily influenced relationships within the family was the fact that the eldest son was always

the sole heir to the estate of the parents. According to Stone this ―principle of primogeniture

[…] was something which went far to determine the behaviour and character of both parents

and children, and to govern the relationship between siblings‖ (71). The fact that the eldest

son inherited everything meant that the other children were either left to their own devices to

secure a future or were dependant on the generosity of the eldest brother. In essence, late-

medieval and early-sixteenth-century families were highly hierarchical because only the

eldest male possessed the power to rule over the entire household and ―the family group was

held together by shared economic status and political interest, and by the norms and values of

authority and deference‖ (Stone, 88).

       From the sixteenth century onward the English family structure started to change and

the family was no longer predominantly seen as an economic unit heavily influenced by

neighbours and kin but as a unit that belonged together and was able to survive and evolve

even as ―the influence of kin and clientage correspondingly declined [and] the importance of

the affective bonds to tie the conjugal unit together began to increase‖ (Stone, 93). Gradually

the relationship between husband and wife became more affectionate and children were

identified ―as a special status group, distinct from adults‖ (Stone, 149). Furthermore, the

status of the eldest male as the patriarch of the family was questioned because ―it was argued

that the power of the father over the children is merely a by-product of his duty to nourish

them until they can look after themselves‖ (Stone, 164), which implies that seventeenth-

century society considered fatherly influence over children to be of a temporary nature which

lost its importance when the children grew up. Moreover, the resistance against the notions of

patriarchy showed itself in the introduction of new property laws which made sure that

children could no longer lose their inheritance because they displeased their parents by

marrying someone that the family thought unsuitable for example. In effect these new

property laws made sure that ―the rights of each member of the family were thus clearly

defined and carefully preserved against encroachment by any other member‖ (Stone 166).

Nevertheless, these new laws did not really change the distribution of the inheritance amongst

the children because usually the eldest son still inherited everything but it did diminish ―the

arbitrary control of the father over that distribution and therefore his power to enforce his own

will upon [his children] over such critical issues as marriage‖ (Stone, 166).

1.2 Raising children

       The average eighteenth-century families were usually very large; sometimes mothers

gave birth to up to twenty children mainly because of the high mortality rates amongst

children. Furthermore, it was of the utmost importance to produce an heir to the estate and

make sure that in case of an early death there were other sons who could inherit to make sure

that the property stayed in the family. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries within the

emotional relationships between parents and children ―there was a general psychological

atmosphere of distance, manipulation and deference‖ (Stone, 88). Most children died in their

early stages of childhood and therefore many parents deemed it useless to enter into close

relationships with their children. Furthermore, many mothers especially from middle and

upper-class families fostered out their children to wet-nurses who breastfed the children and

raised them usually for the first two years of their lives. According to Valerie Fildes in her

book Wet Nursing: A History from Antiquity to the Present the ―overriding reason [for women

to foster out their children] was that many husbands did not approve of, or allow, their wives

to breastfeed‖ (83) because most husbands thought it more important to produce heirs and by

fostering children out the mothers were almost immediately fertile again after birth. This

business of fostering out children did inhibit bonding between mother and child. The fostered

out children were often more attached to the nurse than to members of their own family.

Within the sixteenth century family, severe physical punishment ensured ―domestic discipline

and the utter subordination of the child‖ (Stone, 122), which showed itself in acts of extreme

deference of children toward parents.

       However, just as the structure of the family changed from the sixteenth century

onwards views on raising children changed as well. Slowly ―parents were beginning to

recognise that each child, even if it lived for only a few hours or days, had its own unique

individuality‖ (Stone, 257) and society became more and more child-minded. The acts of

deference which symbolised a child‘s subordination to its parents in the sixteenth century

disappeared from the parent child relationships. Furthermore, instead of sending children out

to a wet-nurse mothers were encouraged to breastfeed their children themselves and the

practise of swaddling babies was largely abandoned. Before the eighteenth century children

were ―tightly bound in bandages so that they were unable to move either head or limbs, for

the first months or so after birth‖ (Stone, 115). Moreover, besides affecting the health of the

children swaddling also prevented the mothers from showing affection to the child. During

the eighteenth century society came to view swaddling as ―an assault on human liberty‖

(Stone, 269) and proceeded to condemn it. Nevertheless, most parents were not actively

involved in the day-to-day caring for their children. In many families that task was given to

the servants, nurses or governesses but most parents did make efforts to show empathy

towards their children.

       Chapter 2: Parents and Parenting in Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion

       Maggie Lane argues in Jane Austen’s Regency World of March 2005 in ―Dead,

Distanced or Deficient?‖ an article on Motherhood in Jane Austen novels that ―Jane Austen

cannot afford to create satisfactory, sensible mothers giving their daughters good advice, or

there would be no story‖ (16). She does not mention the fathers but often enough both parents

do not seem equipped to raise their children the way they should, if they are not absent

altogether. The three novels that are of particular interest when it comes to parents and

parenting are Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion because the influence, or lack of

influence of the parents and most certainly the silliness of the parents is the most obvious in

these novels. Furthermore, these novels offer the most background information on the

characters of the parents, which makes it possible to compare the parents to the children in

order to see to what extent the children take after their parents. Moreover, by comparing the

characters and actions of the parents to those of the children an astute analysis can be made of

the extent to which the actions of the children are the result of the upbringing they have had.

2.1 Pride and Prejudice‘s Parents

       Many people seem to agree that Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet are far from ideal parents

if not bad parents. For example, In Domestic Realities and Imperial Fictions Maaja A.

Stewart argues that Mrs. Bennet is ―one of the most amusing portraits in literature of the

‗awful mother‘‖ (54). Moreover, Claudia L. Johnson accuses Mrs. Bennet of folly and Mr.

Bennet of negligence (84) and the general consensus seems to be that Elizabeth and Jane have

successfully managed to extract themselves from the devastating influence of their parents

and turned into decent adults, unlike Lydia for example who is known as ―always unguarded

and often uncivil‖ (Austen, 86). However, the question is to what extent this assumption is

correct; perhaps Elizabeth and Jane are more influenced by their parents than is clear at first


2.1.1 Mrs. Bennet: Character and influence

          From Austen‘s opening statement on the Bennet parents it becomes clear that Mrs.

Bennet is a peculiar type of woman and ―the business of her life was to get her daughters

married [and] its solace was visiting and news‖ (Austen, 4). Furthermore, it is also very clear

that the narrator of Pride and Prejudice does not think much of her intelligence either because

Mrs. Bennet is deemed ―a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain

temper‖ (Austen, 4). Mrs. Bennet focuses so much on getting her daughters married that she

completely loses sight of her daughters‘ wellbeing. For example, she does everything in her

power to make sure that her daughters are noticed when Mr. Bingley moves into the

neighbourhood. Moreover, Mrs. Bennet's efforts seem to be successful when it turns out that

Mr. Bingley indeed seems interested in Jane Bennet, her eldest daughter. However, she is

determined not to be satisfied until she knows that her daughter has secured a promise of

marriage from Mr. Bingley and goes to great lengths to ensure that Jane succeeds. For

instance, in response to an invitation of Mr. Bingley Mrs Bennet forces Jane to go to Mr.

Bingley‘s house on horseback even though it looks like rain, to enforce a longer stay:

          Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mother attended her to the

          door with many cheerful prognostics of a bad day. Her hopes were answered; Jane had

          not been gone long before it rained hard. Her sisters were uneasy for her, but their

          mother was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission;

          Jane could certainly not come back. (Austen, 22)

The fact that Jane might get very ill from travelling in the rain does not concern Mrs. Bennet

because in her mind it will only aid in extending Jane‘s stay at Netherfield. Nowadays having

a cold is not a life-threatening disease but in the nineteenth century it was not unheard of that

people died of the effects of a cold. It appears a bit heartless that Mrs. Bennet seems perfectly

willing to risk Jane‘s life in exchange for a few more days of Mr. Bingley‘s company.

       What makes matters even worse is that she seems most unwilling to receive her

daughter home again, almost as if she expects that her interference will immediately result in

a proposal of marriage from Mr. Bingley:

       But Mrs. Bennet, who had calculated on her daughters remaining at Netherfield till the

       following Tuesday, which would exactly finish Jane‘s week, could not bring herself to

       receive them with pleasure before. [...] They were not welcomed home very cordially

       by their mother. Mrs. Bennet wondered at their coming and thought them very wrong

       to give so much trouble. (Austen, 40-41)

Mrs. Bennet seems convinced that a marriage proposal from Mr. Bingley is extracted the

fastest if Jane is kept as close to him as possible. It is also very plausible that Mrs. Bennet is

trying to make sure that there is no room for competition from other women by having Jane

stay in the direct vicinity of Mr. Bingley‘s.

       Part of Mrs. Bennet‘s behaviour is understandable though, especially when looked at

in context. Considering that in eighteenth and nineteenth century families having a male heir

was the most important and that daughters were usually considered an economic

inconvenience, the Bennet family is not exactly well off. First of all, the Bennet family

consists of five daughters, whose future needs to be secured because the estate is entailed to

Mr. Collins. The entailment of the estate means that the Bennet women are not provided for

when Mr. Bennet dies and Mrs. Bennet finds this almost impossible to bear:

       ‗Oh, my dear!‘ cried [Mrs. Bennet] ‗I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that

       your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I‘m sure if I had

       been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it. (Austen, 42)

Another reason for Mrs. Bennet‘s exaggerated match-making behaviour has probably to do

with the fact that Mr. Bennet is unable to provide a proper dowry for his daughters because of

his limited means. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a lack of a dowry meant that

daughters had a severely diminished chance to marry well or marry at all because ―the custom

of the dowry, according to which brides from all ranks of the propertied classes were expected

to contribute a cash sum, together with the great sensitivity to status and rank, meant that

there was a very high degree of social and economic endogamy‖ (Stone, 50). Taking this into

consideration, it is also possible that Mrs. Bennet‘s erratic behaviour when it comes to

arranging her daughters‘ marriage is Austen‘s way of showing what she thought about the

eighteenth and nineteenth-century marriage brokerage and not so much about portraying Mrs.

Bennet as being a bad parent but merely using her case as an example to show that the way

she attempts to get her daughters married is wrong and perhaps even counterproductive.

       However, it is obvious from the text that Mrs. Bennet prefers one daughter over the

other when it comes to marrying them off. Mrs. Bennet‘s view on the marriage she intends for

Elizabeth is very clear; ―Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her children; and though the

man and the match were quite good enough for her, the worth of each was eclipsed by Mr.

Bingley and Netherfield‖ (Austen, 71 Austen‘s emphasis). With this remark Austen is turning

away from the impersonal marriage brokering Mrs. Bennet has been busy with. Instead, she

turns the focus on the personal relationship between Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth by first

mentioning that Elizabeth is not the favourite daughter and also that Mrs. Bennet does not

think much of the marriage that she has in mind for her. In essence, the marriage plans Mrs

Bennet makes for Elizabeth are businesslike, just like the plans she makes for Jane, but

Austen deliberately creates a difference between the two as to what extent Mrs. Bennet‘s

personal feelings towards her daughters play a role in defining the plans. By focusing first and

foremost on the fact that Mrs. Bennet does not seem to like Elizabeth very much, Austen

makes Mrs. Bennet‘s plans to give her away in marriage to Mr. Collins seem spiteful, or as

punishment because Elizabeth is not as compliant as Jane is.

       Austen seems to have intended Mrs Bennet as a person who does not think about the

consequences of her behaviour and who is generally more concerned about her own wellbeing

than that of others. Furthermore, her eccentricity is often of such a nature that she is a cause of

embarrassment to her children. For example, Mrs. Bennet has the tendency to speak her mind

at all times, whether this is appropriate or not, and this causes all kinds of awkward situations:

       ‗Yes, indeed‘ cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by [Mr. Darcy‘s] manner of mentioning a

       country neighbourhood. ‗I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the

       country as in town‘. Every body was surprised […] Mrs. Bennet who fancied she had

       a complete victory over [Mr. Darcy] continued in her triumph […] ‗that gentleman‘

       looking at Darcy ‗seemed to think that the country was nothing at all‘[…] ‗Indeed,

       Mama, you are mistaken‘ said Elizabeth blushing for her mother. (Austen, 30)

Elizabeth often tries to moderate her mother‘s exclamations but without much success and is

often very much embarrassed because Mrs. Bennet often speaks of things she knows nothing,

or very little about. Even Jane, whose character usually prevents her from overtly criticising

her mother, sometimes feels that Mrs Bennet oversteps the boundaries of polite, motherly

conversation; ―Oh! That my dear mother had more command over herself; she can have no

idea of the pain that she gives me by her continual reflections on [Mr. Bingley]‖ (Austen, 90).

       However, it is interesting to notice that even though it seems that Elizabeth and Mrs.

Bennet are as different as night and day certain character traits reflect in both of them.

Therefore, Mrs. Bennet's influence on the behaviour of her daughter is probably larger than

the reader would expect. When Mrs. Bennet and Elizabeth are compared to each other both

display quite similar reactions to, for example, provocations or in situations where pride is

involved. Austen created Elizabeth Bennet with a mind of her own and Austen made her,

besides her mother, the only person who openly criticises and sometimes even ridicules Mr.

Darcy. Furthermore, by their actions Austen makes it clear that both women do not want to be

told what to do or what to say. However, Elizabeth anticipates better on her surroundings and

Austen makes her speak her mind without causing much offence while Austen does not check

Mrs. Bennet‘s exclamations.

       The one character trait that Austen invented and has primarily caused Mrs. Bennet to

be perceived as a fatuous woman and mother is her nervous disposition and her tendency to

refuse responsibility for her children‘s behaviour. Usually, Mrs. Bennet tends to have

exaggerated nervous attacks whenever things are not going according to her plans. For

example, when Lydia elopes with Captain Wickham Mrs. Bennet breaks down completely:

       Mrs. Bennet, to whose apartment they all repaired […] received them exactly as might

       be expected; with tears and lamentations of regret […] and complaints of her own

       sufferings and ill usage, blaming everybody but the person to whose ill judging

       indulgence the errors of her daughter must be principally owing. (Austen, 186)

The narrator obviously thinks that Mrs Bennet is at least partly to blame for Lydia‘s

indiscretions and that she should have acknowledged the role that she played in it. Austen

suggests that if Mrs. Bennet had been more receptive to her youngest daughter‘s behaviour

and had corrected her in time Lydia would not have eloped with Wickham but that Mrs.

Bennet‘s foolish ignorance made it impossible to check her daughter‘s behaviour.

       Austen herself did not get much attention from her own mother because of the busy

household she lived in at Steventon. Mrs. Austen did not have much time to spend with Jane

or any of her other seven children because she was also in charge of the pupils that attended

the boys‘ school that Mr. Austen had set up as an extra source of income. Furthermore,

according to Carol Shields it is quite possible that some of the character traits of Mrs. Bennet,

like for example her lack of involvement in her daughters‘ upbringing and her nervous

breakdowns, are exaggerated character traits Austen based on what she knew her own mother

to be like. Shield argues in her biography that Mrs. Austen ―might have had a spirit similar to

Mrs. Bennet‖ (17). However, the notion that ―Mrs. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice is perhaps

literature‘s most embarrassing and unpleasant mother‖ (Lane, 18) needs to be revised. The

fact that she is embarrassing her daughters is obvious from the evidence in the novel but she is

not really unpleasant. Mrs. Bennet‘s intentions are good but her way of carrying her plan into

effect is deficient and that is what Austen seems to be criticizing.

2.1.2 Mr Bennet: Fatherhood and Negligence

       Initially, Mr. Bennet is received much better by Austen‘s readers because next to Mrs.

Bennet's antics Mr. Bennet‘s flaws as a parent are less obvious. Another thing that might have

softened the readers‘ opinion of him is the fact that he takes responsibility for things that he

neglected to do. For example, Mr. Bennet blames himself for more or less forcing Lydia into

the arms of Wickham because he neglected to provide a proper dowry:

       Mr. Bennet had very often wished, before this period in life, that, instead of spending

       his whole income, he had laid by an annual sum, for the better provision of his

       children, and of his wife, if she survived him. He now wished it more than ever. Had

       he done his duty in that respect, Lydia need not have been indebted to her uncle, for

       whatever of honour or credit could now be purchased for her. The satisfaction of

       prevailing on one of the most worthless young men in Great Britain to be her husband

       might then have rested in its proper place. (Austen, 200)

Therefore, it seems clear that Austen considers Mr. Bennet also to be an inadequate parent but

for different reasons than Mrs. Bennet.

       Austen‘s opening statement about Mr. Bennet seems less negative than that of Mrs.

Bennet. Mr. Bennet is portrayed as being ―so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour,

reserve, and caprice‖ (Austen, 4) and in general a man who is difficult to fathom. Austen

especially focuses on the sarcastic side of his character throughout the novel. For example,

Austen makes it very clear that Mr. Bennet prefers Elizabeth over all his other children and

that Mr. Bennet is not really impressed with his wife:

       ‗They have none of them much to recommend them‘, replied [Mr. Bennet]; ‗they are

       all silly and ignorant like other girls; but Lizzy has something more of quickness than

       her sisters‘. ‗Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way?‘ [Mrs.

       Bennet speaks] ‗You delight in vexing me. You have no compassion in my poor


       ‗You mistake me my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old

       friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least‘.

       (Austen, 4)

Austen points out Mr. Bennet‘s biggest shortcomings by mainly focusing on his sarcasm and

his tendency to make fun of people.

       Mr. Bennet‘s most obvious flaw as a parent is his sarcastic nature by being sarcastic

he does not take things as seriously as he should and consequently the upbringing of his

children is affected. Mr. Bennet neglects to correct his wife‘s behaviour and his daughters‘

behaviour because he enjoys their silliness. For example, the entailment of his estate is serious

business because it leaves Mrs. Bennet and their children without any provisions for the

future. Moreover, Mrs. Bennet is quite aware of the precarious situation she is in, which

results in her ridiculous attempts at match making. Elizabeth in her turn is also concerned

about Mr. Collins‘s intentions but Mr. Bennet is only interested to see how silly Mr. Collins

really is:

        Mr. Bennet‘s expectations were fully answered. His cousin [Mr. Collins] was as

        absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment,

        maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except

        in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure. (Austen, 47)

From the quote becomes all the more clear that Mr. Bennet thinks that Elizabeth‘s opinion is

the only one that is worth his time.

        Furthermore, Mr. Bennet never corrects his daughters because he thinks it is

appropriate but because somebody else points their behaviour out to him and he has no other

option than to intervene. Indeed, near the end of the novel Elizabeth realizes that ―her father

[is] contented with laughing at [his daughters and] would never exert himself with restraining

the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters‖ (Austen, 140). For instance, Mary Bennet has

much potential to embarrass the family because she is quite convinced of her own merits as an

accomplished singer and piano player while she is not that good at all. Mr Bennet puts a stop

to her playing but not on his own accord:

        [Elizabeth] looked at her father to entreat his interference, lest Mary should be singing

        all night. He took the hint, and when Mary had finished her second song, said aloud,

        ‗That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other

        ladies have time to exhibit‘. (Austen, 69)

Moreover, the way he attempts to keep his daughter‘s behaviour in check is not very friendly

and makes it very obvious that he does not think much of his daughter‘s performance to start

with. Furthermore, Mr. Bennet is very much aware of his wife‘s antics and but still does not

bother to make her stop doing what she is doing. For example, the only reaction of Mr.

Bennet to Mrs. Bennet‘s sending Jane to Netherfield on horseback is that he points out the

potential danger to Jane but he does not put a stop to it: ―Well, my dear,‖ said Mr. Bennet,

when Elizabeth had read the note aloud, ―if your daughter should have a dangerous fit of

illness, if she should die, it would be a comfort to know that it was all in pursuit of Mr.

Bingley, and under your orders‖ (Austen, 22).

       Mr. Bennet tends to withdraw from his family altogether if the amount of silliness he

has to encounter exceeds his comfort zone because ―in his library, he had been always sure of

leisure and tranquillity; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and

conceit in every other room in the house, he was used to be free from them there‖ (Austen,

49). Therefore, he attempts throughout the book to keep his wife and his daughters out of

there; ―My dear, replied her husband [Mr. Bennet], I have two small favours to request. First

that you allow me the free use of my understanding on the present occasion; and, secondly, of

my room. I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be‖ (Austen, 76).

       The only person that Mr. Bennet respects is Elizabeth, probably because he feels that

she takes more after him than after Mrs. Bennet. For example, Elizabeth tends to laugh off

serious situations as well, as she does for example in the case of Mr. Collins‘ ludicrous offer

of marriage:

       ‗Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my

       future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it

       will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying‘ [Mr. Collins said]

       The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his

       feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing that she could not use the short pause he

       allowed in any attempt to stop him farther. (Austen, 72)

However, the major difference between Elizabeth and her father, as with her mother as well,

is that Elizabeth has learned to read the people around her and knows when to restrain herself.

Nevertheless, the relationship between Elizabeth and father is warm and well developed.

Furthermore, even though she might think that it is his duty to intervene in certain matters she

does hold his esteem in high regard; ―My father‘s opinion of me does me the greatest honour;

and I should be miserable to forfeit it‖ (Austen, 97). Moreover, when it comes to matters that

directly affect her, her father is more than willing to intervene and make sure that she does not

do anything that is against her own wishes. For example, Mr. Bennet makes sure that Mrs.

Bennet does not force Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins and he makes sure that Elizabeth‘s

marriage to Mr. Darcy is because she wants to marry him and not because she somehow feels

obligated to:

       [Mr. Bennet] was walking about the room, looking grave and anxious. ‗Lizzy,‘ said

       he, ‗what are you doing? Are you out of your senses, to be accepting this man? Have

       not you always hated him?‘

       How earnestly did [Elizabeth] wish that her former opinions had been more

       reasonable, her expression more moderate! [However] she assured him with some

       confusion, of her attachment to Mr. Darcy.

       ‗Or in other words, you are determined to have him. He is rich, to be sure, and you

       may have more fine clothes and fine carriages than Jane. But will they make you

       happy?‘ […] Elizabeth, still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at

       length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice[…]

       she did conquer her father‘s incredulity, and reconcile him to the match.

        ‗Well my dear,‘ said [Mr. Bennet] ‗I have no more to say. If this be the case, he

       deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to any one less worthy.

       (Austen, 246)

As with Mrs. Bennet Austen does not focus on wilful neglect but more on character traits that

make Mr. Bennet an inadequate parent but by having Mr. Bennet acknowledge the error of his

ways Austen shows that it is possible make amends for being ignorant about things.

2.1.3 Elizabeth: Parental Influence on Sisterhood

       It is also interesting to see how the behaviour of the Bennet parents influences the

Bennet children. The five Bennet sisters have very different characters from each other. For

example, Lydia and Kitty are very unruly and wild girls; Mr and Mrs. Bennet have never

checked their behaviour and therefore turned a blind eye to their poor social skills and

basically have neglected to teach them how to behave themselves properly. Mary, on the other

hand is extremely serious and very convinced of her own abilities as is shown on various

occasions throughout the novel. Mary clearly feels that studying is more important than

having fun or at least that is what she says so herself in a reaction to Lydia‘s behaviour: ―Far

be it from me, my dear sister, to deprecate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial

with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I

should indefinitely prefer a book‖ (Austen, 146, Austen‘s emphasis). Her exaggerated

seriousness also causes her to lack social skills and manners. The eldest sister, Jane is very

sweet tempered and desires to do good by everybody, which shows itself in her determination

to think well of everybody even up to a point that she tries to smooth over Mr. Bingley‘s

behaviour towards herself in spurning her affections:

       ‗I cannot misunderstand you, but I intreat you dear Lizzy, not to pain me by thinking

       that person to blame, and saying your opinion of him is sunk. We must not be so

       ready to fancy ourselves intentionally injured. We must not expect a lively young man

       to be always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothing but our own vanity

       that deceives us. Women fancy admiration means more than it does‘. (Austen, 91,

       Austen‘s emphasis)

Finally, Elizabeth herself is a strong-minded person who is perhaps a bit quick in judging

other people without really knowing what is going on as she does for example in Mr.

Wickham‘s case. Furthermore, as mentioned before she tends to have a sarcastic streak which

reminds the reader of her father‘s tendency to make fun of people.

         However, compared to her sisters Elizabeth realizes that her behaviour has

consequences that are not always pleasant:

         ‗How despicably have I acted!‘ [Elizabeth] cried.—‗I, who have prided myself on my

         discernment!‘—I, who have valued myself on my abilities! Who have often disdained

         the general candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable

         distrust [...] Pleased with the preference of one [Mr. Wickham], and offended by the

         neglect of the other [Mr. Darcy] on the very beginning of our acquaintance. I have

         courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were

         concerned. (Austen, 137)

Jane is the only sister whose behaviour does not really change; therefore Austen seems to be

implying that Jane‘s behaviour is the most appropriate behaviour for a young lady. However,

Austen also shows that sometimes Jane is too pliable by having Elizabeth questioning her

behaviour as she does for example with Jane‘s reaction to Mr. Collins marrying Charlotte


         My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you

         know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who

         marries him, cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it

         is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning

         of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is

         prudence, and insensibility of danger, security for happiness. (Austen, 91)

Furthermore, the Bennet sisters do not have a close relationship with each other because of

the great difference between their characters and interests. From all sisters Elizabeth and Jane

are particularly close and it is quite possible that their relationship is based on Austen‘s own

relationship with her older sister Cassandra. In Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter Irene

Collins notices that the bond between Jane Austen and Cassandra was exceptionally strong:

        Jane soon learnt to look at Cassandra as her guide and model, in all matters of

       behaviour. Cassandra was everything that she admired: serene, friendly, practical,

       intelligent, good. Yet Jane was never afraid to approach her with her own fears and

       failings. Cassandra was always ready to listen, to understand, and enter into her

       younger sister‘s hope and disappointments. (71)

The relationship Collins describes between Jane and Cassandra is very similar to the

relationship between Elizabeth and Jane. Even though Elizabeth thinks that Jane is sometimes

too friendly and forgiving she does turn to her for guidance and advice throughout the novel

and is not afraid to admit her mistakes and flaws to Jane. Indeed, it seems that Jane is in fact

everything that Elizabeth wishes to be: ―My dear Jane! exclaimed Elizabeth. You are too

good. Your sweetness and disinterestedness are really angelic; I do not know what to say to

you. I feel as if I had never done you justice, or loved you as you deserve‖ (Austen, 90).

       All in all the relationship of the Bennet sisters with each other and with their parents is

not strongly developed. Furthermore, it is obvious from the text that the fact that their parents

do not seem to take much interest in teaching them proper manners severely affects their

relationship with other people outside their own family as well.

2.2 Absent Parents in Emma

       Margaret Drabble asks herself in the introduction to the Signet Classic edition of

Emma whether or not Mr. Woodhouse is too much indulged (xx) and she feels that ―Mr.

Woodhouse‘s old-world manners and courtesies are upheld, while those of noisier invaders—

Frank Churchill, Mrs. Elton—are condemned (xx). Furthermore, D.W. Harding in Regulated

Hatred argues that Jane Austen seems to ―have no reserve in offering the funniness and

virtues of Mr. Woodhouse‖ (9) to the reader. These statements show that apparently the father

figure in Emma is not without flaws either. Furthermore, Emma is raised by a governess

because her mother died when she was very young and Stewart thinks that ―the governess as

the mother-substitute introduces into the novel a yearning for the lost mother that determines

Emma‘s relationship with other women‖ (160). Once again, Jane Austen seems to present a

heroine with inadequate parents in Emma but in a different setting than Pride and Prejudice.

2.2.1 Mr Woodhouse: inadequate, manipulative but loving father

       Compared to Pride and Prejudice, the description of Mr. Woodhouse seems more

positive than that of Mr. Bennet. Whereas Mr. Bennet is deemed odd, sarcastic and difficult to

understand, Mr. Woodhouse is described as being ―a most affectionate, indulgent father‖

(Austen, 1) in the opening statement of Emma. At first glance it seems that Austen is positive

about the parenting skills of Mr. Woodhouse but it soon turns out that Emma indeed suffered

from the indulgence of her father because Austen describes the ―real evils of Emma‘s

situation [as] the power of having rather too much of her own way, and a disposition to think

a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many

enjoyments‖ (Austen, 1). In other words Austen is implying that Mr. Woodhouse has been to

free with Emma turning her into a bit of a snobbish adolescent.

       Furthermore it is soon clear that Mr. Woodhouse is also in possession of a somewhat

odd character. The narrator tells the reader that Mr. Woodhouse is a ―much older man in ways

than in years‖ (Austen, 2) because he has been a hypochondriac for most of his life and most

of the time fancies himself to be unwell. Moreover, Mr. Woodhouse is portrayed as "a

nervous man [who is] easily depressed‖ (Austen, 3). Probably his biggest character flaw of all

is that he is unable to place himself in other peoples‘ positions and cannot imagine that others

feel differently about things than he does. For example, it is unimaginable to Mr. Woodhouse

that Emma might be happy for Ms Taylor to have found a husband in Mr. Weston, which he

makes clear to Mr. Knightley: ―dear Emma bears every thing so well, said [Mr. Woodhouse].

But, Mr. Knightley, she is really very sorry to lose poor Miss Taylor, and I am sure she will

miss her more than she thinks for‖ (Austen, 5, Austen‘s emphasis). Nevertheless, despite all

his flaws Austen makes sure that it is clear that Mr. Woodhouse is a man who is ―beloved for

the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper‖ (Austen, 2). Mr. Woodhouse is incapable

of raising Emma properly because of two important issues. First of all, the narrator points out

that Emma‘s father ―[is] no companion for her [because] he could not meet her in

conversations, rational or playful‖ (Austen, 2). Furthermore, Emma‘s father is dependent on

her instead of the other way round because of his valetudinarianism. Thirdly, Mr. Woodhouse

thinks his daughter is perfect in all aspects of her personality and character and therefore

neglects to correct her behaviour when necessary.

       Mr. Woodhouse is not a very clever man. In fact, compared to Emma he is rather slow

of understanding. For example, Mr. Woodhouse‘s diminished capacity to understand things

becomes very clear when Emma needs to explain a riddle to him because ―She read it to him,

just as he liked to have any thing read, slowly and distinctly, and two or three times over, with

explanation of every part as she proceeded‖ (Austen, 51). Furthermore, Mr. Woodhouse is

incapable of making a contribution to the collection of riddles because he simply cannot

remember more than the first stanza. However, Mr. Woodhouse is aware of the fact that his

daughter is smarter than he is and he seems to have resigned himself to that fact and does not

make any attempt to keep up with his daughter. He does not need to because he knows that

everybody, including Emma, makes sure that he is content and satisfied:

       Ah! It is no difficulty to see who you take after! Your dear mother was so clever at all

       those things! If I had but her memory! But I can remember nothing;--not even that

       particular riddle which you have heard me mention; I can only recollect the first

       stanza; and there are several […] And that is all that I can recollect of it—but it is very

       clever all the way through. But I think, my dear, you said you had got it .(Austen, 51)

It is also very interesting to see Mr. Woodhouse compare Emma to her dead mother because

this only widens the gap between himself and Emma because basically it shows that they have

very little in common.

       Actually Mr. Woodhouse does not parent much at all; in fact most of the time Emma

is in charge of her father instead of the other way round. For example, all that is arranged

revolves around Mr. Woodhouse because of his weak constitution and nervous disposition

and it is Emma‘s job to keep both her father and the other people happy. Whenever an

evening party is organized at Hartfield, it is Emma who is in charge and not her father

although she makes him think that he is:

       Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs [said Mr.

       Woodhouse]. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle [a servant]

       understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled

       by any body else—but you need not be afraid—they are very small, you see—one of

       our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart—

        a very little bit. Ours are all apple tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome

        preserves here. […] Emma allowed her father to talk—but supplied her visitors in a

        much more satisfactory style; and on the present evening had particular pleasure in

        sending them away happy. (Austen, 14)

Furthermore, whenever Emma and her father dine out, which is a rare occasion it itself,

everything has to be arranged according to Mr. Woodhouse‘s wishes. As is the case with the

get together at Randalls, from the text it shows that ―Harriet, Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley,

their own special set, were the only persons invited to meet them;--the hours were to be early,

as well as the numbers few; Mr. Woodhouse‘s habits and inclination being consulted in

everything‖ (Austen, 70). Emma has to make sure that everything is arranged accordingly, so

as not to distress her father.

        Moreover, Mr. Woodhouse is completely unaware of what his daughter does besides

taking care of him and he never corrects her behaviour in any way. That task is actually taken

over by Mr. Knightley, who as the narrator tells the reader ―was one of the few people who

could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them‖ (Austen,

5). For example, Emma‘s behaviour towards Miss Bates on Box hill is very rude and logically

speaking Mr. Woodhouse should have been the one to point out her mistakes to her as one of

his duties as a father. However, this is impossible because he never accompanies his daughter

anywhere and therefore Mr. Knightley steps in:

        ‗Oh!‘ Cried Emma, ‗I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must

        allow, that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in

        [Miss Bates]‘

        ‗They are blended,‘ said [Mr. Knightley] I acknowledge; and, were she prosperous, I

        could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. Were

        she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance, I

       would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. Were she your equal in

       situation—but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she

       has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably

       sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done indeed!

       […] This is not pleasant to me; but I must, I will,--I will tell you truths while I can,

       satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that

       you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now. (Austen, 246)

Mr. Knightley also speaks out about Emma‘s attempts at match-making for Harriet Smith and

Mr. Elton because he feels that Emma is actually putting Harriet at a disadvantage because of

the uncertainty about Harriet‘s biological parents. On this rare occasion Mr. Woodhouse

actually has something to say on the subject as well he implores his daughter to stop her

match-making not because he thinks it is inappropriate behaviour of Emma but because he

dislikes marriage because it causes things and relationships between people to change. Mr.

Woodhouse is a man who is ―fond of every body he was used to, and hating to part with them;

hating change of every kind. Matrimony, as the origin of change, was always disagreeable‖

(Austen, 3). Furthermore, Austen makes it clear that Mr. Knightley is the only one whose

criticism is of consequence to Emma because ―she had a sort of habitual respect for his

judgement in general, which made her dislike having it so loudly against her‖ (Austen, 42).

       As it turns out nothing much can be said about Mr. Woodhouse‘s parenting skills

because he does not really parent at all. Mr. Woodhouse lives in a very secluded little world

where everything is arranged according to his wishes and he does not really know what Emma

is doing or thinking. Furthermore the fact that he is not a very smart man makes that Emma is

completely out of his control. Mr. Woodhouse might be a harmless, friendly and ignorant man

but he is definitely a very inadequate father, perhaps even more so than Mr. Bennet. Mr.

Woodhouse is in no way involved in the upbringing of his youngest daughter Emma.

Moreover, it becomes clear from the text that Mr. Woodhouse never really was a parent to his

daughter because ―Emma has been mistress of the house‖ (Austen, 23) and everybody in it

ever since she was a twelve- year-old girl. According to Mr. Knightley Mr. Woodhouse

cannot help being unable to raise Emma properly because after the death of her mother

―[Emma] lost the only person able to cope with her. She [inherited] her mother‘s talent, and

[should] have been under the subjection to her‖ (Austen, 23). Austen seems to imply here that

a mother‘s influence is indispensable in a child‘s life. Furthermore, Austen seems

uncommonly mild towards Mr. Woodhouse‘s neglect of parental duties compared to her

attitude towards Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet. Throughout the novel she emphasises that Mr.

Woodhouse is a very gentle and friendly person. Austen makes it seem as if these character

traits of Mr. Woodhouse somehow make up for the fact that in essence he is just as ignorant

and feeble as Mrs. Bennet because she does not nearly pay as much explicit attention to Mr.

Woodhouse‘s behaviour as she does to Mrs. Bennet‘s. Furthermore, another thing that might

account for the different treatment is the fact that in Emma Mr. Knightley partly functions as

surrogate father and makes sure that Emma sees the error of her ways while the Bennet sisters

can only depend on their biological but inadequate parents for proper upbringing. Still, the

reader cannot escape the notion that some of Mr. Woodhouse‘s behaviour is perhaps worse

than Mrs. Bennet. She is at least trying, in her own incapable way, to ensure a future for her

daughters while Mr. Woodhouse is manipulating his daughter into staying at home to care for

him. The fact that he is a friendly man does not make up for the fact that his daughter is more

or less destined to become a spinster because he makes her feel obligated to take care of him.

2.2.2 Ms Taylor-Weston, Governess and Substitute mother

       Emma‘s ―mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct

remembrance of her caresses, and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as

governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection‖ (Austen, 1). The excellent

woman that Austen describes is Ms. Taylor, the governess who raised Emma ever since she

was five years old. However, Austen makes it immediately clear that Ms. Taylor can never

completely substitute for Emma‘s biological mother by pointing out that ―even before Miss

Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had

hardly allowed her to impose any restraint‖ (Austen, 1) and even more importantly that Emma

grew up doing what she liked ―highly esteeming Miss Taylor‘s judgement, but chiefly

directed by her own‖ (Austen, 1). Furthermore, the fact that Emma chooses to rely on her own

judgement even though Ms. Taylor is a responsible adult shows that Austen does not consider

Ms. Taylor and Emma of equal standing.

       Furthermore, even though Ms Taylor is presented to the reader as surrogate mother

Emma does not seem to feel filial piety towards Ms Taylor but regards her more like a sister

or a close friend. Emma describes Ms. Taylor as ―a friend and companion such as few

possessed, intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family,

interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, in every

scheme of her‘s;--one to who [Emma] could speak every thought as it arose, and who had

such an affection for her as could never find fault‖ (Austen, 2). This also shows that Ms

Taylor actually contributed to Emma‘s development into the snobbish person that the reader

becomes acquainted with at the beginning of Emma. Moreover, Ms. Taylor realizes this too

when Mr. Knightley speaks about the unfortunate loss of Emma‘s mother while Emma is

obviously in dire need of proper guidance: ―I should have been sorry, Mr. Knightley, to be

dependent on your recommendation, had I quitted Mr. Woodhouse‘s family and wanted

another situation; I do not think you would have spoken a good word for me to any body. I am

sure you always thought me unfit for the office I held‖ (Austen, 23).

       Moreover, the fact that Ms Taylor remains blind to the flaws in Emma‘s character

even though they are fairly obvious shows that Ms Taylor also failed to carry out her duties as

surrogate mother. Despite Mr. Knightley‘s astute observations about Emma‘s behaviour Ms

Taylor remains convinced that Emma is a faultless, excellent creature who ―has qualities

which may be trusted [because] she will never lead any one really wrong; she will make no

lasting blunder‖ (Austen, 24). However, it turns out that Emma is indeed capable of leading

other people wrong. For example, the reader only has to think about the pain she causes

Harriet Smith because she makes her believe that Mr. Elton is in love with her. Furthermore

Emma blundered considerably when she forced Harriet to decline Mr. Martin‘s offer of

marriage. Luckily Mr. Martin is persuaded to renew his offer of marriage to Harriet because

this blunder might very well have been a lasting one; especially considering how people went

about marriage in the nineteenth century. It is characteristic of Austen‘s approach to parenting

that the only person who picks up on Emma‘s character flaws is neither her father nor her

substitute mother but the man she end up marrying, Mr. Knightley

2.2.3 Emma and Isabella: Mother‘s child and father‘s child

       It is striking that Mr. Woodhouse‘s character and personality actually influence

Isabella, the eldest daughter, very much. Emma is nothing like her father but Isabella all the

more. Isabella is married to the younger brother of Mr. Knightley and from the following

description it becomes clear how much she resembles her father:

        Mrs. John Knightley was a pretty, elegant little woman, of gentle, quiet manner, and a

        disposition remarkably amiable and affectionate; wrapt up in her family; a devoted

        wife, a doating mother, and so tenderly attached to her father and sister that, but for

        these higher ties, a warmer love might seemed impossible. She could never see a fault

        in any of them. She was not a woman of strong understanding or any quickness; and

        with this resemblance of her father, she inherited also much of his constitution; was

        delicate in her own health, overcareful of that of her children, had many fears and

        many nerves and was as fond of her own Mr. Wingfield [the doctor] in town as her

        father could be of Mr. Perry. They were alike too, in a general benevolence of temper

        and a strong habit of regard for every old acquaintance. (Austen, 60)

Furthermore, even though Austen indicates that Isabella‘s love for Emma is exceptionally

strong there is little indication that the relationship between these sisters is as strong as

Elizabeth and Jane Bennet‘s for example. In fact, Austen seems to imply that Emma‘s

relationship with Ms Taylor is better than the relationship with her biological sister because

the reader learns that Ms Taylor had been in Mr. Woodhouse‘s family for sixteen years and

about her relationship with Emma the narrator remarks that ―between them it was more the

intimacy of sisters‖ (Austen, 1, Austen‘s emphasis). It is implicated in the text that the reason

why Emma‘s relationship with her sister is not that close is because Isabella takes so

obviously after her father in mind and constitution. Austen has made her readers aware of the

fact that Emma has almost nothing in common with her father; therefore it is not that difficult

to see why the relationship with her sister remains somewhat superficial.

        Basically, just as Emma takes care of her father she takes care of her sister. For

example, she tries to protect her sister from remarks that might hurt her: ―[Mr. John

Knightley] was not a great favourite with his fair sister-in-law. Nothing wrong in him escaped

her. [Emma] was quick in feeling the little injuries to Isabella, which Isabella never felt

herself‖ (Austen, 61). Finally, it is clear that Austen explicitly modelled one child, Emma,

after the characteristics of the mother and one child, Isabella, after the characteristics of the

father. In Pride and Prejudice for example it is less clear which child takes after which parent

because Austen only hints at links in characteristics between the Bennet sisters and their

parents and leaves it to the reader to decide how the Bennet parents have influenced the

development of their children.

2.3 Persuasion: Fatherhood and Vanity

       Sir Walter Elliot seems to be the worst of all the parents discussed from Pride and

Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion. For example, Austen tempers Mr. Bennet‘s inadequacy as

a parent by making him able to recognise and acknowledge his mistakes. Moreover, even

though Mrs. Bennet‘s attempts at mothering are mostly disastrous Austen added a funny

quality to her character. Furthermore, Austen tones down Mr. Woodhouse‘s inadequacy

because of his loving and friendly nature and because other people are able to take over the

responsibility of raising Emma into a responsible adult. In any case with all these parents it is

more than obvious that they lack the necessary parenting skills to properly raise their children

but they do have their children‘s best interest at heart. However, according to Tony Tanner in

his book Jane Austen Sir Walter is ―a wretched example of both a man and a father‖ (216).

Furthermore, he calls Sir Walter a ―sterile and life-denying figure‖ (212), who is to blame for

the fact that ―Anne [is] born into repression and non-recognition‖ (212).

2.3.1 Sir Walter: Combining Narcissism and Fatherhood

       Austen defines Sir Walter as a man whose ―vanity [is] the beginning and end of [his]

character; vanity of person and of situation‖ (4). The reader learns that Sir Walter only takes

pride in his looks and in his title and status as a baronet; in fact, ―few women could think

more of their personal appearance then he did; nor could the valet of any new made lord be

more delighted with the place he held in society‖ (Austen, 4). These character traits dominate

his behaviour to other persons including his three daughters. Furthermore, he is their single

biological parent since Lady Elliot died when Anne Elliot, the heroine of the novel, was only

13 years old. He values his daughters for what they contribute to his sense of vanity and that

means that he only appreciates his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, because she takes after him,

both in looks and ambitions, and his other two daughters are considered to be of no real


       For one daughter, [Sir Walter‘s] eldest, he would really have given up any thing,

       which he had not been very much tempted to do. Elizabeth had succeeded, at sixteen,

       to all that was possible, of her mother‘s rights and consequence; and being very

       handsome, and very like himself, her influence had always been great, and they had

       gone on together most happily. His two other daughters were of very inferior value.

       Mary had acquired a little artificial importance, by becoming Mrs. Musgrove; but

       Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed

       her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or

       sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way—she was

       only Anne. (Austen, 5)

Tanner calls Sir Walter‘s liking of Elizabeth because she resembles him in appearance and

disposition an example of ―parenthood as narcissism‖ (209) because it shows that Sir Walter

―is only interested in himself and what reflects him‖ (209). This attitude becomes even clearer

when looking at Sir Walter‘s attitude towards Anne. He tends to ignore her because she is

nothing like him at all and his only hope for her was to marry well and to provide him with

another entry in the Baronetage he is so fond of reading: ―[Sir Walter] had found little to

admire in [Anne] (so totally different where her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his

own); there could be nothing in them now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.

He had never indulged much hope, he had now none, of ever reading her name in any other

page of his favourite work‖ (Austen, 5).

       Sir Walter is in no way interested in Anne‘s wellbeing, nor that of Mary his youngest

daughter and continuously shows her his contempt. For example, at nineteen years old Anne

was engaged to Frederick Wentworth, who was not a man of fortune, and Sir Walter

discouraged it: ―Sir Walter, on being applied to, without actually withholding his consent, or

saying it should never be, gave it all the negative of great astonishment, great coldness, great

silence, and a professed resolution of doing nothing for his daughter‖ (Austen, 18). The fact

that Sir Walter might disapprove of such a marriage is not the problem, because it only fits the

contemporary views on marriage partly being an economic safeguard for the parties involved.

His manner of turning down the marriage proposal is the problem. Austen specifically

mentions that Sir Walter does not literally reject the engagement, but he does openly declare

that he does not intend to provide his daughter with a dowry, which makes the situation all the

more painful for Anne. It is difficult to believe that Sir Walter means to do what is right by

Anne and that he is acting for the best in this matter when it is clear from the careless and

uninterested manner Sir Walter exhibits to deal with this problem that he does not really care

what happens to Anne in the future at all.

       Furthermore, Sir Walter does not take any thing that Anne might want or need into

consideration. Due to Sir Walter´s pattern of spending the Elliot family is obliged to move

away from Kellynch Hall because they can no longer afford to live there, much to Anne´s

dismay. However, Sir Walter does not think once of the pain this removal might cause Anne

and certainly does not take her wishes into consideration:

       Sir Walter would quit Kellynch Hall; and after a very few days more of doubt and

       indecision, the great question of wither he should go, was settled, and the first outline

       of this important change made out. There had been three alternatives, London, Bath, or

       another house in the country. All Anne‘s wishes had been for the latter […] But the

       usual fate of Anne attended her, in having something very opposite from her

       inclination fixed on. She disliked Bath, and did not think it agreed with her—and Bath

       was to be her home. (Austen, 10)

The only time Sir Walter is interested in Anne‘s interests and acquaintances is when she does

something that interferes with his own ambitions. For example, when Anne arrives in Bath

she meets a woman she knows from school and she starts to visit her regularly. At some point

one of these appointments coincides with an invitation from the Ladies Dalrymple, who are

very wealthy and distantly related to Sir Walter Elliot, and all of a sudden Sir Walter shows

an interest in Anne‘s comings and goings:

       Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay returned one morning from Laura-place, with a

       sudden invitation from Lady Dalrymple for the same evening, and Anne was already

       engaged, to spend that evening in Westgate-buildings. She was not sorry for the

       excuse. [...] –and she declined on her own account with great alacrity.—―She was

       engaged to spend the evening with an old schoolfellow‖. [Sir Walter and Elizabeth]

       were not much interested in any thing relative to Anne, but still there were questions

       enough asked, to make it understood what this old schoolfellow was; and Elizabeth

       was disdainful, and Sir Walter severe. (Austen, 104)

Still, Sir Walter is not at all interested because he concerns himself about whom his daughter

is acquainted with but because he wants to make a good impression on his cousin Lady

Dalrymple. Sir Walter is incapable of understanding that Anne might think other things more

important than coming into good grace with an influential and wealthy relative because of his

vanity and his preoccupation with status:

       Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Every thing

       that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations

       are inviting to you [...] –A widow Mrs. Smith, lodging in Westgate-buildings! –A poor

       widow, barely able to live, between thirty and forty—a mere Mrs. Smith, of all people

       and all names in the world, to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be

       preferred by her, to her own family connections among the nobility of England and

       Ireland! Mrs. Smith, such a name! (Austen, 104)

It is rather sad that Sir Walter speaks reproachfully of Anne‘s acquaintances since he is

actually the one that keeps Anne mostly excluded from most of the activities of the family

where she could meet ―any people of real understanding‖ (Austen, 5). For example, the

narrator speaks of the yearly trips to London that Sir Walter and Elizabeth go on, but Anne is

never to accompany them.

       Whereas Mr and Mrs Bennet and Mr. Woodhouse are inadequate parents, Sir Walter

Elliot fully qualifies as a bad parent because of his overt neglect of Anne in favour of his

eldest daughter Elizabeth. In the preface to the Norton Critical Edition of Persuasion Patricia

Meyer Stacks astutely notices that Austen makes it very clear that ―Sir Walter, for whom his

own appearance and rank constitute the primary standard of value against which he judges

others (usually to their disadvantage), cares not at all for the welfare of his daughter Anne,

whom he considers to be plain and unlikely to marry well‖ (xi). Furthermore, it is clear that

Sir Elliot never attempts to mend his ways and become more responsible as a father and as a

human being. In Persuasion Austen presents a father who is first and foremost a narcissist,

who is only capable of loving his eldest daughter because he managed to create almost an

exact copy of himself in her.

2.3.2 Lady Russell: Substituting Lady Elliot

       It is clear that Anne Elliot has nothing in common with her father and that her own

manners are not in any way affected by her father‘s. In fact, Austen suggests that Anne takes

after her mother in looks as well as behaviour. Furthermore, whenever Anne is in need of

advice or help she turns to Lady Russell, whose behaviour functions as a model for Anne‘s.

For example, she ultimately rejected Captain Wentworth‘s first offer of marriage because of

Lady Russell‘s advice and not because her father was opposed to it: ―Young and gentle as

[Anne] was, it might yet have been possible to withstand her father‘s ill-will, though

unsoftened by one kind word or look on the part of her sister—but Lady Russell, whom she

had always loved and relied on, could not, with such steadiness of opinion, and such

tenderness of manner, be continually advising her in vain‖ (Austen, 19).

       Lady Russell stepped in as surrogate mother when Lady Elliot died. Compared to

Emma‘s dead mother Austen provides much more information about Lady Elliot‘s character

and about the way she thought fit to raise her children and this makes her position as absent

mother one of the hardest to fill:

       Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable, whose judgement and

       conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady

       Elliot, had never required indulgence afterwards.—She had humoured, or softened, or

       concealed [Sir Walter‘s] failings, and promoted his real respectability for seventeen

       years; and though not the very happiest being in the world herself, had found enough

       in her duties, her friends and her children, to attach her to life, and make it no matter

       of indifference to her when she was called on to quit them.—Three girls, the two

       eldest sixteen and fourteen, was an awful legacy for a mother to bequeath; an awful

       charge rather, to confide to the authority and guidance of a conceited, silly father.

       (Austen, 4)

Austen is determined to show that Sir Walter is absolutely unfit as a father by presenting a

picture of Lady Elliot as everything a mother should be. Furthermore, Lady Russell is the

obvious choice to act as a surrogate parent because of her close ties in friendship with Lady

Elliot. Lady Elliot seemed to have relied ―on [Lady Russell‘s] kindness and advice [...] for the

best help and maintenance of the good principles and instruction which she had been

anxiously giving her daughters‖ (Austen, 4.)

       Compared to Ms. Taylor‘s influence on Emma, that of Lady Russell on Anne is of

much more consequence and from the description in the text it becomes clear that she is

genuinely concerned for Anne‘s wellbeing and wants the best for her:

       She was a benevolent, charitable, good woman, and capable of strong attachments;

       most correct in her conduct, strict in her notions of decorum, and with manners that

       were held a standard of good-breeding. She had a cultivated mind, and was, generally

       speaking, rational and consistent. (Austen, 9)

Lady Russell tries to make sure that Anne has somebody to turn to for advice and comfort

because she does not expect Anne‘s own family to provide it for her. Furthermore, she is

genuinely concerned and pained about the way Sir Walter and Elizabeth treat Anne. For

example, when the Elliots are moving to Bath it turns out that they prefer the company of

Mrs. Clay, an unrelated friend of Elizabeth‘s, over that of Anne, which upsets Lady Russell

very much:

       Lady Russell was almost startled by the wrong of one part of the Kellynch-hall plan,

       when it burst on her, which was, Mrs. Clay being engaged to go to Bath with Sir

       Walter and Elizabeth, as a most important and valuable assistant to the latter in all the

       business before her. Lady Russell was extremely sorry that such a measure should

       have been resorted to at all—wondered, grieved, and feared—and the affront it

       contained to Anne, in Mrs. Clay being of so much use, while Anne could be of none,

       was very sore aggravation. (Austen, 23)

Furthermore, Persuasion is the only novel of the three where the heroine actually admits to

having acknowledged the substitute parent as a parent. In Emma, Ms. Taylor never really

takes over the place of Mrs. Woodhouse and never really surpasses her status as special friend

but Anne actually acknowledges she considers Lady Russell as a parent; she literally says that

―to [her Lady Russell] was in the place of a parent‖ (Austen,164).

       Still, Lady Russell has one character flaw that Austen sees fit to criticize because it

clouds her judgement in deciding what is best for Anne. Austen points out to the reader that

Lady Russell ―[has] prejudices on the side of ancestry; she [has] a value for rank and

consequence which [blinds] her a little to the faults of those who [possess] them‖ (Austen, 9).

Precisely this character flaw drives Lady Russell to persuade Anne to decline Captain

Wentworth‘s first offer of marriage and makes her try to get Anne interested in marrying Mr.

Elliot, the heir to Kellynch-hall:

       I am no match-maker, as you well know said Lady Russell, [...] I only mean that if Mr.

       Elliot should some time hence pay his addresses to you, and you should be disposed to

       accept him. [...] A most suitable connection every body must consider it—but I think it

       might be a very happy one [...] I own that to be able to regard you as the future

       mistress of Kellynch, the future Lady Elliot—to look forward and see you occupying

       your death mother‘s place, succeeding to all her rights, and all her popularity, as well

       as to all her virtues, would be the highest possible gratification to me. (Austen, 105-


On the one hand Lady Russell is genuinely interested in Anne‘s well-being and recognises

that the one place where she would be happy is at Kellynch hall where she grew up, but on the

other hand Lady Russell also uses the memory of Anne‘s dead mother to make the match she

has in mind more appealing to Anne. Furthermore, Lady Russell is so intent on arranging a

match between Anne and Mr. Elliot that she does not notice that Mr. Elliot is not all that he

professes to be, and that is a perfect example of the blindness to other people‘s faults that

Austen is talking about. Anne, on the other hand, is aware of the fact that something about

Mr. Elliot is not right and is therefore not surprised when her friend Mrs. Smith tells her about

Mr. Elliot‘s true intentions behind his attentions to her: ―I have heard nothing which really

surprises me. I know those who would be shocked by such a representation of Mr. Elliot, who

would have difficulty in believing it; but I have never been satisfied. I have always wanted

some other motive for his conduct than appeared‖ (Austen, 138).

       However, Austen is right in pointing out that Lady Russell‘s preoccupation with status

is a character flaw that makes her less fit to be a substitute parent but the reader must not

forget that Anne is a woman of twenty-seven years old and that she is nearing an age when

the opportunities to marry lessened considerably in the nineteenth century and it most likely

Lady Russell is just trying to make sure that Anne is well provided for because she fears that

Sir Walter might not do his duty towards her. Perhaps Lady Russell is making a somewhat

desperate but well meant attempt to remove Anne from ―the partialities and injustice of her

father‘s house‖ (Austen, 20). Moreover, Lady Russell generously acknowledges at the end of

her novel that her initial judgement of Captain Wentworth was false ―and if her second object

was to be sensible and well-judging, her first was to see Anne happy. She loved Anne better

than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness of the beginning was over, found

little hardship in attaching herself as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of

her other child‖ (Austen, 166).

       All in all Austen shows Lady Russell to be a very satisfactory substitute mother, who

really acknowledges and changes the one character flaw that might have rendered her

incapable of doing justice to her position before. Furthermore, even though she functions as a

surrogate for Lady Elliot, Lady Russell seems to have a better grasp of what it means to be a

mother than both Mrs. Bennet and Ms. Taylor and she has earned the right to call Anne her


2.3.3 Elizabeth and Mary Elliot: Inadequate Father Makes Inadequate Sisters

       Anne is not only treated badly by her father but by both of her sisters as well. The

treatment she receives from Elizabeth, her elder sister by three years is the worst. Elizabeth is

almost an exact copy of her father in character and behaviour. Basically, Elizabeth‘s treatment

of Anne is the same as Sir Walter‘s, she does not love her sister and treats her with cold

contempt. However, while Sir Walter mostly ignores Anne altogether, Elizabeth makes it

verbally known to Anne that she is unwanted. For example, when the family is about to move

to Bath it is unclear where Anne should go but Elizabeth soon clarifies the situation: ―I cannot

possibly do without Anne, was Mary‘s reasoning; and Elizabeth‘s reply was, Then I am sure

that Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath‖ (Austen, 23). Furthermore, to

create even more distance between herself and Anne she refers to Sir Walter Elliot as ―my

father‖ (Austen, 24). Finally Elizabeth‘s reaction, the fact that she ―looked cold and

unconcerned‖ (Austen, 165), to Anne‘s eventual marriage to Captain Wentworth is typical of

her behaviour in general towards Anne.

       Sir Walter‘s influence on Mary, the youngest Elliot sister, is only a little less than his

influence on Elizabeth. His influence is mostly recognisable in her conceited manner and her

tendency to always draw all attention to herself. Nevertheless, Mary is portrayed as the nicer

sister of the two. Mary is described as being ―not so repulsive and unsisterly as Elizabeth, nor

so inaccessible to all influence of [Anne]‖ (Austen, 29), instead she is infinitely silly and

foolish which accounts for much of her actions and exclamations. Unfortunately, her

behaviour is far from what good sisterly behaviour is supposed to be. Mary simply expects

Anne to be at her side whenever she needs her and she certainly does not take Anne‘s feelings

and opinion into account. For example, Mary wonders why Anne did not immediately come

to see her in response to a letter that she wrote about being ―so ill [she] can hardly speak‖

(Austen, 25). However, when Anne replies that she has been busy at Kellynch because of the

pending move Mary can only reply with ―Dear me!, what can you possibly have to

do?‖(Austen, 26, Austen‘s emphasis). With this sentence Austen shows that Mary does not

think much of Anne‘s usefulness as well as the rest of the family. Still, Austen implies that it

is Mary‘s stupidity rather than ill-will that is the cause of the discomfort she might cause

Anne because ―Mary had no feelings to make her respect her sister‘s in a common way; but

she was perfectly unsuspicious of being inflicting any peculiar wound‖ (Austen, 41) while

Elizabeth and Sir Walter seem to be intentionally hurtful towards Anne.

       Furthermore, Mary is just as preoccupied with rank and status as Sir Walter and

Elizabeth are and has no scruple about looking down on people and demanding to be treated

in a way she thinks is fitting for someone of her status. For instance, Mary goes to great

lengths to convince herself that Captain Wentworth is interested in courting Henrietta

Musgrove, a younger sister of her husband, because she fears that Henrietta will get involved

with another man from the Hayter family of decidedly less fortune and status. It is very clear

from the text that ―she looked down very decidedly upon the Hayters, and thought it would be

quite a misfortune to have existing connections between the families renewed—very sad for

herself and her children‖ (Austen, 51) because she is convinced that it will affect her own

status in society. Her attitude is ridiculous because Charles Hayter is an utterly respectable

man who ―was in orders, and having a curacy in the neighbourhood, only two miles from

Uppercross, lived at his father‘s house‖ (Austen, 49) and therefore is perfectly capable of

providing a respectable living for his future wife.

       However, even though Mary‘s behaviour is infected by Sir Walter‘s vanity and

ambition she does seem to appreciate Anne more than both Sir Walter and Elizabeth. It is

quite possible that Austen intended Mary‘s character to have more or less the same function

as Mrs. Bennet‘s, namely providing a comic context in which Austen could question the sense

and non-sense of certain kinds of human behaviour.

                    Conclusion: Austen’s Views on Parenting Revealed

       One of the striking things about Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion is that

there is something off in the relationship between the heroines and their parents or surrogate

parents. Therefore the main goal of this paper is to find out what roles the parent child

relationships play in these three novels and to what extent these relationships influence the

heroines‘ behaviour and decisions. The first chapter of the paper is used to provide a context

to acquaint the modern reader with family life and family relationships in the eighteenth and

nineteenth centuries. Furthermore, in order to come to an answer to the main question several

aspects of the parent-child relationships have been made using the selected novels. First of all,

the character and abilities of the parents, the biological as well as the surrogate parents, have

been looked at to determine what kind of parent they are. Furthermore, the characters of the

heroines have been analysed to see if certain character traits they possess can be assigned to

one of the parents. Another aspect that has been taken into consideration is if and to what

extent Austen reflects on her own parents in including the flawed parent-child relationships in

her novels. Finally, the relationship between the heroines and their siblings has been analysed

to see whether or not the parents have the same influence on all their children.

        Providing a contemporary context is necessary because modern notions of child

raising, for example, have changed drastically over the decades and it is important that the

modern readers realize that certain things about the parent-child relationship in the three

novels discussed might seems strange or cruel, but were actually quite normal procedures for

the time. For example, parent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were much less

involved with raising their children than modern parents. Lawrence Stone, whose book The

Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 provided the main source of information,

argues that the high mortality rate of children, and adults for that matter, caused the internal

relationship between family members to remain fairly superficial. Furthermore, the fact that

most eighteenth and nineteenth-century mothers fostered out their children to a wet-nurse is

also an important reason why the children did not really bond with their mothers. Moreover,

even when children were growing up they were mostly dependant on the care of their

governesses and nurses instead of their parents. Another important thing that the modern

reader must realize is that families in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mostly operated

as an economic unit, and that marriage provided ways of securing property and fortune. It was

especially important for parents to secure a husband for their daughters otherwise they were

not provided after their deaths because of the current property laws, which decreed that only

the first male in line inherited. A concomitant advantage was that the parents could improve

their own importance and wealth if they married their daughter to somebody of importance.

Therefore, the concerned women did not have much choice in the matter. All in all, family life

and the way family members treated each other was much more distant than relationships in

modern families.

       From the analyses of the characters of the parents it becomes clear that Austen finds

some faults with each and every one of them. For example, Austen predominantly criticises

Mrs. Bennet because of her ignorance and the foolishness of her ways. Her behaviour is

embarrassing for her own family and also for other people from their society because she does

not really know what she is talking about most of the time. Furthermore, Mrs. Bennet‘s

parenting skills are far from adequate because of her obsessive, controlling behaviour. She is

so completely engrossed in getting her daughters married that she does not notice that her

efforts are often counterproductive and have the potential to make her daughters miserable.

Moreover, the additional fact that she is mostly concerned with her own wellbeing and fancies

herself ill with nerves most of the time contributes to the bad image Mrs. Bennet has with

Austen‘s readers. Austen‘s biggest issue with Mr. Bennet is the fact that he neglects important

parental duties. Austen presents Mr. Bennet as a sarcastic man who rather makes fun of his

daughters and his wife than seriously attempt to improve their behaviour. Furthermore, as a

father he should have been in charge of providing his daughters with dowries to ease their

way into marriage but he was unable to do that because instead of saving some of his money

he spent it all. Consequently, Mr. Bennet is partly responsible for Mrs. Bennet‘s absurd

match-making behaviour because she fully understands, despite all her other flaws, the

importance of securing a future for her daughters. Nevertheless, no matter how inadequate the

Bennet parents are Austen created them in such a way that it is clear that they mean well for

their children. However, Austen shows that there is a problem with their approach to

parenting. This is especially clear because she makes Mr. Bennet acknowledge the error of his

ways at the end of the novel.

       In Emma Austen presents a completely different situation. Emma‘s biological mother

is dead and she grows up with her father and Ms. Taylor, her governess, who more or less

functions as a surrogate mother. At first glance Mr. Woodhouse makes a better impression

that Mr. Bennet but the reader realizes soon enough that Mr. Woodhouse knows even less of

parenting. Austen blames this on that fact that Mr. Woodhouse is rather weak-minded and has

a nervous disposition and is prone to having feigned illnesses, which has turned him into a

hypochondriac and a man much older than his years. Consequently, he is completely

incapable of providing Emma, with proper parental guidance. However, Austen seems less

concerned with this lack of parental guidance from Emma‘s biological father than in Mr.

Bennet‘s case because another character is quite capable of taking over, namely Mr.

Knightley. In Emma‘s case Ms. Taylor, the surrogate mother is of not much use either and

that is partly due to the fact that she and Emma are not of equal status. Furthermore, Emma‘s

stubbornness of will and self-importance are also factors that influenced her relationship with

Ms. Taylor. Even though Ms. Taylor is very dear to Emma she has never been capable of

really correcting Emma‘s behaviour. Not much is known about Emma‘s biological mother but

by having Ms. Taylor fail as surrogate mother Austen implies that in this case Emma‘s

biological was the only suitable person to raise Emma.

        The Elliot family situation in Persuasion is the worst of the three novels discussed.

Austen presents Sir Walter Elliot as a man whose parental abilities are severely affected by

his vain and conceited character. He completely ignores his younger two daughters in favour

of his eldest daughter, and he is only interested in her because she resembles him in

appearance and behaviour. In Persuasion Austen portrays a father who is completely

inadequate and on top of that not even remotely interested in doing what is right by his

daughters, which sets him apart from Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Woodhouse. Anne Elliot‘s

mother has died while she was a little girl but in this case the surrogate mother, Lady Russell,

is worthy enough to raise Anne. This does not mean that Lady Russell is a perfect parent to

begin with, for like all the other parents she has a character flaw which causes her to make

mistakes while raising Anne. However, Lady Russell‘s character is the only one that not only

acknowledges her faults but also successfully changes her behaviour which shows that she

truly loves and cares about the wellbeing of her surrogate daughter, Anne.

        The behaviour of all parents influences their children to some extent and certain

character traits of the parents are distinct in some of the children as well. For example

Elizabeth Bennet takes mostly after her father and she too tends to laugh about people and

take things less seriously that she should. The other Bennet children, and especially Lydia, all

possess some of the character traits of their parents, which also cause them to have troubles in

their relationships with each other and other people in their direct vicinity. The fact that

Emma‘s father is completely incapable of correcting his daughter‘s behaviour causes her to

grow up doing as she pleases and always depending on her own judgment which turns her

into a little bit of a snob. Emma‘s sister has a character that is fairly similar to that of Mr.

Woodhouse‘s because of this the relationship between Emma and her sister is fairly

superficial because they have little in common. Sir Walter Elliot is the only parent whose

behaviour does not rub off on Anne but he does succeed in making her life miserable.

However, the influence on Anne‘s sisters is more than clear. Elizabeth is the spitting image of

her father and Mary only a little less conceited and unfriendly towards Anne.

       Instead Austen included the flawed parent-child relationships in Pride and Prejudice,

Emma, and Persuasion to show her readers that people should be aware of ignorance and

folly because it can cause all kinds of awkward situations which are potentially damaging the

reputation and future of the people involved. Austen does not really mean to label the parents

as bad parents, apart from Sir Walter Elliot perhaps, but shows how their inadequate parenting

skills affect their children. Furthermore, the magnified ridiculousness of most parents adds a

comic element to the novels. Moreover, Austen is using the behaviour of the parents to

criticize contemporary views on marriage and status because this is a leading theme in all

three novels. However, Austen is not passing judgement of the ruling conventions of marriage

in the nineteenth century but is merely using the different characters to show the

disadvantages and advantages of marrying for money or for love or both. For example, On the

one hand, Mr. Bennet and Lady Russell, as parent and surrogate parent, both recognise the

importance of money in a marriage but have also understood through trial and error that

marrying for status alone is not right either. On the other hand, Sir Walter Elliot‘s and Mrs.

Bennet are mostly criticised because they are only interested in marriage for their daughters to

secure status. Furthermore, Mr. Woodhouse is of course opposed to marriage altogether,

which Austen does not approve of either. In essence Austen uses the characters of the parents

in Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion to make her readers think about important

contemporary issues like marriage and parenting by showing them different parental

behaviour that influences the heroines and their siblings in different ways.

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Illustration on the cover page: Palazzo <>

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