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Archive for June, 2018

Inquiring readers, Rachel Dodge has once again submitted a superb article. This time she describes the fathers in Jane Austen’s novels. This Sunday marks Father’s Day in the U.S. I lost my own father four years ago. This article once again proves that my father, in every way, was superior to those described by Jane, making me realize how lucky I am and how smart my mother was to choose him.

 

In life, Jane Austen enjoyed a close relationship with her father. After his death, Austen wrote these words to her brother Francis: “His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” (Austen-Leigh 18). In the same letter, she refers to him as “an excellent Father” and writes of “the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him” (144).

But what of the fathers in Austen’s novels? While some of them show exemplary characteristics, others leave much to be desired.

In Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot is described as “a conceited, silly father” (5) and a “foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him” (248). He is more interested in his reflection in the mirror than in fathering his three daughters.

In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney runs a tight ship and dislikes delays. Walks cannot be put off, because he is “hurried for time” and mealtimes must be punctual: In one scene, he is “impatient when his eldest son is late” and expresses “displeasure . . . at his laziness” when he finally comes down to breakfast (154). In another scene, General Tilney is described as “pacing the drawing-room, his watch in his hand, and having, on the very instant of their entering, pulled the bell with violence, ordered ‘Dinner to be on table directly!’” (165).

Royalty free image of Mr. Bennet by illustrator Hugh Thomson

1985 edition of Pride and Prejudice, illustrated by Hugh Thomson and published by Macmillan & Co.

In the Bennet household, Mr. Bennet prefers the quiet of his library to the daily activities of family life: “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 of the house, he was used to be free from them there” (71).

In Emma, though Mr. Woodhouse is good-natured and “everywhere beloved” (7), he is most comfortable at home. He’s described on one hand “as a most affectionate, indulgent father” (5), but we also learn that while Emma “dearly loved her father . . . he was no companion for her. He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful” (7). Austen further explains the intricacies of Mr. Woodhouse here: “He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms” (20).

In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram is a “truly anxious father,” but he is not “outwardly affectionate” to his children (19). Austen tells us that the “reserve of his manner represse[s] all the flow of [his children’s] spirits before him” (19). Later in the novel, Sir Thomas sees “how ill he had judged” in raising his daughters and that he had “increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence” (463). He feels his “grievous mismanagement” and realizes that his daughters “had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice” (463). In his case, Sir Thomas reflects upon, softens, and corrects his own manner.

QUIZ: Which Father is Which?

Finally, the fathers and father figures in Jane Austen’s novels have plenty of interesting advice for their children and fascinating perspectives on the world around them. Test yourself to see if you can guess which father is represented in the following quotes (answer key below):

  1. On One’s Complexion: “I should recommend Gowland, the constant use of Gowland, during the spring months. [She] has been using it at my recommendation, and you see what it has done for her. You see how it has carried away her freckles.”
  2. On Matters of Love: “Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then. It is something to think of, and it gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.”
  3. On Being Out of Doors: “It is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear.”
  4. On Early Marriages: “I am an advocate for early marriages, where there are means in proportion, and would have every young man, with a sufficient income, settle as soon after four-and-twenty as he can.”
  5. On the Dangers of Reading: As he had been “found on the occasion . . . with some large books before him, [they] were sure all could not be right, and talked, with grave faces, of his studying himself to death.”
  6. On the Subject of Daughters: “They have none of them much to recommend them,” replied he; “they are all silly and ignorant like other girls; but [she] has something more of quickness than her sisters.”
  7. On a Father’s Role in Parenting: “[He] was a sportsman, [she] a mother. He hunted and shot, and she humoured her children; and these were their only resources. [She] had the advantage of being able to spoil her children all the year round, while [his] independent employments were in existence only half the time.”
  8. On the Care of Ladies in Crowds and Street Crossings: “Come, girls; come . . . come . . . take care of yourselves; keep a sharp lookout!”
  9. On Being Agreeable: “[He], though so charming a man, seemed always a check upon his children’s spirits, and scarcely anything was said but by himself; the observation of which, with his discontent at whatever the inn afforded, and his angry impatience at the waiters, made [her] grow every moment more in awe of him, and appeared to lengthen the two hours into four.”
  10. On Girls Receiving Letters from Lovers: “Whether the torments of absence were softened by a clandestine correspondence, let us not inquire. [Her parents] never did—they had been too kind to exact any promise; and whenever [their daughter] received a letter, as, at that time, happened pretty often, they always looked another way.”

As you reflect on Austen’s literary fathers, may these examples increase your appreciation of the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and mentors for whom you are most thankful today.

Answer Key: 1) Sir Walter Elliot, Persuasion, 146. 2) Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 137-8. 3) Mr. Woodhouse, Emma, 48. 4) Sir Thomas Bertram, Mansfield Park, 317. 5) Mr. Musgrove, Persuasion, 82. 6) Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, 5. 7) Sir John Middleton, Sense and Sensibility, 32. 8) Mr. Price, Mansfield Park, 403. 9) General Tilney, Northanger Abbey, 156. 10) Mr. and Mrs. Morland, Northanger Abbey, 250.

About the Author

Rachel Dodge is a Christian author, college English instructor, and Jane Austen speaker. A true Janeite at heart, she loves books, bonnets, and ball gowns. For more of Rachel’s literary ramblings, you can follow her at http://www.racheldodge.com or on Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kindredspiritbooks/).

Works Cited:

Austen, Jane, and R. W. Chapman. The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen. Oxford UP, 1988.

Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh. Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006.

 

 

 

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