Mr Benett and the Failures of Fatherhood

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Mr. Bennet and the Failures of Fatherhood in Jane Austen’s Novels Author(s): Mary A. Burgan Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 74, No. 4 (Oct. , 1975), pp. 536552 Published by: University of Illinois Press Stable URL: http://www. jstor. org/stable/27707956 . Accessed: 29/08/2012 00:55 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www. jstor. org/page/info/about/policies/terms. jsp .

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Bur gan, Indiana Mary University In the few pronouncements about her art in her letters, Jane Austen outlined the main arguments social and political against attributing no theoretical to her work; she admitted preten having significance sions at all, claiming only accuracy and proportion and wit for her vir tues. 1 once Despite again the her well-known of demurrers, subject in Jane I want Austen’s in this essay to raise canvass problem novels? to to social from a “sociological” point of view the nature of her response and economic in English society.

My reason for sifting over the changes in the evidence is that I think an adjustment already finely ground view initiated by the author herself ought to be commonly accepted I want to push a bit against the impression made. that Jane Austen had insulated herself and her art from the social changes of her successfully remark that Jane Austen day. 21 agree with the tenor of V. S. Pritchett’s is a “war-novelist, formed very much by the Napoleonic wars, knowing of prize money, the shortage of men, the economic crisis and directly change in the value of capital. “3

Pritchett’s contention might be illustrated by a general analysis of the inMansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, works social world described in the second decade of the nineteenth which were written century and remark to her brother about the “little bit (two Inches wide) famous *See Jane Austen’s and the correspondence with James Stanier Clark of 11 of Ivory” on which she worked, as the source of her ignorance 1816 in which she proclaimed December 1815 and 1April to write ambitious historical her disinclination novels; Jane Austens Letters to her Sister and 452-53. Cassandra and Others, ed. R. W.

Chapman (London, 1952), pp. 134, 442-43, 2The arguments that Jane Austen failed to cover a broad enough scope are too well in a general way to be listed here. The defenses which have helped my thinking known are those of David Daiches, and the Aristocratic The Karl Marx, Dance,” “Jane Austen, An Aspect of American Scholar, D. W. Harding, Hatred: 17 (1948), 284-96; “Regulated and Donald indis 8 (1940), of Jane Austen,” the Work 340-62; J. Greene’s Scrutiny, recent de More 68 (1955), and the Peerage,” PMLA, 1017-31. “Jane Austen pensible Kettle can finally defend social views tend to be qualified.

Arnold fenses of Jane Austen’s in over the fate of women of Jane Austen’s and her concern Emma because pragmatism to the English Novel In The An Introduction rpt. New York, 1968), pp. 86? 98. (1951; to Lawrence Williams (London, 1970; pp. 18-24), Raymond English Novel from Dickens who followed admires Jane Austen’s steadiness of vision, but he thinks that the novelists its limited in from “social basis” her had to separate her “uncompromising morality” on the tradition. carrying and English Comedy 3V. S. Pritchett, (London, 1970), p. 35. George Meredith 536 Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen’s Novels 537 which? with f the countryside their emphasis on the Englishness they describe, as well as with a pride in the presence of such a national force a number of details connected with the as the English Navy? contain like to of the Regency social awareness period. But I would changed to Napoleon’s less specifically adven attached look at a phenomenon in England, tures and their repercussions yet equally crucial in the to make themselves felt even in the social changes that were beginning am talking about Jane Austen’s I lives of country spinsters. private as a proper foundation for implicit critique of the patriarchal hierarchy inPride and Prejudice, Mr.

Bennet social organization. 4 upon Centering Iwant to consider fatherhood in Jane Austen’s novels, both to annotate in a particular novel and to urge a conviction her specific practice that the later novels include an increasingly acute awareness of the limits of in the lineal family as the basis for the organization of individuals society. 5 Mr. Bennet inPride and Prejudice provides a characteristic example of If we look at him closely, we may how Jane Austen’s works. sociology careful balance be pause to note the subtlety of his portraiture? the tween sympathy to his situation? ut and judgment then we given to consider the sociological of the novel’s final may proceed import declaration of his failures. We should notice that it is in his capacity as a father that Mr. Bennet’s is most consistently It is criticized. position true that the criticism is partly ethical should be able to exert (he himself better in the state in which God has set him), but it is also a set up by his society; any man under criticism of the role of fatherhood such ous a series source of of social stresses would stress be is the tried system unreasonable unreasonably. f primogeniture, One obvi but the comedy Mrs. Bennet 4At many of the entailed and Mr. Collins so richly inheritance inPride and Prejudice the folly of engages that the reader may in this paper will parallel that of Alistair Duckworth in points my argument (Balti impressive study, The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels we agree on the evidence, I differ from Duckworth inmy effort to more, 1971 ). Although of Jane Austen’s show that the tendency social thought toward points most significantly See Duckworth the nineteenth of the significance of century. pp. 2-10) for an appraisal For two brilliant the themes of parenthood and inheritance. reconstructions of Jane see Austen’s with family authority “Poor Honey? Some Gorer’s experience Geoffrey on Jane Austen and Her Mother,” in The Danger Notes and Other Essays of Equality and Brigid and the Stuarts” in (London, 1966), pp. 248-64, “Jane Austen Brophy’s Critical Essays on Jane Austen, ? d. B. C. Southam (New York, 1968), pp. 21-38. and historians of the family generally agree that the strength of family ties Sociologists to political is related stability.

Jane Austen’s critique may thus be tied to the fact that the more and prosperity of English institutions individual growth permitted independence. See Phillipe Aries, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick (New York, 1963). See also Mary Farmer, The Family (London, 1970), esp. p. 42, between social change and inheritance. for the relationship his 53& Burgan to be: that fail to note how cruel the system of law behind it is judged Austen should base so many of her plots upon the injustice of Jane denotes her recognition of its evils even while she uses primogeniture them affirmatively for comedy. eem that the alleviation It would of such moral and confusions wearinesses as Mr. Bennet’s should lie in a readjustment in society as are suggestions as well as in a better application of private will. There as Pride and Prejudice that Jane Austen may be open to the notion early come with a kind of democratic that the redressing of evils must in which a man gets authority individualism and approval through what he does as well as through the position into which he has been no one in the early nineteenth born.

Probably century could have in the apportionment looked at the social inequities of authority with out somehow about a democratic alternative. 6 Jane Austen thinking to some extent have felt threatened the idea of democracy may by inMansfield Park and Emma that she was looking to (there is evidence the established ideals of authority based upon proper stewardship of as the frame for right action), but Fanny Price’s choice of the property to the unfair of Portsmouth rather than obedience independence at Mansfield demands of Sir Thomas defense of Park, Mr.

Knightley’s Emma’s blind snobbery, Robert Martin against and? especially? the in Persuasion of an open portrayal society of naval men admiring to an ideal of worth distributed indicate her attraction among men for their acquired rather than inherited i status. It is possible to argue that Mr. Bennet is the only character inPride and to Elizabeth in the capacity to perceive the in Prejudice comparable and that he may be superior to her in of a hierarchical society, equities his refusal to restrain his capacity for irony. She, after all, restrains that he had yet to learn to be herself with Darcy? She remembered and itwas rather too early to begin” (p. 371 )? while her father laught at, remains irrespressible and unimpressible to the end? “Lizzy … I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should to ask” (p. 376). 7 never dare refuse any thing, which he condescended which ruled family life in the the trivial conventions Surrounded by century and all but overwhelmed by their demands on early nineteenth in The Making this commonsense 6Kitson Clark makes of point quite emphatically Victorian England Mass. , 1961), p. 35. See also pp. 23 ff. for a view of (Cambridge, is very close to the argument in this essay. in Austen’s novels which social change in the text are to The Novels of Jane Austen, ed. R. W. Chapman 7References (London, 1933)’ 5 vols Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen s Novels 539 his time and energies, Mr. Bennet is reduced to two kinds of retaliation which modern readers may find familiar and attractive: he seeks either to sabotage the social process through subtle practical jokes and verbal sallies or to retreat completely to the sanctuary of his library. Thus Mr. an be seen as the only consistent and unyielding critic of are limited, but they seem to be the society in the novel. His defenses (Retreat is, after all, the strategy of Darcy only effective ones available. when faced with the same provincial society that harasses Mr. Bennet, and it is,more pathetically, the only recourse for Charlotte Lucas, once to Mr. Collins. ) she has wedded herself and his insight all that the novel can say for Mr. Bennet Despite the flaws of his society, there ismuch that it has to say against regarding him as an intelligent man who seeks to escape the authority vested in his social role.

Clearly his minor satirical victories are to be savored, but his as a with them at the expense of his real obligations preoccupation father causes him to forfeit the moral justification for irony as the novel Bennet progresses. Even more interesting, Mr. Bennet is shown as a man causes him to lose his capacity to feel; by the end of whose indifference in such the novel his fatherhood and his feelings have become debased a way that neither his most sympathetic nor the reader can daughter take him seriously. Mr. Bennet provides a rare example of a character ho slips from “round” to “flat”; failures in him which may at first seem and tragic are eventually to be obsessive and only revealed complicated It would be unfair to equate Mr. Bennet’s failures with those pathetic. of William Dorrit half a century later, but the fact remains that both are similar in characters their faults by imagining exag rationalizing as fathers which relieve them of versions of their vulnerability gerated any guilt and finally any basis for respect from their children. Mrs. Bennet’s extravagances provide a convenient blind for her etreats to his library husband, and he uses her to justify his continuous on all that passes. The reader can be and to his satirical perspective lured into sympathy with Mr. Bennet because his positive temporarily of his wife’s absurdity provides comic high points through enjoyment out the novel. But however the novel’s famous opening delightfully illustrates Mr. Bennet’s violation of “conjugal de episode playful corum,” clearly as Elizabeth signs of the reader) (and a crucial failure must in her later father. see Mr. uch more episodes Bennet’s practical irremediable jokes are clearly inspired by Mrs. Bennet’s banality; but their intensity, their frequency, and their capacity to wound carry the that their motivation lies deeper than high spirits, perhaps impression in despairing at the endless for contracting irritability responsibility such a marriage. At any rate, Mrs. Bennet has become a convenient 540 scapegoat, Burgan the source for all the misfortunes that have occurred in the Bennet turn for family. economy. She has not brought the family an heir and she has no

It is not merely the lack of money, however, which jeopardizes the chances of Elizabeth and Jane for marriage; it is the lack of what Jane Austen calls “connections. ” Mr. Bennet’s retreat from familial to the exertions leaving the field almost exclusively responsibility? his meant of his wife? has that the younger three daughters have grown too like his wife, have become up to be silly and useless girls. They, as objects of Mr. Bennet’s to be given up by him to a irony enjoyable long process self-accusing of education to tell himself into good that sense; their it is easier characters for him and re unalterable. less in the responsibilities of a society based upon laws of Nevertheless, familial interaction, extensive would be burdens upon any man they or Jane; indeed the web of “connec to marry Elizabeth who wished in such marriages to take tions” involved is what has caused Darcy from the temptations of the society of the Bennets. away Bingham Elizabeth tries to get this point across to her father, but he rejects her remonstrance with a characteristic for its implications and a disregard veiled attack on her self-interest: “Poor little Lizzy! . . .Come, let me see this list of the pitiful p. 231 ). In this fellows who have been as in all others, Mr. kept aloof by Lydia’s Bennet can only tease, folly” and instance, in his inability to find an active solution to the problem of his family he to allude to his legal rights as a father; he pretends that his proceeds recourse in the education of Lydia must lie in assuming the role single of the parental tyrant. “At any rate she cannot grow many degrees worse, 232). The without authorizing us to lock her up for the rest of her life” (p. irony of Mr. Bennet’s joking appeal to the traditional authority his discomfort with his role.

He makes the same of fathers underscores kind of allusion to his “rights” again toward the end of the novel when to be commenced with Kitty. “I he lays out the course of upbringing at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No have officer is ever to enter my house again, nor even to pass through can the village. of your Balls will be absolutely sisters. And you are prohibited, to stir out unless you stand up with one till you prove, never of doors, that you have 300). This spent regimen ten minutes is, of of every day course, totally in a rational manner” impracticable, and (p. t shows father transfer His can find no sensible or humane way that Mr. Bennet to his family, even after the humiliation of having his powers to of severity, fatherhood like his to his wife’s to tradesman his wife’s allusions to be a had to brother. allusions character, Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen’s Novels 54 ! seem to be that philosopher’s that human recognition might ture will have but what it is tightly its way unless leashed, alternatives allusions imagined truly reveal are vindictively defeats. series of demoralizing Surely the most serious effect of Mr. Bennet’s retreat from responsi a such to a bility personal is his increasing amusement. use of his family’s This alternative and his neighbors’ to personal blame troubles denotes for a to feel even for deserving of Mr. Bennet’s capacity degradation of for the wise and the good in his ken. The recognition people? even self role in Elizabeth’s this emotional plays a major deadening for what she has to learn in the novel is how to control the discovery; to irony which she has inherited from her father so that itwill tendency those who do not deserve pain? her sister keep her from wounding and her father himself. But Mr.

Bennet finally cannot take Jane, Darcy, to withhold his best children his barbs from them. seriously enough a severe of his fatherhood The gathering emotional aridity provides indictment of him toward the end of Pride and Prejudice. The caused by Lydia’s have not episodes elopement resolving been much noticed the critics of Pride and Prejudice, but they by one of the most narrated of the novel. 8 segments inspire artfully For example, the novel to focus on Mr. Bennet in his they enable most extreme moments of trial and self-recognition. And they show the emotional carelessness of Mr.

Bennet’s paternity. In his to provide his fam troubles Mr. Bennet is unable or unwilling information about what he intends to do; if he ily with the slightest cannot exert his will upon his family, he will at least keep it guess of his ing. He returns home from London with “all the appearance usual philosophic silent when Eliza composure,” dramatically some word of enlightenment. beth and Jane deserve Finally when he is questioned and comforted he responds with a by Elizabeth remorse which he turns aside in the very act of it, “No, proclaiming I have been to blame.

I am Lizzy, letme once in my life feel how much not afraid of being overpowered It will pass away by the impression. soon enough” When Mr. Bennet’s difficulties with Lydia are (p. 299). solved by the marriage with Wickham, he returns to his arrangements old habit of cynical inertia. “That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his ” in The and Sparkling: ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ Brower 8Reuben (“Light and Bright Fields of Light: An Experiment in Critical Reading does not [Oxford, 1951], pp. 64-81) is of equal mastery with the rest of the of Pride and Prejudice agree that the resolution underestimates the need to work out the situation of Elizabeth novel. Such a judgment and Darcy in relationship with the whole family. own 542 Burgan at present, was to have as little trouble in the business as When the first transports of rage which had produced his possible. to all his former activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned indolence” (p. 309). Mr. Bennet remains a slightly chastened but essen man. tially unchanged are some rewards in store for him: Mr.

Darcy’s role in the There chief wish untangling Elizabeth fortunes of Lydia’s affairs will bring about the marriages to worthy men. But Mr. Bennet cannot rejoice without a series of slighting, nearly insulting slurs. of Jane and in their good Mr. Bennet greets the news of Jane’s betrothal with his usual satire, “I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always omes as close as Mr. exceed Bennet your can income. ” ever get It is a witty to praise for remark, his eldest and and it but it is unfeeling it fails to take into account because gentlest daughter, sense of how little her family has had to offer in her marriage Jane’s contract. thoughtlessness And so she replies, matters, “I in money hope would not be so. Imprudence in me’1 or (p. unpardonable criticized her situation openly? her unspoken to have been and loneliness evident only her reply to her father indicates the novel’s Elizabeth? evertheless, The evenness of temper evaluation of the effects of his fatherhood. is seen in which has almost cost Jane the prospect of a good marriage about her family’s from embarrassment her brief remark as deriving status Mr. as well Bennet’s as from response innate of qualities to the announcement temperament. of Elizabeth’s marriage 348). Jane has never trial of humiliation ismore may be feeling, repeating his three especially his own because mistakes. he fears But soon that his favorite after Elizabeth’s daughter confer ence with him, Mr. Bennet about sons-in-law has returned e can to the full exercise that he admires of his irony; them all declare ismy favourite; but I think I shall likeyour highly. “Wickham, perhaps, husband quite as well as Jane’s” (p. 379). The remark is very clever, but toWickham in in itMr. Bennet ignores the real pain that references cause. Elizabeth has been with Elizabeth’s marriage might connection her father’s wit cannot be completely almost in love with Wickham; innocent here of the urge to wound her as well as himself. The subtlety of Jane Austen’s depiction of Mr. Bennet’s character lies in her undermines and by affection. o the reader to enjoy his satire even while she invitation it dramatically the social context of his actions by widening their Bennet’s effects upon rebellions those near to whom the he owes of conclusion paternal the novel rendering But Mr. Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen s Novels 543 a personal meanness about them; they illustrate the irritability failure within a hierarchical about by continual system, and brought which that such irritability can bring to temperament the destruction and capable of love. To use has been at one time open and hopeful have a contemporary formula, Mr. Bennet is a “victim of the system. And the nature of his tions of society in and responsibility in the judgment chapter. to show about the limita has as much victimization nineteenth the early century as about the realities of such a order in any kind of system. The novel makes status it provides in its concluding for Mr. Bennet in so chooses a man without Elizabeth ready irony in her husband; she seeks to repair the defects of her parents’ marriage without doing but with the wisdom from a her father outright, gained rejecting sense of the use of wit as a weapon against the absurdities of diminished Elizabeth of living in it.

Nevertheless, the world and the responsibilities to and practically; still has the need for a true father both emotionally fill that role she makes an interesting choice in the figure of her uncle, to Mr. Gardiner. has been delighted He is the man whom Elizabeth introduce as her family protector when she meets Darcy at Pemberley, in her family capable of understanding and he is the only man the as an equal in rescue of Lydia, talking with Darcy over the proceedings In this capacity Mr. Gar and in gentlemanly behavior. responsibility diner the represents attentions a vindication of the aristocracy. f the mercantile More to the point, class he and also its claims represents to abdicated of a locus for the authority by Mr. Bennet, and economic survival of his for the moral necessary though are told in the last chapter that Mr. Thus, although we daughters. to Pemberley Bennet, with his faults still intact, is admitted (“He de to Pemberley, lighted in going especially when he was least expected” most cordially by Darcy [p. 385]), it is the Gardiners who are welcomed as parental figures who have fulfilled the role and Elizabeth? as equals, “With the Gar the best in their inheritors. f fostering and guarding the restoration diners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest her into towards the persons, who, by bringing gratitude them” (p. 388). had been the means of uniting Derbyshire, 11 treatment and what it implies about accorded Mr. Bennet The in the lineal family structure characteristic failures of fatherhood early-nineteenth-century England is repeated with variations in the of the novels that follow Pride and Prejudice. In them we can find all the 544 Burgan established with Mr.

Bennet? the elements of the pattern father’s retreat from responsibility, his failure of feeling, and the displacement in favor of more convincing of him, by his most worthwhile children, forms of authority. A brief survey of the later novels will suggest the of Jane Austen’s criticism of hierarchy. dimensions persistent as well The rigidities o? Mansfield Park, in style and characterization as inmoral affirmation, are founded upon its implicit acceptance of the need for authority, specifically paternal authority. But for all its con servative tone, Mansfield Park is a novel about feeling.

The dramatic of Fanny Price resides in the conflict between her emotional of the Bertram family. A responses and the attitudes and prerogatives of the novel that tries to justify Fanny by dwelling on her moral reading a is likely to be embarrassed by her, having to defend pre-eminence as the is most deal of self-righteousness. 9 great Fanny convincing in a family which has become rigid and internally reservoir of feeling on a strict ideal of hierarchy. The isolated because of its foundation first chapters of the novel constitute an essay on how family feeling can of power. be stultified by unequal apportionments interest Like Mr.

Bennet, Sir Thomas Bertram has married, mistakenly, out of an excess of feeling. Because he gave himself up to infatuation once, never to be carried away again. Family it seems that he is prepared about taking up a poor sister’s is so limited that the conversation feeling in calculation, and the vanity of Sir Thomas’ child is a cruel exercise headship of his own branch of the family enables him to set the pattern and their Aunt of his niece by his daughters for a proud rejection in the family to which Fanny is is emotional Norris. There aridity who makes her feel this dryness most and it is Sir Thomas attached, crucially.

He has to “work against a most untoward gravity of deport ment,” and it is therefore difficult for him to help Fanny feel at home. for As she begins to acclimate herself, we see that the major problem and self-important family is the diffi Fanny in this highly organized were very and unappreciated feeling. “Her feelings culty of confined to be properly too little understood to” (p. 14). attended acute, and for her well be the motto about Fanny might This generalization of all his family indeed for the experience with Sir Thomas, experience to Park are “too little understood with him.

Many feelings at Mansfield be properly Austen Jane attended explicitly to. ” blames Sir Thomas’ failure to communicate of Fanny Price’s morality, has written one of the best possible defenses 9Lionel Trilling to our conscious Park offers which Mansfield the “offense even he has to explain of Fanny’s principle in his justification (“Mansfield Park,” The Opposing Self: Nine pieties” [New York, 1955], p. 230). Essays in Criticism but Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen s Novels 545 in the Bertram household. his paternal feelings for much that iswrong Sir Thomas’ anxiety about his role as a father makes him a rigid man.

It also makes him an isolated man. Of all the fathers in Jane Austen’s ideal of the pater familias. He thinks of novels, he has the most exclusive the father as a guardian against influences from outside the household. He of his own niece, but her is initially worried about the influence youth allays that fear. The novel shows just how limited such exclusive ness can be when it reveals the ease with which Aunt Norris can usurp in the Bertram household. And the depar authority over the children ture of Sir Thomas for Antigua further evidence of the destruc gives tion of family feeling by such a rigorous and unresponsive fatherhood. s the only one who feels sorrow at his leavetaking: “The Miss Fanny Bertrams were much to be pitied on the occasion; not for their sorrow, but for their want of it. Their father was no object of love to them, he had never seemed the friend of their pleasures and his absence was most welcome” to Fanny, however, Even the (p. 32). unhappily ismarred by coldness. He is kind to her,but farewell of Sir Thomas it is a chilling kindness? “would he only have smiled upon her and called her ‘my dear Fanny,’… every former frown or cold address might ave been forgotten” (p. 33). A family with such a father cannot help but feel some relief after he has gone, and it is significant that the father’s vacancy is soon filled by two strangers who have no family ties at all. The Crawfords’ nonchalance about their own familial relation contrast to the hierarchical is in marked of the ships self-importance Bertram When returns he is prepared to give his family more affection, but on the very night of his arrival there is somuch to be open hidden from him that his own efforts at openness fail.

His old coldness sets in again, and the family goes back to its emotional and repression enclosure from the rest of the world. The solution for chaos is to deny its existence to talk about it and by closing the family off by refusing of its presence from any evidence outside. tells Fanny that Edmund the family would be happier with a little more company, but perhaps she replies that his father would reject any additions to the family circle, now that it has once again been subdued. “I think he values the very and that the repose of his own family-circle is all quietness you speak of, he wants” (p. 196).

Maria suffers most from the mistakes of Sir Thomas’ his quietness; and lack of insight into her true feelings about her intended solemnity husband lead her to a kind of compulsive rebellion which Jane Austen calls “pride and and Rushworth, self-revenge. ” she assures Sir him Thomas that she asks does? being her if she now loves calm Mr. and family. Sir Thomas 546 Burgan of feeling that Sir Thomas actively approves was satisfied; too glad to be sat “Sir Thomas the matter quite so far as his judgment might if Maria could now speak so securely of that numbness under of as rational control. to urge isfied perhaps have dictated to others…. ith him, speaking her happiness the prejudice, certainly without to be believed. of love, she ought Her feelings proba the blindness them to be so; but her bly were not acute; he had never supposed comforts might not be less on that account. … A well-disposed young more woman, attached who to her did not marry own family” for (p. love, was 201). Sir in general Thomas can but the sacri to the exigencies of family daughter aggrandizement, on the basis of family bonds. the possible drawbacks It is justifying a total rejection error; for one of the results is to be Maria’s tragic her interview with her father, Maria is all of all family ties.

After are told that a to marry We the more determined Rushworth. major factor in her haste to do the wrong thing is her father’s pres ence with the restraints that it brings upon her. Her marriage is fice his motivated in part by “an hatred of home, restraint, and tran quility” “Home, (p. 202). restraint, and tranquility” are, of course, the values to be inMansfield fostered Crawfords reinforces careful, mund’s helps system. consistent, adherence to emphasize Nevertheless, Park. The novel’s portraiture of the orphaned its thesis that character must be built upon a and firm parental nurturing of children.

And Ed to a paternalistic ideal in his calling as a clergyman the novel’s approval of the benefits of a hierarchical in the process of establishing a more humane based upon mutual feeling and image of family and social organization indictment of Sir Thomas’ respect, Mansfield Park presents a powerful kind of fatherhood. Having made a great mistake with his daughter, Sir Thomas her to accept goes the on to make a similar of Henry one with his niece when that he urges attentions Crawford. It is clear Fanny’s only course is to reject his authority when she finds it forcing her into a which she does not want.

For doing so, she is sent back to marriage where she has to contemplate the social role of her natural Portsmouth which his dereliction of duty creates. It father and the muddlement and his elder son’s illness to takes the tragedy of Maria’s elopement to bring Fanny back toMansfield soften Sir Thomas’ Park, fatherhood, and to permit her engagement with Edmund, the only feeling member of the Bertram family. a has become Park, Sir Thomas By the last chapter of Mansfield man. In a long analysis of what has happened to him, Jane changed that can destroy Austen the effects of a kind of authority displays Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood n Jane Austen’s Novels 547 rather than invigorate a family. The rigorous exile of Maria Rushworth to live forever inmutual irritation and her Aunt Norris to the Continent a Dantean force to the punishments and rewards that the novel gives out to those who have failed in proper finally metes feeling for the And Sir Thomas is the character upon whom the moral of the family. a parent, and story lies most heavily: “Sir Thomas, poor Sir Thomas, conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent, was the longest to suffer fort …. but on Mrs. time will do almost Rushworth’s side every for thing, the misery and though she has little com ccasioned, arose comfort was to be found greater than he had supposed, in his other children” his Only after he has been able to recognize (pp. 461-62). as flawed can Sir Thomas reassume his author practice of fatherhood ity and turn to his children for comfort. And the children he turns to are the youngest children. The resolu tion o? Mansfield Park, approving the established order and its rooted ness in the tradition of hierarchy, the eldest dethrones effectively children as the inheritors of virtue and place. Even in this most hierar ismeted out to proved virtue rather than to chical of novels, primacy ascribed worth.

Sir Thomas finally has to place his social faith in a woman true inheritors of low birth and no fortune. The of young Mansfield Park will be the second son and his obscure wife. In writing o? Emma Edmund Wilson has suggested that Jane Austen a search for a father which ends in the depicts discovery of a fatherly a center for strong husband, thereby re-establishing authority. 10 And desite the fact that Emma presents a defense of established orders yet, of authority with easier certainty than does Mansfield Park, the portrait of Emma’s father? making evident the boredom and waste traceable to unearned and leisure? ualifies the affirmation of Knightley’s security noblesse. It is clear that boredom is one of the motivating forces in Emma’s adventures the novel: she has, we are told in the first throughout sentence of the novel, “lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. ” The even tenor of Emma’s un life is only slightly disturbed when her governess marries, and the novel’s first scene illustrates, the inanity of Mr. through Woodhouse’s Emma’s in looking forward to a conversation, plight to getting him “tolerably future devoted It is the evening. through clear that Emma is too bright and too active to be able to accustom to the emptiness herself of her father’s house, and so she begins to 10Edmund 1944), 64-70. Wilson, “A Long Talk about Jane Austen,” The New Yorker, 20 (24 June examined 548 Burgan with the society in which in an effort to she is caught experiment enliven and expand its interest. In tracing the consequences of Emma’s the novel finally affirms the ideal of a humane hierarchy experiments, led by Mr. Knightley, but that does not mean that it is untouched by the ideal of a more open society.

In her various adventures, Emma is to discover the pains of the encroaching in the potential for self-destruction sanctioned by her father’s autocracy, protect herself from the challenges Highbury. In the context simply a fatherly can save Emma but she will also feel democracy, the exploitation of that kind of indulgence, with which she would of the expanding of community Mr. Knightley a replacement as well as of ever-threatening emptiness, for Mr. Woodhouse, replacement through paternal chastisement is not who tenderness. He is Emma’s equal in active concern for the lives of those around him. o the possibilities Thus Mr. Knightley is Emma’s entr? e of social He is able to bear the vulgarity of Mrs. Elton with equanimi openness. Smith with respect. He can give Miss ty, and he is able to treat Harriet Bates and Jane Fairfax that will not humiliate the sort of kindness that Robert Martin is an honorable and he perceives man, them, even at Hartfield. to be introduced This does not make Mr. worthy a democrat, but it shows him to have the kind of social Knightley in English society as it that will become flexibility increasingly necessary and changes.

Emma must have his guidance expands through a series of new complexities, for she is frequently deluded about what is going on around her. Harriet are Smith, Mrs. Elton, and Frank Churchill social facts imported from outside Emma’s safe world; neither caprice nor evasion can cope with them. Knightley’s relation with Emma is therefore aimed toward initiating her into wider realities as well as But boredom her from her own boredom. is not Emma’s protecting her effort at autocracy threatens her with only problem; ultimately are many self-hatred and general malice.

There interesting things but its most brilliant achievement about the Box Hill episode, is the sense it gives of the almost hysterical social aggression inspired by the tensions created when a number of “ill-assorted” people are thrown at all to do. together with nothing In the course of her review of the Box Hill episode, the and of her social but Emma recognizes she characteristi situation, emptiness cruelty herself consoles for her own of her cally folly by thinking relationship a heart” with “As a she she was not without her father: daughter, hoped a to manage Emma Once seeks social from escape (p. 377). gain partial blame through a retreat to her filial status. But that is not enough; Emma must seek salvation outside her family relationships. She must Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen’s Novels 549 her attentions must visit Miss Bates and there discover how humiliating for self shown a capacity be to Jane Fairfax. And then, having she must marry Mr. Knightley. discovery, Emma is tempted to let her Even in the process of her engagement, father’s debility thwart her social salvation. “She could not bear to see to know him fancying himself neglected; and though him suffering, in the assurance of both the Mr. lmost acquiesced her understanding that when once the event were over, his distress would be Knightleys, soon over too, she hesitated? she could not proceed” (p. 483). A failure to proceed would be a failure of social will on Emma’s part; it would fancies she has so often cultivated lead her back into the beguiling to her father may cover a multitude which tell her that her dutifulness as a dutiful her to use her position of sins and which encourage is thwarted by to indulge in snobbish caprice. The temptation daughter can be to live at Hartfield. Such an arrangement decision Knightley’s but I believe that it should of Mr.

Knightley, criticized as a humiliation be read as a sign of his ability to override Emma’s impulse to withdraw her genuinely while honoring saving feeling for her father. Marriage to retain the virtue of tolerance which she has will permit Emma that tolerance in the learned from caring for her father, while widening exercise of a more general good will. of Persuasion The marriage resolution signals in many ways the fact novels of Jane Austen’s that the social tendency lay away from the on achievement of blood kinship and toward the emphasis security individual activity.

Anne Elliott, for example, must make her through she must create occasions for her lover to speak marriage happen; as tain no other Wentworth’s Austen heroine attention must. in a She maneuvers at Bath for Cap way. self-consciously aggressive She must also step out of the safe bounds of her family circle and enter the more boisterous milieu of the Musgrove family home, streets of and the bustling of Lyme Regis, the military openness at the beginning Bath. Anne leaves her paternal home physically of Persuasion’, her marriage will not mean reinstatement there.

Anne to the estab has positively any attachment relinquished landed order her earlier refusal of Charles Mus lished, through to con and family ties; her later refusal grove with his prospects an sider the possibility of continuing her own line by forming alliance with her inheriting closes off any cousin, William Elliot, return to her family home. to attach herself She decides, rather, to the new social order created out of the economic and social opportunities restructuring made available by of English society. he Napoleonic Wars and their 550 Burgan Sir Walter Elliot is the most fatuous of all Jane Austen’s fathers, and it that his stupidity comes from a childishly vain belief in the is significant as well as social? of the lineal family as unchanging legitimacy? moral It is true that the fatherhood of Sir in detail by the Baronetage. outlined similar to that of Sir Thomas Walter carries with it benefits Bertram, ideal of specifically a family estate that has the charm of a traditional Hall passes into the order and stability.

But in Persuasion Kellynch to be and Mrs. Croft who reveal themselves of Admiral possession more because their attention is directed suitable residents outward as creatures of privilege. rather than toward the images of themselves that admirable pair are childless and do not seem enough, Interestingly to regret the absence of a family dynasty of their own. They are content to foster the happiness The fact that of Anne and Captain Wentworth. s to receive her happy marriage friends rather than her Anne through own family is highlighted by the first ending of Persuasion, which places the dence proposal and scene spontaneity in the Croft’s as well as residence their at Bath. mutual In their devotion, indepen the Crofts She will take the future from for Anne’s marriage. provide a model them and their kind rather than from her father. Persuasion is remarkable for the extent to which itdefines the outlines of the new society as separate? as consciously distinct? from the old; hat created this the social consciousness there are similarities between to herself novel and the one that created Vanity Fair. In attaching their way in and the individuals who have made Captain Wentworth Anne knows that she must forego the society the wars with Napoleon, is not the community of her father and enter a larger world where it includes the whole of England. limited to a family circle, but where Anne’s new life will be extended by the frank admission of Mrs. Smith relation and of the naval associates of her husband.

And the domestic “She gloried in being will be attached to a larger, national welfare. ships a sailor’s wife,” we are told, “but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for to that profession which is, if possible, more belonging its domestic virtues than in its national importance” Anne’s father, the dismissal of him, through drawing with Wentworth, contains Jane Austen’s most precise in distinguished As for (p. 252). out his contrast testament to the superiority Wentworth, profession He was now over inherited individual worth of with five-and-twenty thousand pounds, as merit esteemed and activity quite could worthy tatus. “Captain and as high in his nobody. a foolish was no him, longer place to address of the daughter or sense enough to baronet, who had not had principle spendthrift had placed him” in the situation in which Providence maintain himself (p. 248). Mr. Bennet and Fatherhood in Jane Austen’s Novels 55l are designed to rescue In Jane Austen’s the novels marriages which attends the disablement of from the moral heroines collapse of social their natural fathers either through the deadening pressures or the stultifying effects of privilege.

The new husband responsibility the possibility for the creation of a new order, and generally provides there is a promise that the new order will be guarded from conven to be tional rigidity and social malice by the freedom of the betrothed critical as well as loving. I think it is significant that none of the to of Jane Austen’s novels gives any promise of children resolutions hint of a new family to grow out of the come; there is no concluding to fertility in the bawdy allusions failures of the old.

Avoiding fiction and the glimpse of a flourishing nursery at eighteenth-century the end of many Victorian novels, Jane Austen does not dwell on the of her heroines. Why this should be so is of the children promise Austen’s letters show that she was both fearful and Jane complicated. disdainful of childbirth. 11 Moreover, the tightness of her narrative and did not permit her to predict the life outside her moral equations must be that Jane novels. But I think that the crucial explanation Austen did not see the family as a solution to moral and social prob lems. he patriarchal The ideal behind family is the wise and humane and ineffectual, father; when the fathers are irresponsible, unfeeling, the social reality built upon them becomes vulnerable. The patterns of in Jane Austen’s novels show that she was rejection of the fathers aware of this; the ways in which are finally fathers imaginatively to obscurity in all of her mature novels provide a gauge of the relegated for individual rebellions? within the family structure and possibilities thus soon within the society itself. The deficiencies of Mr. Bennet, of Lt. Price, of Sir Thomas of Mr.

Woodhouse, and of the last Bertram, and proudest father of all, Sir Walter Elliot, force the daughters into them increasing reliance upon their own wills. They must disengage selves from the family hierarchy in order to survive. The fact that they marry men who have an independence based on personal competence of the novels maintain indicates that the resolutions but it also shows the search in Jane Austen’s ity, an ideal of author novels for a more are to be found in the Letters, indexed on childbearing acerbic opinions nJane Austen’s under the heading does not index early comments “Opinions: Mothering. Chapman was to bed like the one in a letter of 27 October 1798: “Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, brought to a fright. I suppose of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, yesterday owing unawares to look at her husband” she happened (p. 24). As she grew older Jane Austen as “breeding,” more that for a woman it spoke of childbearing emphasizing frequently was both a bestial and task. dangerous 552 responsible Burgan and humane source of order to re-create the social pos sibilities novels betrayed are about by the elders. the failures of Viewed parents. in this way, all Jane Austen’s he is rarely thought of as a Victorian novelist,12 her por Though of characters who have been socially orphaned and must make trayals their ways in a hostile, economically society, place all of her aggressive novels more in the nineteenth clearly century and in the Victorian a heroine tradition than many of her critics have realized. When like Anne Elliot rejects the security of Kellynch Hall and her father’s ritual to marry a newly wealthy faith in heredity sailor, we are given a sign that Jane Austen foresaw some of the important changes to come in the nineteenth in its fiction.

Indeed, the one century, and to be recorded novelist who most emphatically Victorian rejects the traditional con as a of filial reverence cept Jane Austen specifically acknowledges Samuel Butler remarks mischievously in The Way of All predecessor. in Miss Austen’s Flesh: “The parents novels are less like savage wild beasts than those of her predecessors, but she evidently looks upon them with suspicion, and an uneasy feeling est that le p? e de famille de toutmakes itself sufficiently apparent the greater capable throughout (ed. H. F. Jones part of her writings” [London, 1925], xvii, 21). a Victorian that Mansfield 12A suggestion Park is essentially novel has been made by in “Jane Austen’s Barbara Collins Victorian Novel,” NCF, 4 (1949), 175-85. For an informative in the Victorian novel, survey of the theme of fathers starting with Jane see Van Ghent’s in The English Novel: Form and Austen, essay on Vanity Fair Dorothy Function (1953; rpt. New York, 1961).

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