Jane Austen’s Literary Fathers

It has been noticed and dwelled upon that Disney, along with a few others, strip their protagonists of their parents at an early age.  Most princesses you see today start out with just one parent or just a stepmother.  There are a lot of popular television shows that revolve around a single parent raising a child.  It allows the reader to think of the protagonist as an underdog, making it easier to root for them.  It also makes the writing process easier to not have to worry about how a thoughtful set of conscientious parents would affect the story.  In contrast, Jane Austen wrote and developed many characters in a two parent household, but I’m not sure her protagonists always benefit from the watchful eye of their parents.

As an unabashed lover of all things Austen, I have compiled my three favorite quotes by fathers in Jane Austen’s novels, and what they say about their speaker.

Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth has just refused an offer of marriage from her cousin, Mr. Collins, who is also to inherit the family estate at her father’s death.  Her mother, wants her to accept Mr. Collins because if she doesn’t it is possible that Mr. Collins could evict the rest of the family in the event of Mr. Bennet’s death.  Mrs. Bennet has just stated that she will never speak to Elizabeth again if she does not go back and accept Mr. Collins.

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth.  From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents.  Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” – Mr. Bennet

Pride and Prejudice is rife with dysfunctional characters.  The ridiculousness of some of them overshadows the faults in others.  Mrs. Bennet and Lydia are examples of a loud and brash style of ridiculous that immediately catches the readers attention.  At first reading this book it is easy to think of Mr. Bennet as the easy going funny man who does his best to live through a life spent surrounded by silliness.  Upon further review, it is necessary to look at him with a more critical eye.  He uses his wit to demean his wife and daughters, largely for his own amusement, while bowing out on many major events that should have caused his intervention.  An example would be allowing Lydia to travel to Brighton.  This scene is one of the few where Mr. Bennet uses his wit and wordplay to protect one of his daughters.  He is well aware that Mrs. Bennet could never keep a vow to not speak to someone and his decision in this scene to help Elizabeth ultimately helps her to achieve the happiness she deserves.

Emma

In this scene Emma is painting a picture of her friend Harriet.  The quote is Mr. Woodhouse’s opinion of the painting.

“So prettily done!  Just as your drawings always are, my dear.  I do not know any body who draws so well as you do.  The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders – and it makes one think she must catch a cold.” – Mr. Woodhouse

I think this quote perfectly sums up Mr. Woodhouse’s feelings about Emma.  He is in awe of her talents and abilities, finds her perfect even, but he is also constantly terrified that something will happen to her.  More specifically, something that would cause her to leave him.  He shows a similar sentiment to all the women he loves, Isabella and Ms. Taylor being examples.  Once I started writing this I realized how much Mr. Knightley serves as a father figure for Emma.  More than just worshiping her as perfect, he questions her and makes her better.  It’s a bit creepy since they get married.

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