Surrogate Mothers in Jane Austen

Powerful Essays
Surrogate Mothers in Jane Austen

Jane Austen created families of varying levels of dysfunction so effectively, that even young readers of today can relate to the story. In some, the mother was either deceased, not present, or just not the right person for the daughter to rely on. For example, Fanny, Emma, Elizabeth and Elinor all struggle because the very people who are supposed to be looking out for them prove to be completely unhelpful. These heroines may not be able to rely on their actual Mother (or Father) but there often are parental figures that they can turn to.

The mother in Pride and Prejudice is sympathetic, but silly, eccentric and irresponsible. Mr. Bennett is contemptuous to his wife and younger daughters; except for Elizabeth (his favorite) he spends the majority of his time in his library.

In Emma, the mother is dead. She must’ve been clever because where else would Emma get it, but there must have been a lack of discipline of Emma. Mr. Woodhouse is almost a caricature, so he can by no means be accused of giving rational support, but he is "everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper", and to Emma "most affectionate, indulgent father". I would say that Mr. Woodhouse is always concerned and caring, his only fault as father is being too indulgent. Of course, it would be better to have in a father an intellectual companion as well (Like Elizabeth Bennett).

The mother in Mansfield Park , the mother was absent and neglectful having married a poor man who drinks.

In Sense and Sensibility - Mrs. Dashwood is loving, but has too much of a romantic sensibility.

In Persuasion the mother is dead, but is highly praised. She brought up Anne quite respectably. Anne is kind and loyal.

Lady Russell - she really has a good heart and good sense. Lady Russell is not a fool like Mrs. Bennett but she's not an ideal, she gives good advice totally unsuited to Anne's particular situation. I don't think we are supposed to like her – the reader is glad that Anne has her and appreciate her for that reason.

Mrs. Musgrove - simple, warm-hearted, affectionate and unpretentious.


The narrator opens the novel by introducing us to Emma Woodhouse, a girl endowed with “some of the best blessings of existence,” including good looks, intelligence, riches, and an affectionate father. Emma’s only disadvantages are ...

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...She admits that Fanny is a comfort to have around and is reluctant to let her go when Fanny marries Edmund (even though this makes her a Bertram). Of course, what changes her mind is the fact that Fanny's sister Susan will come to stay at Mansfield Park and take Fanny's place.

When Fanny Price returns to her home after eight years of living at Mansfield Park, she is startled by the differences in the two homes. She realizes how fortunate she was in being accepted into the Bertram home. As mistreated as she is by them, things would undoubtedly have been worse if she had stayed at home.

To Fanny Price, her parents come as a disappointment. Fanny's father is a drunk

Fanny can see that her mother is a "partial, ill-judging parent...who neither taught nor restrained her children." Mrs. Price simply does not care--except for William and Betsey. Fanny, since she has been away for so long, is regarded as a novelty, but not as one noticed by her mother for very long. Both parents ignore her, and she spends much of her visit eagerly anticipating when she will be able to return to Mansfield Park. Where the Bertrams seemed distant, they are now seen by her as more precious than ever.