Jane Austen,  Reading,  Writing

Happy Father’s Day

So, tomorrow is Father’s Day, and I still haven’t found a gift for my dad. He is the hardest person in the world to shop for–he already owns every electronic gizmo there is, plus every DVD and CD he might want he’s already bought for himself. I wonder if people in the Regency had this problem? Oh, yeah–they didn’t HAVE Father’s Day then. Lucky them. 🙂

Besides scanning the Internet for possible gifts, I’ve been trying to decide on a good theme for this post. In college, I once wrote a paper on fathers and daughters in Shakespeare. To borrow from that idea, here is a selection of fathers from Jane Austen:

From Mansfield Park, there is the uncle/father figure Sir Thomas Bertram. Now, he benevolently takes Fanny in and raises her alongside his own offspring, but Sir Thomas is really pretty distant in her life, a fearsome figure of authority. He is not outwardly affectionate, and is definitely highly concerned with outward appearances, but in the end he does acknowledge that he should have really spent more time overseeing his children and not left them to his lax wife and crazy Mrs. Norris.

From Pride and Prejudice, of course there is Mr. Bennet. He spends most of his time reading and hiding out in his study, which really who can blame him, but he also comes across as a bit careless to his family’s ultimate fate. With Elizabeth he is concerned and loving, but with his three younger daughters he lumps them together as the “silliest girls in England” (and again, who can totally argue with him?)

From Sense and Sensibility, I guess you can say there is Mr. Dahswood, who dies at the beginning. Yet it appears he loves his wife and daughters and wants to provide for them, hence he makes his son promise to take care of them. That the son breaks that promise isn’t really his fault, I guess…

From Emma, there is Mr. Woodhouse, the invalid. It’s said “she loved her father, but he was no companion to her.” He sees no fault in his daughter, and they spend a comfortable life together indulging each other in their whims and self-delusions.

From Northanger Abbey, we see Mr. Morland, a respectable, well-enough-off clergyman, with “considerable independence, besides two good livings.” But he is not much of a presence, probably because he has two livings and ten children. His wife appears equally distracted, leaving Catherine lots of time to do stuff like roll down hills and read horrid novels.

There is also General Tilney. He is very wealth-obsessed, boasting, annoying, and preoccupied with himself (when not meddling in his children’s lives). I sometimes wonder how Catherine is going to handle having him for an in-law…

And, from Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliott. He spends all his time reading the peerage and probably looking in the mirror. He loves his daughter Elizabeth, who is like a reflection of him in female form, but is quite indifferent to Anne and probably to Mary. “Vanity was the beginning and end of his character.”

And that is my thumbnail sketch of fathers to be found in Austen. They’re kind of a pitiful lot when looked at like that, aren’t they? 🙂 I thought of many other things that could go into this post–fathers in romance novels, fathers in the real-life Regency (btw, the picture is George III, Queen Charlotte, and their Six Eldest Children by Johann Zoffany. Thanks for the tips on uploading pics to Blogger!). But I really do need to get to the shops and find a gift for my own dad, who luckily is no Mr. Elliott or General Tilney. What are some of your favorite examples of fathers in books or histories? Or comments on Austen fathers, either fictional or Rev. Austen himself?

Happy Father’s Day!

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Cara King
16 years ago

I guess I’ve always assumed that Mr. Austen must have been a decent man to not nag his two daughters into marrying. Two daughters, neither of whom ever married — not exactly the norm for that period. Thanks, Austen Dad! (A Jane Austen with a baby every year would have written far fewer novels, I’m sure.) 🙂


16 years ago

I think the fathers in Jane Austen’s books are tarred by the Problem of the Plot: if they were doing their jobs properly, their daughters would be well looked-after and provided for, would have neither the means, the need, nor the inclination to go off and get into mischief, and the books would be very short and boring. Rather like this comment. Sorry!


Cara King
16 years ago

You know, now I think about it, between the neglectful Mr. Bennet (in P&P) and the neglectful Sir Thomas (in Mansfield Park), I much prefer the former. I really get annoyed when Sir Thomas’s bratty kids bully Fanny and make fun of her, and I think Sir Thomas should have noticed!

Okay, glad I got that off my chest. 🙂

General Tilney is just evil. (Pure…evil…)

Sir Walter Elliot is an idiot.

Luckily, of course, all the heroes in Austen books are going to make great dads themselves!!!

So, Amanda, did you find a present for your dad???

Cara (who has no stress on Father’s Day, and hasn’t had any in fifteen years)

16 years ago

Okay, granted, I probably have one image in my head when I say this. . . uh, type this. . . but you just know Mr. Darcy will be a great dad. 🙂

Lois, who is being taken over by the movies! LOL

16 years ago

Mr. Dashwood’s son is not great father material either. A little too wishy-washy, IMO!

I would like to think the spouses our heroines marry will be great fathers except for Elenor’s husband. See I’m so unimpressed with him that his name escapes me!*G*

Cara King
16 years ago

Ah, Santa, you mean Edward! Yes, he does have great difficulty saying “no.” Not the best thing for a father!

But maybe Elinor will say no for him? 🙂

Wentworth would be a good father, but perhaps a little bit uncommunicative?

Mr. Knightley would be a bit overindulgent. To his daughters, anyway. 🙂

Mr. Darcy would be just perfect. (And that goes for Colin Firth Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen Mr. Darcy, or Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy!)

Bingley and Jane would allow their children to walk all over them — their kids would probably end up just like Miss Bingley. Quite spoiled.


Elena Greene
16 years ago

Most fathers in fiction (and this goes for mothers too) are either dead, weak or even downright evil. In Regencies it’s often Papa who couldn’t help gambling away the family fortune–and his daughter must give her hand or possibly just her body to a rake in lieu of the debt. Or hero’s papa who didn’t love him so hero became a rakish scoundrel in consequence.

Do I agree that parents are always to blame? Scary idea for a mother, but I think we do have a huge impact, in real life as well as fiction. As Todd said, plots often won’t work as well with good, supportive parents around.

I have also seen it done where one of the hero/heroine has at least one supportive parental figure, and that helps that character deal with the other, less grounded one.
But I want to see him/her striving too. The hero whose father didn’t love him who is redeemed ONLY through the heroine’s love seems a bit weak to me. Sorry!

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

OK, I did find a gift for my dad! I got him the first 3 seasons on “Northern Exposure” on DVD (and now I can borrow them, too!). They were a hit. 🙂

I agree about the “problem of the plot.” I think that accounts for the dearth of competent parents in romance.

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