Mothers and mother-figures in Austen’s books, by Amanda Kai

Mothers and mother-figures in Austen’s books, by Amanda Kai

With Mother’s Day just around the corner in the US, I thought it might be fun to explore some of the mothers in Austen’s books. Jane Austen wrote a lot of mothers and mother-figures. Some are so loveable, you want to squeeze them in a big bear hug. Others, you might like to rip to shreds! But like all mothers, these mamas have some things in common.

They sometimes border on the ridiculous

Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice 1995

“Mr. Bennet, how can you abuse your own children in such a way? You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves.”

– Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister’s sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future.

–Sense and Sensibility

 

They have lofty goals for their children

Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice 1995“My daughter and my nephew are formed for each other. They are descended, on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient—though untitled—families. Their fortune on both sides is splendid. They are destined for each other by the voice of every member of their respective houses”

– Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Pride and Prejudice

 

“A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”

“How so? how can it affect them?”

“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.”

– Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

“If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield,” said Mrs. Bennet to her husband, “and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.”

–Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

“Good gracious! Lord bless me! only think! dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it! And is it really true? Oh! my sweetest Lizzy! how rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it—nothing at all. I am so pleased—so happy. Such a charming man!—so handsome! so tall!—Oh, my dear Lizzy! pray apologise for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Every thing that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! Oh, Lord! What will become of me. I shall go distracted.”

–Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

His mother wished to interest him in political concerns, to get him into parliament, or to see him connected with some of the great men of the day.

–Sense and Sensibility 

 

Her mother too, in whose mind not one speculative thought of their marriage had been raised, by his prospect of riches, was led before the end of a week to hope and expect it; and secretly to congratulate herself on having gained two such sons-in-law as Edward and Willoughby

–Sense and Sensibility 

 

Lady Russell let this pass, and only said in rejoinder, “I own that to be able to regard you as the future mistress of Kellynch, the future Lady Elliot, to look forward and see you occupying your dear mother’s place, succeeding to all her rights, and all her popularity, as well as to all her virtues, would be the highest possible gratification to me. You are your mother’s self in countenance and disposition; and if I might be allowed to fancy you such as she was, in situation and name, and home, presiding and blessing in the same spot, and only superior to her in being more highly valued! My dearest Anne, it would give me more delight than is often felt at my time of life!”

–Persuasion

 

They can be misguided in their attempts to help

Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Anne could combat. Young and gentle as she was, it might yet have been possible to withstand her father’s ill-will, though unsoftened by one kind word or look on the part of her sister; but Lady Russell, whom she had always loved and relied on, could not, with such steadiness of opinion, and such tenderness of manner, be continually advising her in vain. She was persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing: indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success, and not deserving it. But it was not a merely selfish caution, under which she acted, in putting an end to it. Had she not imagined herself consulting his good, even more than her own, she could hardly have given him up. The belief of being prudent, and self-denying, principally for his advantage, was her chief consolation, under the misery of a parting, a final parting; and every consolation was required, for she had to encounter all the additional pain of opinions, on his side, totally unconvinced and unbending, and of his feeling himself ill used by so forced a relinquishment. He had left the country in consequence.

–Persuasion

“I begin to be sorry that he comes at all,” said Jane to her sister. “It would be nothing; I could see him with perfect indifference, but I can hardly bear to hear it thus perpetually talked of. My mother means well; but she does not know, no one can know, how much I suffer from what she says.”

–Pride and Prejudice

 

She knew that his mother neither behaved to him so as to make his home comfortable at present, nor to give him any assurance that he might form a home for himself, without strictly attending to her views for his aggrandizement. 

–Sense and Sensibility

 

They are blind to their children’s faults

Mrs. Weston and Emma in the 2009 Emma“With all dear Emma’s little faults, she is an excellent creature. Where shall we see a better daughter, or a kinder sister, or a truer friend? No, no; she has qualities which may be trusted; she will never lead any one really wrong; she will make no lasting blunder; where Emma errs once, she is in the right a hundred times.”

–Mrs. Weston, Emma

 

“I am astonished, my dear,” said Mrs. Bennet, “that you should be so ready to think your own children silly. If I wished to think slightingly of anybody’s children, it should not be of my own, however.”

“If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it.”

“Yes—but as it happens, they are all of them very clever.”

– Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

 

They can play favorites at times

Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility 2008“She will be more hurt by it, for Robert always was her favourite.—She will be more hurt by it, and on the same principle will forgive him much sooner.”

–Sense and Sensibility

 

Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves.

–Northanger Abbey

 

Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age.

–Pride and Prejudice

 

Wickham, Lydia, were all forgotten. Jane was beyond competition her favourite child. At that moment, she cared for no other.

–Pride and Prejudice

 

 

The instinct of nature was soon satisfied, and Mrs. Price’s attachment had no other source. Her heart and her time were already quite full; she had neither leisure nor affection to bestow on Fanny. Her daughters never had been much to her. She was fond of her sons, especially of William, but Betsey was the first of her girls whom she had ever much regarded. To her she was most injudiciously indulgent. William was her pride; Betsey her darling; and John, Richard, Sam, Tom, and Charles occupied all the rest of her maternal solicitude, alternately her worries and her comforts

–Persuasion

 

They get upset when someone hurts their children or threatens their happiness

Mrs. Dashwood Sense and Sensibility 2008She (Fanny Dashwood) took the first opportunity of affronting her mother-in-law on the occasion, talking to her so expressively of her brother’s great expectations, of Mrs. Ferrars’s resolution that both her sons should marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman who attempted to draw him in; that Mrs. Dashwood could neither pretend to be unconscious, nor endeavor to be calm. She gave her an answer which marked her contempt, and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal, her beloved Elinor should not be exposed another week to such insinuations

–Sense and Sensibility (parentheses mine)

To give the feelings or the language of Mrs. Dashwood on receiving and answering Elinor’s letter would be only to give a repetition of what her daughters had already felt and said; of a disappointment hardly less painful than Marianne’s, and an indignation even greater than Elinor’s. Long letters from her, quickly succeeding each other, arrived to tell all that she suffered and thought; to express her anxious solicitude for Marianne, and entreat she would bear up with fortitude under this misfortune. 

–Sense and Sensibility

 

“I do not believe he will ever live at Netherfield any more.”

“Oh well! it is just as he chooses. Nobody wants him to come. Though I shall always say he used my daughter extremely ill; and if I was her, I would not have put up with it. Well, my comfort is, I am sure Jane will die of a broken heart; and then he will be sorry for what he has done.”

–Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

“Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?”

– Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Pride and Prejudice

 

They sometimes have a falling out with their children

 

But I tell you, Miss Lizzy—if you take it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage in this way, you will never get a husband at all—and I am sure I do not know who is to maintain you when your father is dead. I shall not be able to keep you—and so I warn you. I have done with you from this very day. I told you in the library, you know, that I should never speak to you again, and you will find me as good as my word. I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much pleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.”

– Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

“What poor Mrs. Ferrars suffered, when first Fanny broke it to her, is not to be described. While she with the truest affection had been planning a most eligible connection for him, was it to be supposed that he could be all the time secretly engaged to another person!—such a suspicion could never have entered her head! If she suspected any prepossession elsewhere, it could not be in that quarter. ‘There, to be sure,’ said she, ‘I might have thought myself safe.’ She was quite in an agony. We consulted together, however, as to what should be done, and at last she determined to send for Edward. He came. But I am sorry to relate what ensued. All that Mrs. Ferrars could say to make him put an end to the engagement, assisted too as you may well suppose by my arguments, and Fanny’s entreaties, was of no avail. Duty, affection, every thing was disregarded. I never thought Edward so stubborn, so unfeeling before. His mother explained to him her liberal designs, in case of his marrying Miss Morton; told him she would settle on him the Norfolk estate, which, clear of land-tax, brings in a good thousand a-year; offered even, when matters grew desperate, to make it twelve hundred; and in opposition to this, if he still persisted in this low connection, represented to him the certain penury that must attend the match. His own two thousand pounds she protested should be his all; she would never see him again; and so far would she be from affording him the smallest assistance, that if he were to enter into any profession with a view of better support, she would do all in her power to prevent him advancing in it.”

– Sense and Sensibility

 

But in the end, they always forgive them

 

Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole: one, that Elizabeth was the real cause of the mischief; and the other that she herself had been barbarously misused by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during the rest of the day. Nothing could console and nothing could appease her. Nor did that day wear out her resentment. A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.

–Pride and Prejudice

 

After a proper resistance on the part of Mrs. Ferrars, just so violent and so steady as to preserve her from that reproach which she always seemed fearful of incurring, the reproach of being too amiable, Edward was admitted to her presence, and pronounced to be again her son.

– Sense and Sensibility

 

They would do anything for their children

So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious behaviour, and so earnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that, on the arrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house for ever, had not the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect on the propriety of going, and her own tender love for all her three children determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoid a breach with their brother

– Sense and Sensibility

 

“At our time of life, it is not so pleasant, I can tell you, to be making new acquaintance every day; but for your sakes, we would do anything.

–Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

 

They love their children very deeply

Mrs. Bennet and daughters Pride and Prejudice 2005Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly.

–Pride and Prejudice

 

Mrs. Dashwood, whose terror as they drew near the house had produced almost the conviction of Marianne’s being no more, had no voice to inquire after her, no voice even for Elinor; but she, waiting neither for salutation nor inquiry, instantly gave the joyful relief; and her mother, catching it with all her usual warmth, was in a moment as much overcome by her happiness, as she had been before by her fears. She was supported into the drawing-room between her daughter and her friend; and there, shedding tears of joy, though still unable to speak, embraced Elinor again and again, turning from her at intervals to press Colonel Brandon’s hand, with a look which spoke at once her gratitude, and her conviction of his sharing with herself in the bliss of the moment. He shared it, however, in a silence even greater than her own.

As soon as Mrs. Dashwood had recovered herself, to see Marianne was her first desire; and in two minutes she was with her beloved child, rendered dearer to her than ever by absence, unhappiness, and danger.

– Sense and Sensibility

 

Lady Bertram, though in her own good-nature she would not have prevented it, was lamenting the change it made in the prospect of Julia’s return, which would otherwise have taken place about this time. A great deal of good sense followed on Sir Thomas’s side, tending to reconcile his wife to the arrangement. Everything that a considerate parent ought to feel was advanced for her use; and everything that an affectionate mother must feel in promoting her children’s enjoyment was attributed to her nature. Lady Bertram agreed to it all with a calm “Yes”

–Mansfield Park

 

Another moment and Fanny was in the narrow entrance-passage of the house, and in her mother’s arms, who met her there with looks of true kindness

–Mansfield Park

 

She had been a friend and companion such as few possessed: intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, every scheme of hers—one to whom she could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault.

–Emma

 

Mrs. Thorpe, with tears of joy, embraced her daughter, her son, her visitor, and could have embraced half the inhabitants of Bath with satisfaction. Her heart was overflowing with tenderness. It was “dear John” and “dear Catherine” at every word; “dear Anne and dear Maria” must immediately be made sharers in their felicity; and two “dears” at once before the name of Isabella were not more than that beloved child had now well earned.

–Northanger Abbey

 

There is a quickness of perception in some, a nicety in the discernment of character, a natural penetration, in short, which no experience in others can equal, and Lady Russell had been less gifted in this part of understanding than her young friend. But she was a very good woman, and if her second object was to be sensible and well-judging, her first was to see Anne happy. She loved Anne better than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness of the beginning was over, found little hardship in attaching herself as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of her other child.

–Persuasion

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Which mother/mother-figure is your favorite one? Who do you think is the worst mother in Austen’s books?

To all the moms out there who are reading this, have a Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Until next time, Happy Reading,

Amanda Kai

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8 COMMENTS
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Buturot
Buturot
May 9, 2022 12:09 AM

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers!!!

DarcyBennett
DarcyBennett
May 1, 2022 7:33 PM

Enjoyed the post. I think the best mother is Mrs Dashwood though Mrs Bennet is my favorite. Hope everyone has a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
May 1, 2022 2:30 PM

Fabulous post! Thank you for sharing.

Buturot
Buturot
April 30, 2022 1:53 PM

Enjoyed this post. Not familiar much with all the other stories but the ones I know, I like Mrs. Bennet (shocking!!!) from the ones you posted. I see her as a simple minded mother (with a little low intellect. Because of this, I kind of pardoned her for certain things). She just wants to marry them off so they can have a stable life and someone to care for them. Maybe that’s how she perceived what happened to her, lowly but married into the gentry, that luck will just follow later on.

Buturot
Buturot
April 30, 2022 2:07 PM
Reply to  Buturot

Athough it is wrong, I cannot blame her for hating & being rude to Mr. Darcy (even for all his status/wealth) because he slighted her least favorite daughter. I admire it a little, for mothers (even animals) go on attack mode to protect/defend their offsprings.

Happy Mother’s day to all!!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
April 29, 2022 7:24 PM

Nice post! Love all the quotes! Happy Mother’s day!

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
April 29, 2022 5:29 PM

Mrs. Jennings was successful in advantageous marriages for her daughters [her Charlotte and Lady Middleton]. With two successes under her belt, she acted the motherly type in trying to marry off all the single young ladies that she knew. Another was Mrs. Gardiner. I believe that the motherly influence Mrs. Gardiner had on Jane and Elizabeth was what made them so different from their younger sisters. They and their behavior stood out from the rest of their family and even the other ladies in Meryton.

Mrs. Ferras is my choice as the worst mother. She disinherited her son. She threw him out with no means of support AND it was irrevocable. No, I do not like her. This was an interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

Mary
Mary
April 29, 2022 4:37 PM

Best- Mrs Dashwood. Worst Mrs Bennett

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