This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States, a day that is filled with gratitude for some and guilt or sadness for others.
Though I’m blessed with a wonderful mother, my novels don’t reflect it. I learned early on that, especially when writing about young adults, an author can’t have a responsible and caring mother to help her characters the way my mother has helped me. Thus, some readers might assume that I have a less-than-wonderful mother.
Readers through the years may have made similar assumptions about Jane Austen, that perhaps her mother was like the tactless Mrs. Bennet, or maybe like the relatively passive but caring Mrs. Dashwood. Of course, Cassandra Leigh Austen, Jane’s mother, was completely different from any of these characters. Most accounts show that she matched her daughters in wit and intelligence.
Cassandra was from a higher class than her husband, and, from this, we can assume that she married for love. Most knew her to be a happy and busy mother, running a large household with economy and enjoying the company of her neighbors. She had common sense and a good sense of humor. With her family, she enjoyed reading books aloud and putting on plays. Most importantly, she and her husband gave Jane the freedom to pursue her own interests.
Cassandra Leigh Austen died about ten years after Jane, so she undoubtedly read all six of Jane’s novels, as well as her many unpublished works. I imagine that she got a kick out of Mrs. Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and all the other mothers Jane depicted.
I like to think Cassandra particularly enjoyed Jane’s early manuscripts, especially the hilarious Lady Susan, which depicts the most monstrous mother of all. If you’re feeling a little blue this Mother’s Day weekend, I invite you to come over to the Writer’s Block and sample a little of the sarcastic wit in Lady Susan. I guarantee it will make you feel better. Plus, it will prepare you for the new movie, Love and Friendship, which is based on Lady Susan.
Are you planning to see the movie this month? If you’ve already seen it, I’d love to know what you thought of it.