Sometimes the best family is the one we create for ourselves.
Parenting and marriage appear inextricably linked in Austen's writing: people with strong, loving marriages seem to be good parents: the Morlands in Northanger Abbey and the Haywoods in Sanditon come to mind. Mrs. Gardner is a caring mother; she ends her letter to Elizabeth with the words, "my children have been wanting me for the past half hour." She is aware of them and concerned for them, even amid the concern she has for Elizabeth. Mr. and Mrs. Gardner get along very well during their summer excursion to Derbyshire. Their love and respect for each other also makes them good parents. It is a shame that the best marriage shown in Austen--that between Admiral and Mrs. Croft--has not resulted in children. The scene where Anne Elliot describes the couple's joint efforts at driving their gig shown two adults who share responsibility without petty quarreling. Some readers might be surprised that I think Widow Dashwood is a bad mother, but she raises Marianne to be just like her (that is, excessively committed to the cult of sensibility), and she fails to comprehend the depth of Elinor's anguish over Edward, just because Elinor fails to show her feelings. The good news is that, by the end of the novel, Mrs. Dashwood has realized the error of her ways with both of her daughters and bids well to do a better job raising Margaret. The worst mothers, however, are shown in Mansfield Park: Mrs. Price and Lady Bertram are both indolent, unconcerned mothers. The Price children, however, are saved (as strange as it might sound) by their poverty because they have to work hard to make their way in life. Maria, Julia, and Tom Bertram on the other hand are just arrogant, spoiled children. While Mrs. Gardner is a great aunt, Mrs. Norris is the most evil person in all of Austen's works: one is thankful that she never had children of her own, seeing how she ruined three of the four Bertram children. Thank you Plain Jane for a provocative blog on motherhood in Austen!
Thank you, Betsy! Yes, this is a list to make you grateful for the mothers we have!
This is a truly wonderful and comprehensive list. I don't want any of these women for a mother but I'm so glad they exist. The novels are so much better for them. And thanks for helping me out this week, J.!