My local Jane Austen group chose to read this for one of our meetings – various people were assigned (or volunteered) to read particular chapters. I read the chapter on Emma.
Here’s the blurb …
The role of fathers and father figures in Jane Austen’s novels, showing how the destiny of the daughter is dependent upon the father’s character and foibles.
Fathers in Jane Austen puts forward the view that fathers hold the key to the novels and the destinies of the daughters Austen portrays. Mr Bennet is completely detached (Pride and Prejudice); Mr Woodhouse is self-obsessed (Emma); Sir Walter Elliott is vain and profligate (Persuasion); Sir Thomas Bertram is emotionally anorexic (Mansfield) – these and other fathers leave their daughters exposed to destitution, seduction, financial ruin and unhappiness.
IP Duckfield shows that the heroines of Austen’s novels are caught in a trap made by their fathers’ failure to observe their parental duties, and argues that the fathers’ weaknesses lie at the heart of Austen’s novels.
Duckfield judges the fathers on three points (or at least he thinks Austen assesses them on three points):
- Financial security
- Inculcating moral principles
So we can see someone like Mr Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice) is hopeless. He has made no provision for his daughters’ futures – once he is dead the Collins can kick them out as soon as they like. I don’t think he did much for their education (although he does have a good library and he seems to have let those who wanted to read what they liked). Given the way he spoke about his wife and younger daughters and Lydia’s flight I think we can say he didn’t do too well on the moral principles either.
Mr Woodhouse (from Emma) seems to fair a little bit better. She’s financially secure (although that is probably because Mr Knightley is taking care of their finances).
Mr Knightley […] being again at Hartfield on business with Mr Woodhouse […], as soon as Mr Woodhouse had been talked into what was necessary, told that he understood, and the papers swept away.Chapter 3, Volume 2
He, Mr Woodhouse, has engaged Miss Taylor, so he is looking after the education of his daughters (or at least out-sourcing it). I am not sure how he scores on moral principles because I think Mr Knightley does that too. So he is fortunate in his friends, but does that make him a good father?
This is an interesting book, which provides another way of thinking about the novels. I have yet to read the remaining chapters, but plan to in the future.
A review from JASNA