Who is the worst parent in Jane Austen’s novels?

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By Jennifer Abella

“Persuasion’s” Sir Walter isn’t exactly a paragon of parenthood, but he’s just one of Jane Austen’s flawed parental figures. How do they stack up against one another? If you had to choose, who would you have as your parent? We rank the books in order of terrible parents.

6. Emma (Mr. Woodhouse)terrible parents

The good: Mr. Woodhouse cares deeply about his family and friends.

The bad: He’s a hypochondriac who imposes his preferences on others. If people want to eat cake, Mr. W, let them eat cake!

Would you want him as your dad? Eh, sure, why not?  His persnickety ways may be a little hard to take, but overall he’s a harmless, loving father. Everybody has their faults.

 5. Sense & Sensibility (Mrs. Dashwood)

The good: Mrs. Dashwood obviously loves her family.

The bad: You can see where Marianne gets her romanticism from. Mrs. Dashwood leaves it to Elinor to step up to keep the family afloat. Plus, even Mrs. D didn’t know if there was anything between Marianne and Willoughby and she didn’t do much to discourage Marianne from being so indiscreet.

Would you want her as your mom? Yes. She may not have a tight rein on her kids, but she didn’t willfully harm their chances at a good life, either.

 4. Mansfield Park (Mr. and Mrs. Bertram, Mr. and Mrs. Price)

The good: Sir Thomas may start out neglectful and aloof, but by the end of the book he realizes the mistakes he’s made with his children. Mrs. Bertram is a loving caregiver … to her pug. If you’re Tom and your dad’s out of town and your mom’s checked out, there’s no better time to run wild. Is there anything nice to say about the Prices? Their decision to send Fanny to the Bertrams, maybe.

The bad: Sir Thomas is a source of stress for Fanny — even sending her back to her parents in retaliation for refusing Henry’s hand — and doesn’t spend much time with his children at the start of the book. Mrs. Bertram is continually out of it, even asking Sir Thomas what her opinion should be on any given topic. The Prices are boorish and loud by comparison.

Would you want them as your parents? The Bertrams: Eh, you can mostly tune them out. It’s Mrs. Norris you have to watch out for. The Prices: No, thanks. They’re a little too chaotic.

 3. Persuasion (Sir Walter)

The good: He’s funny. Okay, he probably doesn’t mean to be. I appreciate his strong ties to his past — to a point, at least.

The bad: That snobbery. He ignores Anne and Mary for the most part. He spends money like there’s no tomorrow, and he refused Wentworth’s proposal years ago. Thank goodness Anne takes after her mother and had Lady Russell to influence her (except for Lady Russell’s whole “don’t marry Wentworth” thing). He’s so vain, even Admiral Croft notices how many mirrors Sir W has in his house.

Would you want him as your dad? If you can tune out his insults toward you, you could probably live with it. After all, Anne does just fine. Just view him as entertainment (and pocket as much money away as you can for a rainy day — you’ll need it).

 2. Pride & Prejudice (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet)

The good: Mr. Bennet appreciates Elizabeth’s wit and takes her side when she refuses to marry Mr. Collins. Mrs. Bennet cares about her daughters’ futures.

The bad: Mr. Bennet doesn’t appreciate any of his daughters except Elizabeth and doesn’t listen to her when she warns him about Lydia going to Brighton. His benign neglect doesn’t help anyone. Mrs. Bennet is incessant in her quest to get her daughters married, bordering on harpy territory.

Would you want them as your parents? Mr. Bennet probably would just ignore you as the sixth Bennet sib and Mrs. Bennet’s constant babbling about marriage prospects might drive you to run away to Brighton too.

 1. Northanger Abbey (General Tilney, Mr. and Mrs. Morland)

The good: Mr. and Mrs. Morland seem to be caring parents, but we don’t see them all that much, do we? General Tilney on the other hand …

The bad: General Tilney is cold, he’s mean and he’s a fun sucker. Plus he throws poor Catherine out into the night without a servant to accompany her back to her family home. All because she wasn’t as rich as he thought she was.

Would you want him as your dad? No way. He’s selfish, rash and mercenary. Poor Eleanor and Henry! Hopefully Henry and Catherine spend more time with her parents than with Henry’s.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!

One thought on “Who is the worst parent in Jane Austen’s novels?

    Amy Street said:
    October 12, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Very enjoyable article – would definitely not want Sir Walter as my dad though!
    I wrote a couple of blog posts about the Bennet parents which you might be interested in….
    https://amystreetauthor.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/does-mrs-bennet-need-to-be-unreconstructed-now/
    https://amystreetauthor.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/why-the-film-and-tv-adaptations-of-pride-and-prejudice-get-mr-bennet-so-wrong/

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