A father is the first man in a woman’s life. No matter who she is or what she does in life, he is the blue print for how she will judge every man she meets.
The fathers in Jane Austen’s novels range from apathetic to excellent. In honor of Father’s Day, I am going to discuss how these men have an influence on their daughters and by extension, then men their daughters marry.
1. Jane Austen’s first completed novel is Northanger Abbey. The heroine of the novel, Catherine Moreland, has the best of the fathers. Mr. Moreland is a member of the clergy and a father of ten children. He is practical, compassionate and gives his children the best life he can.
2. Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Price and Prejudice follows the tumultuous courtship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. While Darcy is the man that Elizabeth will marry, the first man in her life is her father. Mr. Bennet prefers the company of his books and the solitude of his library over the company of his wife and daughters. In his youth, Mr. Bennet married for looks and not for brains. He delights in openly mocking Mrs. Bennet. In not preventing Lydia from going to Brighton, he nearly lets her ruin the family reputation. But it is his love for his second daughter, Elizabeth that redeems him in the eye of the reader.
3. In Sense and Sensbility, the reader meets the patriarch of the Dashwood clan, Henry Dashwood, for a short amount of time. He dies very early on in the book, setting the plot in motion. The rules of primogeniture dictate that John Dashwood as the only son, inherits, Norland, the Dashwood’s family home and the income that comes with the property. Elinor, Marianne, their mother and their youngest sister Margaret only receive a small inheritance, forcing them into genteel poverty and out of their home. While the reader does not know Mr. Dashwood as they do other Austen fathers, I get the feeling that he loved his daughters and he wanted to what was right, regardless of custom or law.
4. In Emma, Mr. Woodhouse is the father that makes many a reader groan. A widower, he raised his daughters with the help of Mrs. Weston (formerly Miss Taylor). A hypochondriac who fears that death and disease are forever around the corner, Mr. Woodhouse’s conversations revolve around the health of his daughters, son in law, grandchildren and neighbors. In worrying about the health of others, he indirectly allows Emma to be who she is and make the mistakes that she will have to learn from. But, at the end of the day, unlike some of the fathers in Austen’s fiction, he loves his children and wants the best for them.
5. Fanny Price, had things turned out differently, might have born into the household of a gentleman and had the privilege of being a gentleman’s daughter. Instead, she was born to a father who was former Naval office and a mother who disobliged her family by marrying said Naval officer. Mansfield Park is Austen’s most controversial novel and the father figures are questionable. Fanny’s father is a drunk and her pseudo-father/Uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram is distant (emotionally and physically), authoritarian and happily bound to the social structures of the era. But, to his credit, he does agree to take his niece into his home and raise her as if she was one of his daughters.
6. In last place, is Persuasion’s Sir Walter Elliot. Another widower, when his wife was alive, Sir Walter was kept in check. But she has been dead for years. A vain, selfish man, Sir Walter thinks of nothing but status, outward appearance and fortune. His youngest daughter, Mary is only of use to him because she has married and provided him with two grandsons, one of whom is his namesake. Sir Walter favors his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, because she is exactly like him. The novel’s heroine, Anne is nearly forgotten by father, except when she is useful to him.
Now that is my list. Readers, who would you choose as the worst Austen father?