Friday 24 October 2014

Austen, Jane "Emma"

Austen, Jane "Emma" - 1816
The Motherhood and Jane Austen Book Club

This was the fourth book I read with this blog and the challenge to read and discuss Jane Austen's novels with a view of the mothers in the stories.

The first three novels we discussed were "Pride & Prejudice", "Mansfield Park" and "Persuasion" which I have already reviewed earlier.

If you have not read this novel, I refer you to my more general review here because this one will contain spoilers.

I think Emma is the Jane Austen novel with the least mothers or mother figures. We have a few who take the place of mothers but the mothers themselves take a very small place in the novel. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about each one of them and how they influence the other characters.

Mothers: Mrs. Bates, Mrs. John Knightley
Mothers not present: Mrs. Woodhouse
Non-Mothers: Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Churchill

Mrs. Bates
Mrs. Bates is the mother of the very talkative Miss Bates. We don't hear much from the mother but can gather from her daughter and some other remarks what kind of destiny Mrs. Bates had. She is probably the equivalent of Mrs. Dashwood in "Sense & Sensibility" (or what Mrs. Bennett fears in "Pride & Prejudice") because she used to be rich and now is very poor. She therefore must have lost her wealth with the death of her husband whose estate and money went to a distant relative who didn't think he needed to take care of Mrs. Bates and her daughter.

She is a calm and quiet person, too old and too sick to do anything for her daughter and also has no influence on any of the other characters in the novel.

Mrs. John Knightley née Woodhouse
Emma' sister Isabella is married to Mr. John Knightley, the brother of THE Mr. Knightley. She is probably more like her father than she is like her mother, she definitely inherited his fear of catching any illness that is around. The Knightleys are a family family, very close to their children, very caring for them but that's about all we hear from them.

Mrs. Woodhouse
Mrs. Woodhouse, mother of Emma and Isabella, is Mr. Woodhouse's late wife. Her early death might have influenced his hypochondria but I am sure there were some hints of it already there before her demise.

Would Emma have been a different person had her mother been alive? Probably. Since we don't know much about her, we can only assume that she might have been a little stricter than her father who is over-afraid of losing her to anything or than her governess who seems to have been more like a friend than a parent.

Mrs. Weston née Taylor
At the beginning of the novel, Miss Taylor, Emma's governess of many years, marries Mr. Weston, a "man of means". We don't really see her working at Highbury, the Woodhouses' residence, but the families visit each other and there are several discussions with Mr. Knightley about Emma. From that we can get a good idea how she treated Emma and that her indulgences have led Emma to become a young lady who thinks the world of herself and that she knows everything. Mrs. Weston has become the surrogate mother to Emma although she was a little indulgent with her and functioned more like a friend, she loves her as much as a daughter and Emma loves Mrs. Weston as much as a mother but I don't think she did Emma a great service in raising her without any strictness at all.

Mrs. Churchill
Mr. Weston, who marries Miss Taylor, Emma's governess, has a son. When his wife died, Frank was still very little and so his wife's childless brother and his wife raised him. Mrs. Churchill seems to be a very demanding mother, she relies on Frank a lot and won't let him go to visit his father, even for his wedding.
Is she a good mother? Well, she took in her husband's nephew but that was something that a lot of people did at the time, even one of Jane Austen's own brothers grew up in another family. She surely comes around as being very selfish because Frank has to hide his love to Jane Fairfax and can only marry her after Mrs. Churchill dies. Since we never really get to meet her in person, only hear her talked about by those people who would like to see Frank more often, we can only judge her by the negative vibes we get from her acquaintances.

All in all, not many mothers in this novel but still some that have a huge influence on the story.

From the back cover:

"'I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like,' Jane Austen wrote, but young Emma Woodhouse, in spite of her weaknesses, has charmed generations of readers. Bossy, a little spoilt, and too eager to control other's lives for what she believes is their own good, she creates misunderstandings with every tactic she employs. But when her attempts to match-make go awry, she learns a hard lesson about life, love, and growing up. The world's greatest works of literature are now available in beautiful keepsake volumes. Bound in real cloth, and featuring gilt edges and ribbon markers, these beautifully produced books are a wonderful way to build a handsome library of classic literature. These are the essential novels that belong in every home. They'll transport readers to imaginary worlds and provide excitement, entertainment, and enlightenment for years to come. All of these novels feature attractive illustrations and have an unequalled period feel that will grace the library, the bedside table or bureau."

This was the fourth book I read with this blog and the challenge to read and discuss Jane Austen's novels with a view of the mothers in the stories.

Other Jane Austen novels I have read with regard to Motherhood:
"Emma" - 1816
"Mansfield Park" - 1814
"Northanger Abbey" - 1818
"Persuasion" - 1817
"Pride & Prejudice" - 1813
"Sense & Sensibility" - 1811

Find a link to all my Jane Austen reviews here.

See more comments on my ThrowbackThursday post in 2022.


  1. I'm not a big Emma fan, I agree with Miss Austen, only a heroine that the author would like. She's very real though and I've known a number of girls/women like her. Other than Mrs. Weston none of the Mother/surrogates stand out for me. I do think a stronger mother figure might have made a difference in Emma's life.
    I've read the book a couple of times, but it's still not a favorite.

  2. I keep telling myself I need to re-read this one. I've never really been as crazy about the book but I've always liked the 1996 film version with Kate Beckinsdale.

  3. Thank you for your comments, ladies. I agree, there were very few good mother figures in this novel but when are they ever in Jane Austen's stories?

    My least favourite was always Northanger Abbey but while rereading it this year, I think my taste must have shifted and I don't have a least favourite anymore. Rereading is always a good idea, Lois. We see things differently at different stages of our lives.

    I also quite like the film version with Kate Beckinsale, although, I am sure it's from 1996 since Kate was only born in 73. ;) I also like the 1972 mini series, they can just put so much more into those.

    Thanks for your comments, always happy to hear from other readers.

    Have a good day.