Today on this Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S., I’m thinking about two ladies, both British — one fictional, mother of a beloved literary character, and the one was the mother of one of my favorite authors.
Of all of Austen’s maternal characters — probably think Mrs. Bennet is the most well known, if not iconic in her own way. Tends to come off the page as obsessed with marrying off her many daughters, a bit of a gossip and busy body — via mean and dismissive remarks about her neighbor’s the Lucas’, her sister Mrs. Gardener and her husband, and also as a bit of a hypochondriac. This image has been cultivated and reaffirmed by many of the film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.
Reading through Austen’s collection of letters, there are many references to Mrs. Austen, chiefly about her health or more specifically comments about her health, complaints, and mostly if she felt she is improving or becoming ill — using the latter.
In these letters to her older sister Cassandra, Jane Austen almost always refers to “my mother” — which seems a little bit stiff or formal. And realize there were conventions and civilities during this time, in personal correspondence and letters — still it seems strange she would not say or write: “our mother.” Makes me think it was some sort of intimate code or signal between sisters. But perhaps more likely, this is just my writerly imagination taking hold here.
All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth edition, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFay, Oxford University Press, 2011