Jane Austen's Style Of Abuse

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Among the many interesting aspects to be examined in Jane Austen’s novels is the way she portrays parents. Austen usually has at least one flawed or less than ideal parental figure in each of her novels and the flaws in question range from the parent being generally annoying, as in the case of Mrs. Bennett in Pride in Prejudice, to the parent being outright abusive. Two such abusive parents are Mrs. Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, and General Tilney in Northanger Abbey. These two make for an interesting case study when placed side by side as each one’s particular style of abuse reflects the gender roles of Austen’s time.
As implied above, General Tilney and Mrs. Ferrars are abusive in different ways, though they are both rather subtle in
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Ferrars’ style of abuse, as portrayed in Sense and Sensibility, is subtler. The General abuses through means of restraint and strict control where Mrs. Ferrars’ abuse comes in the form of conditional love, blatant favoritism, and neglect. Furthermore, where all of the General’s children suffer in some regard from his behavior, Mrs. Ferrars focuses her contempt on only one of her children – the eldest Edward Ferrars. From the beginning we get hints that the relationship between Edward and his mother is a kind of precarious balancing act. Austen sates that “the whole of his fortune depended on the will of his mother” (Sense and Sensibility 14), which implies that that fortune is uncertain and that his mother’s will might be subject to change. Austen also states that Edward “was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother” and goes on to say “fortunately he had a younger brother who was more promising” (S&S 14), this is not only more evidence to back up the idea of Mrs. Ferrars’ will to Edward being changeable, but also establishes early that she is prone to favoritism when it comes to her children. Like the General, Mrs. Ferrars is concerned with money and consequence; she wants her children to be well established in society both socially and financially. This would seem a natural instinct for a mother, if not for the fact that this wish for her children to marry to her standards is exactly the thing that makes her love for them conditional. She is very quick to discard and disown Edward when he refuses Miss Morton to keep his promise of marriage to Lucy Steele. Mrs. Ferrars later proves to be a very fickle and shallow kind of mother in that tendency for conditional

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