Surrogate Mothers in Jane Austen
Jane Austen created families of varying levels of dysfunction so effectively, that even young readers of today can relate to the story. In some, the mother was either deceased, not present, or just not the right person for the daughter to rely on. For example, Fanny, Emma, Elizabeth and Elinor all struggle because the very people who are supposed to be looking out for them prove to be completely unhelpful. These heroines may not be able to rely on their actual Mother (or Father) but there often are parental figures that they can turn to.
The mother in Pride and Prejudice is sympathetic, but silly, eccentric and irresponsible. Mr. Bennett is contemptuous to his wife and younger daughters; except for Elizabeth (his favorite) he spends the majority of his time in his library.
In Emma, the mother is dead. She must’ve been clever because where else would Emma get it, but there must have been a lack of discipline of Emma. Mr. Woodhouse is almost a caricature, so he can by no means be accused of giving rational support, but he is "everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart and his amiable temper", and to Emma "most affectionate, indulgent father". I would say that Mr. Woodhouse is always concerned and caring, his only fault as father is being too indulgent. Of course, it would be better to have in a father an intellectual companion as well (Like Elizabeth Bennett).
The mother in Mansfield Park , the mother was absent and neglectful having married a poor man who drinks.
In Sense and Sensibility - Mrs. Dashwood is loving, but has too much of a romantic sensibility.
In Persuasion the mother is dead, but is highly praised. She brought up Anne quite respectably. Anne is kind and loyal.
Lady Russell - she really has a good heart and good sense. Lady Russell is not a fool like Mrs. Bennett but she's not an ideal, she gives good advice totally unsuited to Anne's particular situation. I don't think we are supposed to like her – the reader is glad that Anne has her and appreciate her for that reason.
Mrs. Musgrove - simple, warm-hearted, affectionate and unpretentious.
The narrator opens the novel by introducing us to Emma Woodhouse, a girl endowed with “some of the best blessings of existence,” including good looks, intelligence, riches, and an affectionate father. Emma’s only disadvantages are that she is slightly spoiled and that she thinks “a little too well of herself.” Emma isn’t a brat, but is used to getting her way, she does not always have respect for other people, as her continual teasing of Jane Fairfax with her alleged love for Mr. Dixon and her deliberately cruel remark to Miss Bates at the picnic would indicate. Both her father and Mrs. Weston have over indulged her. Mrs. Weston (nee Miss Taylor) is Emma’s governess who has basically become a surrogate mother to Emma after the loss of Mrs. Woodhouse. After Emma’s older sister, Isabella, was married and moved to London,...