Parents and children

Children in Austen's novels

There is no particular evidence in Jane Austen's novels or other writings that she was especially fond of children. However, she had twenty-four nephews and nieces of her own and seems to have been a beloved aunt. Children move in and out of the pages of her novels, and are often crucial to the working out of the plot.

Positive parenting

Good parenting is a sign of Jane Austen's approval of a character:

  • Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove are depicted as fond, partial parents with ‘true parental hearts'. They enjoy the company of their grandchildren and the Harvilles' children and the noise and chaos that goes with it (Ch. 14 / Vol. 2, Ch. 2).


  • Sir Walter is a foolish, cold and unaffectionate father to Anne. He plays favourites, and his extravagance brings suffering on his children
  • Mary Musgrove is a selfish and lazy parent. Although at first hysterical about little Charles' fall, she feels put out at the idea of having to miss dinner at Uppercross
  • Charles Musgrove is sure he could manage his children better than Mary does, who thinks it is his spoiling of them that is the problem (Ch. 6). He has no interest in nursing his son either. We are left to judge whose opinion is more reliable
  • Both Charles and Walter Musgrove are described as unmanageable and troublesome children.

Children as barometers

Children are also used to expose character strengths and flaws of the adults who interact with them:

  • When little Charles falls, Anne's practical compassion is demonstrated as she stays behind to nurse him - and is glad of the excuse not to see Captain Wentworth (Ch. 7)
  • Young Walter climbs on Anne's back and will not let go, thus giving Captain Wentworth the opportunity to come to her aid. When he does so, Anne begins to see that he still has some feeling for her (Ch. 9)
  • Admiral and Mrs. Croft have no children, but the admiral is shown to have a good manner with children (Ch. 6). Children would undoubtedly respond well to Mrs. Croft's kind but firm character.
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