Did Jane Austen like children?

Jane Austen nephews and nieces

Jane Austen nephews and nieces (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some biographers, taking a few letters out of context have assumed she didn’t. Rubbish! Jane Austen was a revered Aunt; she was a loved Aunt; she was a sought-after aunt. You don’t get to be such an aunt if you do not like children. It is just that she didn’t idealise children. In one of her letters to her brother James she says, we saw “a countless number of Postchaises full of Boys pass by yesterday morng – full of Heroes, legislators, Fools & Villains.”  In the privileged world in which Jane was an observer, children were often put on pedestals by their affluent parents. It was not so very different from today when parents think little Josh is just so creative and what a shame Ms J at school doesn’t quite understand his genius. Children of the gentry in the 18th Century seemed too often to get much of what they desire. It is similar today. And parents become advocates in any battle. Jane loved her nieces and nephews but she didn’t wear rose coloured glasses.

Jane Austen was not sentimental about children but she cared deeply for the children she knew.  We can be certain of this. When little Anna, Jane’s niece’s mother died, it was to Steventon, to the Aunts that Anna was sent. And later when one of the Lloyds, an old friend, became Anna’s stepmother and treated Anna poorly it was Jane and Cassandra who tried to make it up to her and protect her fragile sense of self. When Elizabeth Austen, a loved sister-in-law died suddenly, two of her boys were first sent to their uncle but it was then decided it would be better if they were with their aunts. In these circumstances Aunt Jane made sure that they had enough fun and games to take their minds of their grief. She shares and indeed relishes in their games of Spillikins. She did not stand on ceremony and wanted the boys to be boys and be allowed to pursue their boyish joys as much as was possible under the sad circumstances. And of the two aunts, Cassandra and Jane, there is ample evidence amongst the next generation of nieces and nephews that Jane was the favourite. She was the one who made up the stories and games. She was the one who attracted the children like women to an Austen novel or film.


Filed under Childhood

2 responses to “Did Jane Austen like children?

  1. Greg Beel

    children should be seen but nor heard! ( and if possible, not seen)

  2. Fantastic post. I never realized that there was any question of whether she enjoyed children or not. Fascinating.

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