|(2010 - hardcover - 256 pp.)|
David Selwyn, the chairman of the Jane Austen Society and a leading authority in his field (editor of the Annual JAS Report since 2001, and author of numerous works and articles on Austen), does a remarkable job highlighting her relationship with children in her novels in his 2010 book, “Jane Austen and Children.” Although not a mother herself, Austen’s works examine the relationships of children and their parents, as well as the role of children in society, how children function as models of behavior, and the nature of childhood. Austen understands that childhood and parenthood are multi-faceted, and Selwyn too knows that in order to investigate Austen’s interpretation of childhood, he must come at it from a multi-dimensional perspective. His expansive work highlights the unseen child as well as the historical background surrounding parenting and the morals of childrearing in this time.
One of the most effective aspects of Jane Austen and Children is the way in which Selwyn demonstrates how the unseen child is sometimes just as important as the child that is explicitly illustrated, as he shows how children who are not present in the novels are just as important as those who are. In a time when many women and children died during the arduous process of childbirth, it is significant to note how important it is that many of the family members who were not alive had just as important of an impact on the family sphere as those who were. As far as birth practices go, one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel was Selwyn's in depth look at the birthing practices of this time, a load of information that would make any modern mother thankful she was not alive in the 18th century.
Historically, the role of motherhood was a primal and central function during Austen’s time, so it is significant to thoroughly examine what it meant to Austen not just to be a mother, but to be a child to a mother as well. Selwyn looks at the historical attitude toward children in Austen’s time by examining specific examples on treatises of children, such as the Victorian’s view that children are better “seen but not heard” to the shift in Locke and Rousseau’s time that children are natural innocents.
Throughout this historical background, Selwyn does a fabulous job of integrating pieces of Austen’s life, effectively making the reader feel as though she is just as alive as ever in the reading of the book. Through his deep knowledge of Austen, he is able to draw many strong and illuminating conclusions that will remain important in the academic Austen sphere in years to come. Selwyn’s extensively researched book, which includes references to Austen’s letters, as well as analysis’ of familial bonds in the Austen family, is a truly rewarding read for any Austen fan.