Despite being in plentiful supply within Austen’s fiction, happy families are rather thin on the ground. Much has been theorised about what the dearth of familial felicity reveals about the home life of Austen herself, but it could just as easily be just as in Tolstoy’s famous opening remarks within Anna Karenina, contentment yields little of interest. So, which of Austen’s families would one actually want to a part of? The Bennets? Nope! Neither mother nor father would make that one an easy ticket. The Elliots? No, I don’t like mirrors enough. The Woodhouses? Nah, I’m not a hypochondriac. The Bertrams? Uh-uh. They may have the big house but it is not big enough. The Dashwoods? Umm … not to be rude, but no. And there just isn’t enough information to go on with the Morlands. No, if I’m moving in with any of these, it isn’t going to be one of the ‘main’ players. So who does that leave?
Within all the domestic dysfunction and drama, the Gardiners shine through like a beacon, a lighthouse even, offering sanity and often a literal port in a storm for nieces in distress. Be they broken-hearted like Jane, fallen like Lydia or in need of advice or entertainment like Lizzy, the Gardiners are always available in a crisis. Also, I always liked Mrs Gardiner’s side observation in her letter to Lizzy where she explained that ‘the children have been wanting me for this half an hour’ – she sounds like a more present mother than a lot of the others. Jo Baker’s Longbourn did prompt some queries around how often the Gardiners deposit their children with the Bennets and wander off … but I personally spent more than a few parentless summers with my grandparents and cousins so I think it’s a little unfair to judge. The Gardiners are also an early example of an idea which Austen developed further in Persuasion; often the most sensible people are those who have made their own way in the world rather than those who have achieved their position through birth alone. So yes, of all Austen’s families, I would throw my lot in with the Gardiners. Does anyone have any other recommendations?
For the rest of my Austen in August Fan Challenge – see here