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Written by Rachel G
(9/27/2010 12:51 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, We respect your pheasants, sir, penned by Robbin
It is reassuring to see Sir Thomas' delight in his family, and how unusually communicative and chatty he is when he gets home. Added to various hints earlier in the novel it shows that hidden behind that stern reserved facade there's a kind and feeling human being. Why does he need to be so reserved and stern? What made him that way?
Even so, I agree with Bridget and cannot acquit him of responsibility for his children's lack of affection (Edmund excepted). That stern reserve has presumably always been m Sir Thomas' style - how daunting and discouraging that would be for young children! Children need encouragement, and need to be loved for what they are, not just when they conform to strict parental requirements. Perhaps it never occurred to Sir Thomas that merriment and fun are also healthy and necessary - he seems conspicuously lacking in these behaviours himself.
Maria and Julia seem to have been particularly adversely affected by their father's daunting attitude. "He had never seemed the friend of their pleasures" (ch.3), and when I think of the girls' constraint in his presence I'm reminded of Mary's comment at Sotherton about young ladies "starched up into seeming piety".(ch.9) Are Sir Thomas's notions of ideal female behaviour unusually constricting I wonder, or just normal for that era?
Of course I would not expect a father at that time to have much to do with raising young children or the education of girls, so Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris must share the blame for the young Bertrams' "tiny hearts" (as Robbin puts it). Lady Bertram paid no attention to the education of her daughters, and I can't imagine her engaging much with any of her offspring when they were little, except to dandle them a bit when they were fed and washed and placid, (or better yet, asleep maybe). Mrs Norris "never knew how to be pleasant to children" (ch.3), and we see the damaging effects of her attention to Maria and Julia as they grew older.
The more I consider the sort of parenting the young Bertrams have had the more I feel sorry for the damaged adults they have become. Who would have cuddled them when they were little? Who would have helped them develop empathy and concern for the feelings of others? Who could have shown them how to love?
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