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|Mrs. Musgrove's (odd?) reaction
Written by Line
(10/10/2005 12:39 a.m.)
Something that really struck me in ch.13 was Mrs. Musgrove’s reaction on hearing about Louisa’s fall. I can’t think of a mother of my acquaintance who, on hearing that one of her children was badly injured, would not be on the road by the next morning, on the first available form of transportation, to reach her child. She might not be at all calm or practical about the details, but that is what she would be doing – yet the Musgroves dither for 2 days before deciding to go to Lyme themselves, and then only on Anne’s urging! Yes, I know they send the nursery-maid, but still… Despite Anne’s sermonette in ch.7 on nursing being a woman’s province, this is the second mother in “Persuasion” (and not the last in JA’s novels) who does not nurse her own child. Even in ch.14, Mrs. Musgrove is taking care of Mrs. Harville’s children rather than her own. (Practical and helpful as this may be, aren’t there others, like Henrietta, who could do that?).
Besides my modern sensibilities (!), the reason this struck me so forcefully was because of a passage I remembered from our Group Read of The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England, by Amanda Vickery.
After childbirth itself, life-threatening illness was the supreme trial that parents faced. Contagion circulated all about eighteenth-century parents…As inevitably as the ripening of the fruit, epidemics of dysentery, typhoid, enteric fever, spotted fever, putrid fever and smallpox (to name but a few) scourged the cities and towns of Georgian England through late summer to the first frosts. Diptheria and typhus raged in the winter…Yet, of course, the full burden of nursing fell to the mother. Indeed, most letters relating the facts of family illness were written by men, as women could not be spared from the bedside. The extent to which a mother’s role was interchangeable with that of sick-nurse is demonstrated here by the correspondence of the London Ramsdens…(p.117, my highlighting)
If Vickery’s information is correct, then Mrs. Musgrove with her large family should have plenty of nursing experience, if not exactly with this kind of injury, so why isn’t she at Louisa’s bedside, at least taking her turn in caring for her daughter? (I'm not saying she doesn't see Louisa at all, just that she doesn't seem to spend that much time with her.) I know that in JA’s own family, it was the women-folk who did the nursing when anyone was sick. Mrs. Musgrove is supposed to be an affectionate and reasonably practical mother, unlike some of the others in JA’s novels, so can anyone explain this to me? Actually, I think I’ll head to Austenuations to post about the phenomenon of “non-nursing” mothers in JA’s novels!
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