That there are many
opinions about the true nature and character of Dear Mr. Woodhouse, it cannot be
argued. By way of acquainting the reader with the general themes
and tenor of the disputes, we humbly recommend the following:
The General Arguments
A very enlightening
thread on the Emma board started by an insightful
young lady, Deborah Jane, together with responses, both in support and, surprisingly,
against her position may be examined here. Another set of arguments
is here. And one more that is interesting
in its, er, tenor is here.
May we be so bold
as to offer the follow rather charming summation of Mr. Woodhouse
written by O. W. Firkins in Jane Austen (Henry Holt and
is drawn with hardly less ability though with less subtley, than
his daughter. The solicitudes of Mr. Woodhouse are undoubtedly
caricatured -- yet that is not tantamount to saying that Mr.
Woodhouse himself is a caricature. There is much in him besides
the self-coddler. He is grateful and affectionate and hospitable
and courteous, and his anxieties are so widened by his altruism
as to include the whole body of his deplorably reckless acquaintance.
Mr. Woodhouse is the mildest of men, yet being a member of the
Austen world, he is precise in his mildness. If in his softness
and tremors he is jelly, he is jelly in a mold. The association
of cermony with flutter was an original thought, whether the
orginality was nature's or Jane Austen's. Nothing in Jane's work
is more endearing than the deference that is paid on all hands
to a type that is normally unlucky both in its companions and
its painters. Mr. Woodhouse is an egotist and fool, an exacting
and trying fool, yet he is the object of unrelaxing tenderness
and esteem from people who, like the Knightley's, are possessed
of every excuse for impatience which health of unfeeling robustness
and the curtest of tempers can bestow."
On Faulty Parenting
for discussion of the charge that Mr. Woodhouse is guilty of
faulty parenting and other crimes. Speaking of parenting, Annie
Newman has labeled Mr. Woodhouse a Permissive-Indulgent parent, but she doesn't
think he's all bad!
Pet or Menace?
If you are not
prone to an attack of nerves and are of a hardy constitution,
you may dare to read this debate about whether Mr. Woodhouse
is a pet
(as if!). Don't miss Caroline's post which refers to a scholar's
assertion that Dear Mr. Woodhouse is mentally ill (more on that
On His Comparative Merits
In his essay,
Mr. Perry's Patients, A View of Emma (Essays in Criticism,
#20, 1970, pp 334-43), J. R. Watson argues:
movement of the novel begins with the death of Mrs. Churchill
/..../ Up to this point, Mrs. Churchill has been useful to Jane
Austen. She is, in fact, one of the main forces in the carefully
balanced picture of Mr. Woodhouse and Emma: seen beside Mrs.
Churchill Mr. Woodhouse bears out Jane Austen's description of
him as 'everywhere beloved for the friendliness of his heart
and his amiable temper.' He is, of course, a great fusspot, and
Emma has to exercise a tremendous restraint and tact in her dealings
with him (not least in the matter of marriage); but he does not
stand in the way of the party at the Cole's, the Ball at the
Crown, the visits to Randalls and Donwell, or the trip to Box
Hill. To emphasize this accomodating side of Mr. Woodhouse's
character we have Mrs. Churchill using her illnesses and her
nervous crises to send Frank scurrying up and down the country
and spoiling his relationships with other people. /.../ Seen
in this light, Mr. Woodhouse, self-centred and exasperating,
is seen as one who might have been much worse."
A lifelong valetudinarian
he may be, but a hypochondriac - nevah!
us look at the difference between the meaning of the two words:
*n, a person of poor health or unduly anxious about health; seeking
to recover one's health.
*n, a person suffering from hypochrondria (*n, abnormal anxiety
about one's health, morbid depression without real cause).
Oxford English Dictionary, Ninth Edition, 1995)
the Royal Standard English Dictionary, published in November
1813, says of "valetudinarian: infirm of health, weakly,
sick, ill." By the 1824 edition of this dictionary, the
definition had changed to "a person uncommonly careful of
his health." Jane Austen wrote "Emma" between
January 1814 and March 1815.
we turn to the writing of John
in Jane Austen and the Body (Cambridge
University Press, 1992). Wiltshire reads Emma as a novel
about health (p.110) in which Mr. Perry's omnipresence is highly
important. Wiltshire cites a number of late eighteenth and early
nineteenth century medical writers regarding the nature of "nervous
disorders," the descriptions of which, he notes, are very
close to Austen's depiction of Henry Woodhouse--very hypochondriacal.
Harumph! Moreover, Wiltshire cites one Avrom Fleishman as positing
this latter-day diagnosis of Mr. Woodhouse:
assumed by the layman that people with evident hypochondria are
really well, but Emma's father, though not organically, is really
mentally ill. The diagnosis of his illness is probably premature
senility, featuring acute anxiety." (p.
In the notes to
this citation, though, Wiltshire writes: "Fleishman intends this characterization,
of course, to be absurd."
(p. 233). Well, one does not not know what to think!
This tidbit was
found in a Georgian women's journal, "The Lady's Magazine"
for the year 1777 - in the section called 'The Female Physician':
" Of all
the accidental causes that promote fever, there is none so dangerous
as that which is brought on by suddenly cooling after vehement
exercise; such as exposing the body to cold air, and thereby
checking the sweat and perspiration.
This is too frequently
the case with many young people, who, after having been engaged
for upwards of four or five hours (nay, sometimes much longer
and without intermission) in this amusement, and being of course
in the highest degree of heat, have been so imprudent as to stop
the perspiration, either by drinking cold water or the like,
or by exposing themselves to the cold air, directly from this
violent exercise, and thus have died victims to the greatest
degree of rashness and folly.
The danger arising
from such indiscretionary diversion is truly alarming; and I
am convinced has been the bane of thousands."
Given that this
was the prevailing medical advice in Mr. Woodhouse's time, it
is hardly surprising that he is horrified when Frank Churchill
suggests the likelihood of some young person opening a window
or two to cool the room during the proposed dance at Randalls.
us examine the work of Jane Austen Society of North America member
Ted Bader, a specialist in liver and digestive diseases, who
champions the cause of Dear
in his aptly named article Mr. Woodhouse is
not a Hypochondriac!.
Well done Ted! You are, indeed, a man of information!
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