Good Parents, Good Children
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Mary Shelley's Frakenstein are two classic pieces of literature that are worth studying. This essay will discuss the ideas and concepts of parenting in both books. While some characteristics are shared between the two, there are also differences. The specific topics to be discussed are what makes a good parent, what parents owe their children, and what children owe their parents. The general approach will be to identify examples of good and bad parents and children and determine what makes them so.
What makes a good parent? Before we can identify which parents are good or bad, we must make a distinction between the two. Good parents are portrayed as being sympathetic to their children, providing both material and emotional support, and listening to their children. Bad parents, however, are ones who do not meet these guidelines.
To determine what the authors considered makes a good parent, the examples of parents in the texts must be examined.
There are multiple examples of parents in Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein's parents, Alphonse and Caroline, are the most apparent case of natural parents. Many argue that Victor is the parent of the creature, although the creature was not born of natural means. For our purposes this paper, Victor will be considered the creature's parent since he brought the creature into existence, and the creature acts human in nearly all aspects. Shelley has other examples of parents including Henry Clerval's father and the peasant, De Lacey.
The main examples of parenting in Pride and Prejudice are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Their presence in the novel allows for extensive comments on their parenting skills. There are also several examples of relationships that are similar to parent-child relationships such as that between Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It can also be said that Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were at times like parents to the Bennet daughters. However, the focus will be on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.
What do parents owe their children? As part of being a good parent, there are some things that parents owe their children. While this issue is not mentioned in the books, culture demands certain basic, material provisions from parents such as food and shelter. There are only two parents that fail to meet these minimal requirements. First is Victor Frankenstein. After he brings the creature to life, he abandons it and never provides any food nor housing for his creation. It is actually amazing that the creature survives at all. The other parent who doesn't provide material assistance is De Lacey. While we can assume he used to supply those amenities, he now relies on his children to support the home.
However, the authors seem to establish their own opinions about what parents owe their children. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet is not considered to be a good parent because he was too passive. When he could have offered helpful advice, he buried himself in his study. He owed it to his daughters to play an active role in their lives and provide guidance. Mrs. Bennet was at the opposite end of the spectrum. She was too involved in her children's lives and didn't allow them to develop their independence.
Can the expectation of active involvement be applied to Frankenstein? Alphonse was still very interested in keeping in touch with his son, even during college. Victor Frankenstein was hardly involved the creature's life at all. Clerval's father played an active role in his life; his father offered his opinion on higher education but also allowed Clerval to make his own decisions. De Lacey is not seen as a provider of much guidance, per se, but he does play an active role in the lives of his children and tries to cheer them up when necessary. It seems that Shelley agrees with Austen about parents' involvement with their children.
What do children owe their parents? To determine what the authors believed children owe their parents, we can look at the "good" and "bad" children in the texts and see what they gave their parents. Jane and Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice are perceived as good children, as are Clerval, Elizabeth, De Lacey's offspring, Felix and Agatha from Frankenstein. Examples of bad children include Victor Frankenstein and his creature from Frankenstein and Lydia from Pride and Prejudice.
What did the bad children do that made them deserving of that name? Frankenstein is not a horrible child, but he does have some failings. His main flaw in respect to his parents is that after he leaves home and starts his work, he completely ignores his family. The creature may be exempt from being considered a bad child; he hardly has any real relationship with Frankenstein. He could hardly be expected keep in touch with his creator, who would like to never see him again. But at a rudimentary level, the creature's process of murdering the people who surround Victor is no way to treat your father.
In Pride and Prejudice, the only child who does something significantly bad is Lydia, who elopes with Wickham. While it's unlikely she aimed to hurt her parents or her family, she did that as well. While Darcy succeeds in straightening it out, Lydia risked bringing shame to her whole family.
Now, let's look at the good children. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth is a fine example. How does she treat her parents? She seeks her father for advice and goes along with her mother's many wishes. While she does have opinions of her own, she accommodates her parents wherever reasonable.
Elizabeth from Frankenstein is also an example of a good child. While the Frankensteins adopted her, their relationship is as close as that of natural parents. When Elizabeth contracts scarlet fever, her mother Caroline takes care of her. As Elizabeth recovers, her mother contracts the disease. Elizabeth is noted for how devoted she is in taking care of her mother.
Elizabeth is not the only good child in Frankenstein; Felix and Agatha are exemplary children to their father, De Lacey. Unlike the other children in the texts, these two take care of their father since he is limited in what he can do.
Jane Austen and Mary Shelley definitely had comments on parenting. There is evidence in both books. While some characteristics are shared between the two, there are also several differences. It seems that a good parent-child relationship involves commitment, active participation, and respect. Parents that do not provide these, such as Victor Frankenstein, are considered bad parents. A similar requirement exists for children. The consequences in the novels vary; while the worst risk in Pride and Prejudice is social disgrace, the poor parenting in Frankenstein results in multiple murders. Other differences lie in what the novels do not say; while Shelley introduces the concept of children taking care of aging parents, Austen never touches the subject. While Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice were both published in the early 1800s, most would agree that their commentary on parenting is still quite relevant.