Chaotic housekeeping, as described by Jane Austen

From Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: this description of Fanny Price’s mother would perhaps be entirely true-to-life of many harassed, hard-up mothers today.

“Mrs. Price was not unkind… Her days were spent in a kind of slow bustle; all was busy without getting on, always behindhand and lamenting it, without altering her ways; wishing to be an economist, without contrivance or regularity; dissatisfied with her servants, without skill to make them better, and whether helping, or reprimanding, or indulging them, without any power of engaging their respect.

“Of her two sisters, Mrs. Price very much more resembled Lady Bertram than Mrs. Norris. She was a manager by necessity, without any of Mrs. Norris’s inclination for it, or any of her activity. Her disposition was naturally easy and indolent, like Lady Bertram’s; and a situation of similar affluence and do-nothingness would have been much more suited to her capacity than the exertions and self-denials of the one which her imprudent marriage had placed her in. She might have made just as good a woman of consequence as Lady Bertram, but Mrs. Norris would have been a more respectable mother of nine children on a small income.

“Much of all this Fanny could not but be sensible of. She might scruple to make use of the words, but she must and did feel that her mother was a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from beginning to end, and who had no talent, no conversation, no affection towards herself; no curiosity to know her better, no desire of her friendship, and no inclination for her company that could lessen her sense of such feelings.”

FWIW, one of the main themes of Mansfield Park is choosing the right spouse. Mrs Morris, Fanny’s aunt married a vicar and was comfortably well off, but had no children. As Austen suggests, had she married Mr Price, she would have risen to the challenge of a relatively small income, and her busy-body interference would have been used to the advantage of her children. I suspect that her eldest child may well have been brought up at Mansfield Park with Sir Thomas Bertram and wife, but with plenty of advice on how to better her situation.






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