Dan Gunn’s “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels” Forum at Emery

In the English Department’s recent forum on Jane Austen’s perception of young children in her novels, Professor Dan Gunn presented the research he had been compiling about Austen’s attitude throughout her works of literature. Originally presented in Le Mans, France last March, Gunn gave UMF an extraordinary lesson on Austen’s background and an analysis on her minor characters: children.

Where was there room for children in Austen’s time period? Certainly not in literature. According to Gunn’s research, many times the children in Austen’s novels were used for comedy or plot devices. Her depiction of them were generally awful, tiny, selfish human beings. These examples are found throughout Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice where children are described as “full of monkey tricks” and “thumping and hallooing” and “pushing the maiden about.” Their constant noise and disorder prevented ordinary social intercourse from happening.

So why did Austen depict children in such a negative light? Gunn explained that Austen had no children of her own, yet adored her nieces and nephews. Austen thought children were incredibly selfish and if not taught properly, turned into problematic adult characters–present in her novels. These types of characters are examples such as Kitty and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.  With this, Gunn concluded that Austen actually had a great deal of affection for children but also a frustration with parents who did not raise their children correctly as she might have.

Any questions or comments can be directed to Professor Dan Gunn at dpgunn@maine.edu

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