Emma by Jane Austen: did Mr. Woodhouse have dementia?

Emma by Jane Austen got pushed to the top of my reading list after coming across “Jane Austen’s Guide to Alzheimer’s” by Carol J. Adams.  I was intrigued by this editorial suggesting Emma’s father suffered from dementia. Since I adore Jane Austen and have read several of her other novels, I decided it was time to conquer Emma and see for myself if Mr. Woodhouse appeared to suffer from a cognitive impairment.

Emma by Jane Austen book reviewThe gist of the story is that Emma derives great pleasure acting as a matchmaker for other couples. She claims she’ll never marry herself because of her duty to care for her ailing father. Don’t get me wrong, she loves her father and doesn’t seem upset about her bleak prospects. As it turns out, she is revealed to be a poor judge of character who doesn’t understand the romantic inclinations of others, or her own heart for that matter. Harriet gets the short end of the stick too many times thanks to Emma’s meddling.

Mr. Woodhouse is indeed portrayed as a strange bird, and some of his idiosyncrasies may be a reflection on the conventions of the early 1800s. He is afraid of all, worries everything will threaten his health and the health of others, and behaves in a peculiar manner most of the time. He thinks it’s too risky to go outside … to get rained on … to eat too much … to dance … to have the windows open … the list goes on and on. And he certainly doesn’t want Emma to venture too far from home.

Does this strange behavior prove Mr. Woodhouse suffered from Alzheimer’s? After finishing the book I can honestly say I’m not sure! He certainly could have been in the early stages of dementia based on his eccentric behavior. On the other hand, maybe he’s been a nervous Nellie and a hypochondriac his entire life?

Regardless, I enjoyed reading another novel by the author I admire most, so it’s not important that I cracked this mystery. If you’ve read Emma, do you think Mr. Woodhouse suffered from Alzheimer’s? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Brought To Our Senses family saga novel by Kathleen H. Wheeler