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She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father; ad had, in consequence of her sister's marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early peroid. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses; and her place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

At the end of this paragraph, I am not sure about the meaning of " fallen little short of mother in affection". The meaning of fall short (of) is being inadequate, but as I read some translation in my native language, it has been translated as she being a very good mother. How can I understand this sentence exactly?

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The meaning of fall short is more like not quite reaching. For example, if you throw a ball and it falls short then it doesn't go as far as you intended to throw it, it does not reach its target.

From this you can see that fall short might have a negative meaning if someone's behaviour falls short of what is expected of them.

However, in your quotation the expression is qualified by little. Austen means that the governess had fallen short of being a real mother by such a small amount that she had been almost as good as a real mother

  • This is the answer. – Robusto Dec 17 '14 at 17:01
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But it doesn't say "had fallen short". It says "had fallen little short":

small in amount or number

It's a litotes.

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