Have any of you read Mansfield Park? You have? Oh, and you watched the movie? Well, have any of you read Mansfield Park and (which is the rarity) enjoyed the novel and liked the heroine, Fanny Price?
I’ll admit, I watched the movie first, and was shocked by the difference I found in the novel. I was even more shocked because in the introductory essay in my copy of Emma, Mansfield Park events are referenced that only occurred in the 1995 film, and never in the novel. (Good job editors).
In the ten years since I became acquainted with her work, each Jane Austen novel has taken a turn as the favorite in my affections. Mansfield Park is no different. While I often hear other Austen fanatics complain about Mansfield, the snobbish self-righteousness, the insipid Fanny Price, and the fact the main couple are cousins, etc. etc. this book has always held a special place in my heart. As I read over again the familiar passages, and saw again the characters, I realized why I have always defended Mansfield Park and Fanny Price so passionately.
It is because, of all the main characters in her novels, Fanny was the first one that I could personally identify with. She is one of a large family, and has no real control over what is going on in her life. In all of the vast estate of Mansfield Park, there is nowhere she likes better than the attic, because it is too cold and small for anyone but herself to go there, and therefore a perfect hiding spot for her books and plants and sketches. She stumbles over words, has a high moral sense that makes her awkward when the “fun” activities of those around her do not perfectly line up with reason, and is easily embarrassed. Fanny Price is the sort to lose herself in soliloquies that take her away from the people she is with. She is ordered about, teased, berated, and feels quilt and shame so easily one has but to suggest she has wronged them to make her one’s servant. I was Fanny Price in high school, though I daresay before her improvement in looks and grace noted by Sir Thomas, Edmund, and Mr Crawford later in the novel.
Elizabeth Bennet is fiery and witty. Anne Elliot is elegant and in control, Elinor is artistic and proper, Emma is popular and easily forgiven, and Catherine Morland is just darn lovable. But Fanny? Fanny is awkward where the others would rise to the occasion. She is reticent where they might say a witty, if reckless, comment. She is soft, all gentleness and obliging, except when it comes to religion, where the others would refuse. In other words, she is quite boring.
But I think that Jane Austen was brave to have a heroine so quiet. Fanny never really does anything the whole novel, because the chaos and bustle of the other characters leave her feeling as though she must put all her energy into reacting. Her parents and aunts decide for her to move to Mansfield, Edmund plans so she can visit Sotherton, her cousins and the Crawfords put on the play, Mary Crawford initiates them becoming friends, Henry Crawford decides to pursue her, Sir Thomas sends her to Portsmouth, Tom falls ill, Edmund fetches her back to Mansfield, Edmund decides to pursue her. There are no decisions in the novel made by Fanny herself, except her refusal of Henry Crawford, and love for Edmund.
But then, how often is this the life that we lead? Even if we make plans, how many of them will not be derailed because of the actions of others? Fanny is someone who has accepted this. Fanny is neither brilliant nor shining, but who she is, she is with her whole heart. She is virtuous, because she is too sensitive and idealistic to be otherwise. She is intelligent, too thoughtful and imaginative to not dwell in the books Edmund shares with her. And she is pretty, as everyone she is related to is time and again in the novel noted as handsome for her to be otherwise. But where it counts, Fanny is constant. After spending a lifetime with others making decisions for her, she knows where to draw the line. Her inner life belongs to her alone, and her heart will not be dictated by others. This is why Fanny Price is admirable. Jane Austen has given us a strong heroine who is also shy and awkward, a feat not many could perform.
Well, I suppose I should end my rant here. I could talk longer about the Crawfords and their potential to be heroes, if their selfishness had not gotten in the way. I could discuss family relationships, the sisters Bertram, Price and Norris, and how they three show how three relatively similar girls will grow estranged through different marriages. I could talk about the virtues and vices of the navy, as the politics behind promotions are discussed in the side stories of William Price and Admiral Crawford. I could even go on about the supposed contradiction between the “inappropriate play” (“My father surely would not want his grown daughters to be acting”) arc and Jane Austen’s history of family plays (PS it’s not a contradiction, the point is not about “family” plays, but about a group of unmarried young adults doing whatever they pleased together, using acting as an excuse to ignore responsibility).
But I shall spare you. You are welcome indeed.
^_^ Till next time.