Monday, 19 April 2010


Fanny Price is absolutely unique among Jane Austen's heroines. First of all her social rank, her background. She doesn't come from the country gentry, she is saved from poverty and a doomed destiny by her rich relatives. She is the daughter of a drunken sailor and of a woman who married beneath her when she comes to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. Her mother has to ... send her away, because she has a hard time striving to get a living for all her children . They take her in as an act of charity to her parents. She is mistreated and always reminded of her "place" as a charity ward.

 Modest, always proper, and, as she grows older, quite beautiful, she eventually comes to be an indispensable member of the family. Her being a model heroine makes her again different from the other protagonists  in Austen's major novels. They are not always prim and proper, they are not flawless and they are all livelier than Fanny, even sensible Elinor and good-hearted, patient Ann Elliot. Mind you, this is my opinion, or the impression I get reading this novel again this month. Someone has compared her to the passive, prudish heroine of Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (Ornella De Zordo, "Il prezzo della virtù: la storia di Fanny Price e della sua perfezione" , The Price of Virtue, the History of Fanny Price and her Perfection). But Mansfield Park is not an easy reading and her heroine is again a means in the hands of her creator. Comedy is less direct in Mansfield Park and irony is subtler and more difficult to be caught. Anyhow, the female model embodied by the protagonist is the target of Austen's irony as well as those who, reading her story, might share and appreciate her values.

But what are her values? Fanny represents a moralistic-evangelical model in women's education, opposing her  aristocatic and sentimental cousins Mariah and Julia. She easily wins in the comparisons with her cousins but harder is for her to come forward if compared to clever, free and unprejudiced Mary Crawford. I have already borught about this point in my previous post about Mansfield Park. One of Fanny's limits, for instance, seems to be little spontaneous, condemned to play the part of the perfect young lady, incapable of expressing freely her thoughts and feelings and even of distinguishing between her real wishes and her sense of duty.
Finally, respect to her Elizabeth Bennet ,  Marianne Dashwood or Emma Woodhouse look  very rebellious and modern heroines.
Guess what? I hope I'll find someone among my mates at the reading club who will convince me I'm totally wrong with  poor Fanny and will help me to admire her a bit more. So far, hard task.

In the adaptation I've watched so far (1999 & 2007) Fanny is  more livelier and enterprising of the girl portrayed by Jane Austen. In the 1999 film Fanny (Frances O'Connor) is a writer and at the end of the movie Edmund ( Jonny Lee Miller ) tells her her novel is going to be published. In the 2007 ITV version Fanny has the naughty smile and provoking charm of Billie Piper and, as I've alredy stated several times,  I can't see Fanny in her acting.

This is all for today. I challenge you to a hard task. Would you please try to convince me I'm totally wrong about Fanny? Partially wrong can be enough, so that I can go on re-reading her story with a different perspective.  I hope I have time to discuss here the many important  themes and features in Mansfield Park before April 30th, because there are many and very serious. This novel is really challenging and interesting to one fond of literary texts like me, so don't worry I am enjoying the experience of going through it again. If I haven't got time, I'll write about them in my journal of the next meeting.
Now, I'll leave you with a  quiz with self correction about Mansfield Park. If you want to try it, CLICK HERE. What was your score at it?


Nancy said...

Well, I definitely need to read Mansfield Park, again. Here is my score (You got 11 out of 25 correct. (That's 44%.) Not good at all

Anonymous said...

MP is one of my favourite Austen books. After my first reading of all of them it came in second place, just after P&P. However I need a second reading of all of them, I feel (P&P I've read three times, but it's my favourite book so...). I really like Fanny, although sometimes I think she should be more strong. But we must aknowledge that she was right as she didn't get into any kind of mischief like her cousins and could see what the others didn't. I'm a little like herself in some aspects, that's probably why people my own age don't like me. I got 64% on the quiz, totally need to read it again! Please give Fanny another chance!

The Book Mole said...

Maria, I'm a new visitor to your blog, and love it! MP is a great book in terms of learning about society in Austen's time, but it is my least favorite of all her works. The main reason is that I can't get myself to like Fanny Price no matter how hard I try. I do understand that she is a product of her background and upbringing, but even after listening to others' defence of Fanny, I just cannot grow to like her. I find her judgmental, and not open-minded at all. I also wonder what she would have done had Edmund married Mary Crawford. I can imagine her pining away, refusing to move on.

The Book Mole said...

Oh, and I made a 80% on the quiz - good questions!

Kim said...

I don't think that Jane Austen has a stronger heroin than Fanny but people call her weak because she doesn't fit their idea of what strong is - i.e. someone who stands up for themselves. A person who stands up against most of her peers and aunts who nag and try to insult her into doing what they want, when she knows it is wrong, and indeed it was wrong under those circumstances, is very, very strong.

Should she have told her uncle why she refused Henry Crawford? Would it have shown good character to tell Sir Thomas that Henry Crawford was a flirt and had done his best to break up Maria's engagement just to amuse himself? Well, apparently most people these days think that would be the admirable thing to do, and perhaps in this day and age it would be admirable, but was it then?

One of the delightful things about Jane Austin's writing is that her heroins have different personalities. How many authors write book after book with heroins that are basically the same character? Boring.... I find it refreshing to have a story about a shy, timid girl every now and then.