Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reading A-Z: Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.
-Fanny Price, Chapter 42
I was about a third of the way through Mansfield Park when I first came across the idea that as a novel, it was not well liked. I have to say, I was a bit surprised, and even more so when I realised that the reason was Fanny Price!

I agree that Fanny is not Elizabeth Bennet, but I think she is different and not inherently inferior. In fact, as much as I’d like to be Lizzy, the reality is I am probably much more like Fanny (and lest you begin to think that my appreciation of the novel is purely narcissistic, let me say that my friend TH 11-Geek, is probably much more like Fanny than I am – I kept recognising bits of my friend in Fanny’s behaviour, particularly in her behaviour towards Mrs Norris and her cousins Maria and Julia).

I think Mansfield Park is novel much more about the interior than some of Jane Austen’s other novel. Fanny is much less active, obviously, but this is less important, because Fanny’s role is that of the observer, and the novel is, I think, more about Fanny’s inner life in response to the people around her than anything else.

I also think that Fanny is much stronger than people generally give her credit for – far from being the doormat she is painted, she is capable of standing up for what she believes in. True, she isn’t so good at standing up for herself, but is that any wonder, moulded as she has been by Mrs Norris, and forced into agonies of gratitude by her position as the poor relation? When it counts, when it is a moral ideal that needs defending, Fanny doesn’t falter, both with regards to the play, and, in my favourite section of the novel, when Sir Thomas is pushing her to accept Henry Crawford’s proposal.

Even though Fanny is used to yielding to other’s wishes, even though she longs never to be ungrateful, even as she driven to tears she stays her ground. Fanny’s triumph is a moral triumph. I must admit though, I did find Edmund quite foolish and insipid, and though I recognise it would have been quite impossible in Austen’s day, I think true happiness for Fanny could have been found alone.

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