Quick Index Board Index Home FAQ Site Map
|Are We Suppose To Like Fanny?: A Journey
Written by BarbaraB
(10/18/2010 2:50 a.m.)
Are we suppose to like Fanny? This is the question I found myself asking during the last group read of MP. Always at the beginning of this story, I've found it easy to sympathize and like the uprooted and frightened little girl crying on the stairs. Who could not feel so? And always on my three previous reads I would get frustrated with the Fanny who grew up to be so submissive and yielding. I told myself on the last read that I wanted to keep an open mind, be objective, but found myself drifting toward the usual frustration so I decided to stop reading for a day or two and see if I could redirect myself down a more amiable path. I thought of how Jane Austen's mother thought Fanny was insipid and how her sister, the person she was closest to, wanted Fanny to end up with Henry. Despite these comments Jane stayed faithful to her original vision of Fanny's character and also kept her paired her with Edmund. I felt there must be a reason for this. What was her intent? I suddenly remembered scanning The Novels of Jane Austen (Gill and Gregory) and seeing a small section that mentioned this very question:
"Fanny troubles some readers because she does not provide the kind of pleasures so often associated with the more conventional heroines of fiction.
A character who is silent, passive, tractable and morally vigilant is not going to delight the reader with her wit, excite us by her actions, stir us with admiration at her defiance or engage our sympathy and interest as we watch her negotiating the perilous path to moral enlightenment. The general point must be conceded: Fanny as a character does not satisfy conventional--romantic, sentimental---taste. And this surely is deliberate.
…Mansfield Park is distinctive because it renounces so much that art usually gives us. If it is dark, serious, earnest and even brooding, it is because Jane Austen is showing the reader something important through her denial of the more customarily pleasurable elements of fiction.
The answer to the reader who complains that there is insufficient interest--action, liveliness, wit, zest---in Fanny is that this is precisely what Jane Austen intends."
I was also reminded that the meek shall inherit the earth.
Fortified with these comments I was able to return to the novel and for the first time complete it while keeping an open mind. I could more clearly see that Fanny had a sense of humor if you looked closely, that she had passions and hopes, that she was strong and courageous when she felt a need to defend her beliefs.
During this group read, starting out with this new perspective of Fanny I hoped to get an answer to Jane Austen's intent by delving for further insight into the novel. As a child Fanny is thrust into a situation of isolation. She is not on a level with the Bertrams and though she is treated like a servant, she is obviously not of that class either. Where does she fit? She starts out as a girl of ten with no real identity anymore and does her best to cope while trying to feel her way along, eventually drifting into being a companion and running errands for her aunts. Being useful gives her life a purpose while she is unknowingly preparing herself for a life of service. She does what she needs to do to survive.
Austen elevates Fanny above all the other characters. There is a spiritual aura that surrounds her and aligns her with biblical figures who endured submissiveness and suffering with little or no complaint with sometimes, only their faith to sustain them. I am reminded of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his family and eventually after much suffering was raised up to a position of power and respect which enabled him to be of service both to his countrymen as well to the family who denied him. She is also associated with holy events/objects such as the East Room (birth and return of Christ, the three wisemen) and the cross which represents the suffering of Christ. Henry notes, "You have some touches of the angel in you..." (34)
Fanny is not perfect and must be saved three times but the fact that she is always saved/protected makes a statement that testifies to her faith and steadfastness. "The novel takes an evangelical line with Fanny when she is tempted." (Gill and Gregory):
1. Theatricals "…she is gradually drawn into the rehearsals…With the unexpected suddenness of a householder in one of Jesus's parables, Sir Thomas returns to rescue one whose own capacity for resistance was exhausted."
When Fanny has what she considers uncharitable thoughts of others, she in essence saves herself by backing up, reflecting/meditating and taking a more benevolent perspective.
Fanny and Edmund, both, are sometimes thought of as prudish, etc. because they lack worldly, entertaining personalities. Let Henry and Mary be witty and attractive, they who represent the fraying of the moral fabric of England. Austen's intent for Fanny and Edmund is a more significant one and they have the personalities suited to fulfill her purpose. While not the legal inheritors of the estate, they are destined to be the moral inheritors of Mansfield Park. Though not governors themselves (heads of MP), they have been bestowed with the important responsibility of exerting a positive influence on the governed, or as Edmund says, given the responsibility of "the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence" (9) These "two factors give society values and direction" (Gill and Gregory). Thus, at a time when those who are governing are morally bankrupt, they represent hope and are symbolic of the church's responsibility to oversee the moral health of England.
Looking at the novel from this point of view, I feel I understand Austen's intent, why she chose to make Fanny as she did and can see why Henry would not serve her symbolic and thematic purposes if she had allowed Fanny to marry him as her sister and often readers have wished. I have come to realize what an awesome person Fanny is and what is so great is that she doesn't know she is awesome. She is humble, gracious and grateful under the worst as well as the best of circumstances. I can't say with certainty that there might not be times when I find Fanny's submissiveness a bit difficult but looking at it from a religious viewpoint gives it a meaning and a reason for its existence. I imagine as time goes by Fanny and Edmund will develop more outgoing personalities but if they don't, they will be fine.
So, are we suppose to like Fanny? That is something each reader must decide for his/herself but I feel that we are suppose to see the goodness in her and realize she is someone to be admired, that her actions serve a purpose beyond the literal and provide something positive that speaks to the human condition and to us personally in our everyday lives.
I would have loved to present this in a longer more elaborate posting but time will not allow for it and this is long enough. I hope this will suffice and that I have managed to convey my thoughts in a fairly clear and reasonable manner. (It is so late!)
If you are reading this line, I thank you and appreciate your patience. :)
Groupread is maintained by Myretta with WebBBS 3.21.