Passages from Mansfield Park in which Jane Austen gently laughs at Fanny Price

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If you have read Mansfield Park and came away with the impression that Fanny Price is too thoroughly moral and boringly perfect, then perhaps you have overlooked the passages included in the following posting from AUSTEN-L (as well as Jane Austen's declaration that "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked"):

Date: Tue, 25 Jun 1996 09:49:31 -0500
From: Henry Churchyard
Subject: Fanny Price's endearing imperfections

Megan Deacon wrote (in reference to Fanny Price and Mansfield Park):

"There are no or few scenes of authorial irony, where the narrator smiles kindly at her heroine's foibles, and we can also -- thus allowing us that sense of superiority that can also lead to greater sympathy for a character."

What about these? --

Chapter 10 [during the visit to Sotherton]:

After another pause, he [Mr. Rushworth] went on -- "Pray, Miss Price, are you such a great admirer of this Mr. Crawford as some people are? For my part, I can see nothing in him."

"I do not think him at all handsome."

"Handsome! Nobody can call such an under-sized man handsome. He is not five foot nine. I should not wonder if he was not more than five foot eight. I think he is an ill-looking fellow. In my opinion, these Crawfords are no addition at all. We did very well without them."

A small sigh escaped Fanny here, and she did not know how to contradict him.

Chapter 22:

Fanny, having been sent into the village on some errand by her aunt Norris, was overtaken by a heavy shower close to the Parsonage; and being descried from one of the windows endeavouring to find shelter under the branches and lingering leaves of an oak just beyond their premises, was forced, though not without some modest reluctance on her part, to come in. A civil servant she had withstood; but when Dr. Grant himself went out with an umbrella, there was nothing to be done but to be very much ashamed, and to get into the house as fast as possible. [...] The two sisters were so kind to her, and so pleasant, that Fanny might have enjoyed her visit could she have believed herself not in the way, and could she have foreseen that the weather would certainly clear at the end of the hour, and save her from the shame of having Dr. Grant's carriage and horses out to take her home, with which she was threatened.

Chapter 28:

[Fanny perceived] Mr. Crawford before her, and her thoughts were put into another channel by his engaging her almost instantly for the first two dances. Her happiness on this occasion was very much à la mortal, finely chequered. To be secure of a partner at first was a most essential good -- for the moment of beginning was now growing seriously near; and she so little understood her own claims as to think that if Mr. Crawford had not asked her, she must have been the last to be sought after, and should have received a partner only through a series of inquiry, and bustle, and interference, which would have been terrible...

Chapter 27:

[Edmund:] "I would not have the shadow of a coolness arise," he repeated, his voice sinking a little, "between the two dearest objects I have on earth."

He was gone as he spoke; and Fanny remained to tranquillise herself as she could. She was one of his two dearest -- that must support her. But the other -- the first! She had never heard him speak so openly before, and though it told her no more than what she had long perceived, it was a stab; -- for it told of his own convictions and views. They were decided. He would marry Miss Crawford. It was a stab, in spite of every long-standing expectation; and she was obliged to repeat again and again, that she was one of his two dearest, before the words gave her any sensation. Could she believe Miss Crawford to deserve him, it would be -- Oh! how different would it be -- how far more tolerable! But he was deceived in her: he gave her merits which she had not; her faults were what they had ever been, but he saw them no longer. Till she had shed many tears over this deception, Fanny could not subdue her agitation; and the dejection which followed could only be relieved by the influence of fervent prayers for his happiness.

It was her intention, as she felt it to be her duty, to try to overcome all that was excessive, all that bordered on selfishness, in her affection for Edmund. To call or to fancy it a loss, a disappointment, would be a presumption for which she had not words strong enough to satisfy her own humility. To think of him as Miss Crawford might be justified in thinking, would in her be insanity. To her he could be nothing under any circumstances -- nothing dearer than a friend. Why did such an idea occur to her even enough to be reprobated and forbidden? It ought not to have touched on the confines of her imagination. She would endeavour to be rational, and to deserve the right of judging of Miss Crawford's character, and the privilege of true solicitude for him, by a sound intellect and an honest heart.

She had all the heroism of principle, and was determined to do her duty; but having also many of the feelings of youth and nature, let her not be much wondered at, if, after making all these good resolutions on the side of self-government, she seized the scrap of paper on which Edmund had begun writing to her, as a treasure beyond all her hopes, and reading with the tenderest emotion these words, "My very dear Fanny, you must do me the favour to accept" -- locked it up with the chain, as the dearest part of the gift. It was the only thing approaching to a letter which she had ever received from him; she might never receive another; it was impossible that she ever should receive another so perfectly gratifying in the occasion and the style. Two lines more prized had never fallen from the pen of the most distinguished author -- never more completely blessed the researches of the fondest biographer. The enthusiasm of a woman's love is even beyond the biographer's. To her, the handwriting itself, independent of anything it may convey, is a blessedness. Never were such characters cut by any other human being as Edmund's commonest handwriting gave! This specimen, written in haste as it was, had not a fault; and there was a felicity in the flow of the first four words, in the arrangement of "My very dear Fanny," which she could have looked at for ever.

Having regulated her thoughts and comforted her feelings by this happy mixture of reason and weakness, she was able in due time to go down and resume her usual employments near her aunt Bertram, and pay her the usual observances without any apparent want of spirits.

Fanny Price's only religious remark

It is true that Fanny Price is very much concerned with social morality (her own right and wrong behavior even more than other people's), and that morality is connected with religion for her -- as was usual for her time and place. She also bursts out with a few expressions of naïve enthusiasm for the profession her beloved Edmund is entering into -- that of clergyman; and refuses to join in Mary Crawford's deprecation of the vocation of a clergyman. However, the following is Fanny Price's one and only statement of specifically religious piety in Mansfield Park (as far as I know):

Chapter 9:

[Mrs. Rushworth:]
"This chapel was fitted up as you see it, in James the Second's time. [...] It is a handsome chapel, and was formerly in constant use both morning and evening. Prayers were always read in it by the domestic chaplain, within the memory of many; but the late Mr. Rushworth left it off."

"It is a pity," cried Fanny, "that the custom should have been discontinued. It was a valuable part of former times. There is something in a chapel and chaplain so much in character with a great house, with one's ideas of what such a household should be! A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer is fine!"

(See also a comment by Ellen Moody on Fanny Price's piety.)

*Return to Jane Austen info page table of contents
*Return to Jane Austen's writings
*Go to discussion of Fanny Price as a source of controversy on the AUSTEN-L mailing list
*See also a concept illustration for another possible alternative ending to Mansfield Park (one that many people may find just as believable as Fanny getting together with Henry C.!)
*And What Fanny Price would have to do for some people not to find her "insipid"!

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