Posted by Kali on May 07, 1997 at 17:27:54:
In reply to What's a regency era heroine to do? posted by Barbara on May 07, 1997 at 14:40:11
The introduction to this Peguin Classics edition suggests that one thing that bothers people about Fanny as a heroine is that she is able to triumph by doing nothing. She rarely goes anywhere, sees few people, does not talk a lot, and is a bit on the sickly side. This introduction also suggests that Fanny, in doing nothing, is never, ever wrong.
] This made me think a bit. All the other main characters in MP do act inappropriately or make a poor judgement on at least one occasion. Fanny never does. And yet, it is not guaranteed that doing nothing will make someone heroic or even worth having around--look at Lady Bertram and compare the two sides of doing nothing!
] Also, in the rather restrained society of the regency era, maybe this is how a lot of women had to act because they had no other choice. Anne Elliot also sits quietly by most of the time, although she is able to take charge and take action when the need arises. As much as we all love Elizabeth Bennet and Emma, was it perhaps more ususal, or even acceptable for a young woman in this time to act more like Fanny or Anne?
I think perhaps it was hoped and expected that girls would act like Fanny (and Anne too, but Anne does have her independent streak, which is why I like her better). That's why I think that MP could be a "subversive" book. Austen gives us a "proper" heroine and a "happy" ending, but leaves us with a queasy stomach. I agree that Fanny's "doing nothing" is disturbing, but none of the other heroines really "do anything" either. The fact that Fanny fails -refuses - to to succumb to introspection is what ruins the book for me. She could still triumph by "doing nothing" if she learned from her experiences, and that would be fine by me.
It's interesting that the essay should mention Lady Bertram, because that's exactly the direction in which I see Fanny heading. Certainly Lady B is more vapid and less perceptive than Fanny, but since her marriage, she's had no reason to think, to analyze, to reevaluate her life and the lives of her loved ones. Her purpose in life has been accomplished. Once Fanny is lucky enough to have her snobby cousins, Aunt Norris, and the Crawfords away, she can marry Edmund and forget the past situations which brought her to the verge of truth, introspection, and the reevaluation of her own values and goals. With her marriage, all the tests of character are over, and she's been lucky enough to pass them all without finishing all the work. So what's left? Softening into the shallowness of respectable unenlightenment.
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