Posted by Kali on April 27, 1997 at 02:03:14:
In reply to Reasons why I never read MP before: posted by Barbara on April 25, 1997 at 14:48:09
I have seen the "Fanny Wars" that periodically erupt. There are never "Lizzy wars" and although there may be some disagreement about whether Marianne or Emma or Anne Elliot should or should not have acted in a particular way, it never even comes close to the different (and strong!) opinions people seem to have about Fanny Price.
Disliking Fanny seems to fall into three categories: Those who can't identify with a passive (read: boring) Austen heroine, those who think Fanny is an obnoxious, moralising prig, and those - like me - who believe that Fanny's remarkable traits are needlessly dimnished by her stubbornness and numb pride. I've got to say, however, that I don't really DISLIKE fanny, but I am very disappointed in her as a character. Maybe that's the point. Anyhow...
What seems unfortunate - and wasteful - is the fact that Fanny doesn't really LEARN anything, as does Marianne, Lizzy, Emma. She doesn't develop as a person. Certainly, Lizzy is disgusting in that she revels in her own insight, and Marianne is nearly contemptible in her self-distructive disregard of her own spirit and well-being, and Emma, of course, is a naive, delusional snob. But these heroines come to terms with themselves and the truth - and conquer their iniquities - without destroying their basic selves (Marianne may be an exception, but at the very least she learns to LIVE with the knowledge that Willoughby was wrong for her).
When Fanny is given opportunities to explore new viewpoints and come to terms with new people, she retreats without self-examination, immediately condemning all that is new and retreating - spiritually - back into the unstimulating role of silent "moral sentinel" of Mansfield Park and Edmund's faithful lieutenant. At a stage in life when many young women are reexamining their lives, their loves, and their analyses of life, Fanny clings on more than ever before. Though her insights on those around her are correct, I've come to think that her rightness is less a product of her "cosmic connection" than luck. Especially when you consider the helpfully- and hastily-placed flaws in Mary and even Henry. After all, how can she help but be an omnipotent moral observer in a household of selfish and unenlightened individuals wherin she makes no choices, expends no energy, and involves herself in no characterbuilding, baptism-by-fire, neck-out-on-the line activities? It's easy to judge others in situations which you never expect to find yourself. And it's easy to run away from trouble without really thinking about what's really wrong with what you're running from.
This brings me to the question of whether Fanny actually has an essential self as do the other heroines. Her morals - which I have praised in the past - are not really her own, they have been instilled upon her by her love and only friend (besides her absent brother), Edmund. She never really stops to question them, reinforce them with her own logic, or amend them to fit her own independent notions of what is right. They're there, and they suit her purposes when she becomes jealous of Mary. Even her love, it seems, is rooted more in grateful repayment for kindness than truely tested admiration, for he is all she knows. And instead of reevaluating the level of his perfection when he falls in love with Mary, she blames MARY for being deceptive and dissimulative! SO what are we left with? Someone who is proud, unreceptive to change, retentive, and uninquisitive. And self-centered, too, as if, as the victim, she is entitled to be right on everything. Someone who collapses back into her own empty artificiality when she is unable to forge a connection on her own terms.
I don't mean that she should embrace the Crawfords, ditch Edmund, or learn to love her boorish father. Rather, she should take each experience and meld it into some sort of fabric of personality. Even someone who has been beaten down by circumstances into necessary meekness can be an individual and an active student of life. Fanny has proven that she has qualities that can she can build into strength of character - she just needs to understand who she is first, as a citizen of the outside world and NOT just Mansfield Park.
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