Posted by Kali on April 28, 1997 at 19:59:46:
In reply to Fanny identification posted by Amy on April 27, 1997 at 11:11:32
I am glad we are doing this read. Thanks, Ann, for thinking of it. I hope we don't get too "het up" about it.
You know we will if the wrong people get wind of it. There are sorts out there who are hell-bent on making us bad guys no matter what our intent. ;)
No offense to anyone who really loves Fanny, but she really is backwards in comparison to the other heroines, for negative reasons or not. I think it was Karen P. who said on the L that Mansfield Park is a moral inversion, in which the traditional "good" is stifling and dysfunctional while the irreverent is healthy and refreshing. To take it a step further, Fanny is an inversion of the typical Austen heroine - but more than just in the sense that she's meek and without vivacity. She is essentially the same person at the end of the action as she is at the beginning (constancy is good, but not without self-examination). This is not to say that she is without insight (her visit to Portsmouth opens up her eyes to her family, for example, and assists her in putting their place and role in her life into perspective), but she never really grows up in the sense that Edmund (who's a drip) remains the center of her universe and SHE refuses to analyze the Crawfords with an unbiased, open mind.
I used to think that Fanny was blessed with cosmic insight, but the more I think about it, the more I think that she is cursed with an outsider's complex - an inability to understand or accept the foreign, to be flexible in the face of new challenges. She seems to live behind a hard plastic wall - one she can see through, but can't go through and refuses to go around.
Considering that Edmund himself is flawed to the point of unenlightenment (let's face it, he chooses Fanny by default, and not because she's the brightest star in his space), it seems like a fittingly cruel joke that Austen would stiff her with him in the end. Be careful what you wish for, Fanny, because you just might get it. She does, and the sad thing is, she's happy with it. Only the incredibly lucky or the incredibly limited marry their childhood first loves and remain magically happy. An unremarkable groom for a static-minded and rather self-satisfied bride.
Maybe Austen's point is that simple hearts have a place in the world - the alternative realities thing. Maybe she's propagandizing us on behalf of formal reverence, morality, and conservatism - again the alternative realities thing. But either way, Mansfield Park is problemmatic, structurally and thematically. Why someone with Austen's evident genius would write a badly-conceived or badly-executed book is perplexing.
Maybe the novel is meant to be an example of what is wrong with the traditional, the simple, the unquestioned and "perfect"...we read the book and think, "Okay, everybody we're supposed to like is happy, right? So why do I feel uneasy?" - I don't think it's meant to be an attack on the intrinsic value of tradition, religion, and morals, but I do see the possibility that Austen was trying to show, in an underhanded sort of way, the sneaking wrong within society's "right." P&P and Emma deal with snobbery and the invidiousness of class distinctions, but they don't hammer away at British institutions nor do they make value judgements considering inherent faults in culture and society. Things are as they are, and all turns out inarguably well in the end. But MP is different...it sheds a new light on the foundations of accepted morality which reveals a subtle falseness - and sick tinge - to a seemingly sound system of values.
After all, Edmund and Fanny are both good people, but they both have trouble with introspection and reevaluation - the thematic importance of which, when you consider the other five Austen biggies, are major. Edmund goes a bit farther than Fanny does, in loving Mary for who she is, but he still can't reconcile her irreverence and her criticism of the clergy with his love for her. He - and thereby Fanny - are saved only when Mary is "blackened" by her attitudes towards Tom's illness and Henry's little affair with Maria. Easy and lucky. Edmund doesn't have to make a self-damning decision, and Fanny can marry the man she loves - two people who derive identity from the morality they adhere to...ciphers for social-moral obsolescence! ...blind, in Fanny's case, despite her excellent senses, and lost, in Edmund's case, even though he - as a clergyman - has "found" God's way. This image would not be new in Austen - think Collins and Elton, the clueless clergymen. (Parallels for the intelligent girl who cuts off her nose to spite her face are Emma and Lizzy, but they eventually come to.)
Maybe I'm obsessing too much about this...perhaps Austen wanted this work to be an intellectual trick - academic quicksand! The more we analyze it, the more confused we get. Still, there may be a case for the idea that morals and rules - no matter how applicable they may appear - are only as poignant as the minds they rule.
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