Posted by Ann on April 29, 1997 at 02:41:40:
In reply to Why did Austen write Mansfield Park? posted by Kali on April 28, 1997 at 19:59:46
Spoiler warning! For first time readers some spoilers follow:
I firmly believe that many people who do not like Fanny, are misplacing their feelings. It is not Fanny that they dislike, so much as the people Austen created and called Mary and Henry Crawford. They like the Crawfords so much in the beginning, that they resent the fact that Austen chose to make them her villains. People who like the Crawfords, are therefore dissatisfied with what Austen did to them at the end. The ending seems false to them, and is rejected--the Crawfords are frozen in what is perceived to be their early incarnation, what they were shown to be in the end is ignored. That Fanny was right about them, must then be rejected in order to preserve the illusion that the Crawfords were good people--when the Crawfords that Jane Austen created were certainly not. With the rejection of Fanny's observations of them, comes the rejection of Fanny. Mary and Henry are perceived with delight by many Fanny-haters as fun loving, more relaxed than those around them, and with modern eyes they are seen as rejecting some of the stuffiness of Nineteenth Century society. That they crossed the line between relaxing the rules and flat-out breaking them is ignored, and the Crawfords, particularly Henry, did cross that line in a spectacular fashion.
I believe the comment, "Why someone with Austen's evident genius would write a badly-conceived or badly-executed book is perplexing," is rooted, not in dislike of Fanny, but in dislike of Mary and Henry Crawford as Jane Austen wrote them. These were likable people in the start, but they were not really people deserving of our respect. Perhaps people feel betrayed by Austen, by having such initially likable people turn out to be villains, but this is what Austen chose to make the Crawfords.
The fact is that people like the Crawfords do exist in our time as well as in Austen's. Is it badly conceived to try turn our opinions upside down, to make the "bad" characters likable and the "good" character less likable? Or is that, perhaps, exactly what Austen was trying to do? She is challenging us to examine our preference for the likable but dissolute Crawfords over the less likable but good Fanny.
Many people come off as friendly and fun to be around at first, and then go on to betray our trust in them. That we liked them initially adds to the pain when their true nature is realized--this is part of what Austen was trying to show. But many people seem to cling to the goodness of the Crawfords, even when Austen provides us with ample evidence that they should not be respected by us. That the evidence was presented through the voice of a character that we like less than Mary and Henry, i.e. Fanny, should not lead us to reject the fact that Fanny was right. Austen has used this trick before, at the Netherfield ball Caroline informs Elizabeth that Wickham is not a man to be trusted--Elizabeth rejects this good advice, because it comes from a character she does not like. People seem to give Fanny's opinions less credence because they do not like her personality. Is Austen showing us our own faults in such matters?
This is not a case of accepting people from a different social sphere or class. Fanny is on the same level as the Crawfords, if not below. There is a difference between accepting people from different social spheres, as Darcy discovered, and between accepting people who behave badly, cruelly (what else is Henry's callous attempt to make Fanny fall in love with him, with no intention of following through should he succeed, if not cruel) and immorally--make no mistake the Crawfords were immoral. That is how Austen intended them to be. You can not ignore that fact! Should Lizzy have overlooked Wickham's behavior and accepted him with an "open mind"? I think not. Henry Crawford acted in a similar manner to Wickham, yet Lizzy's judgment is accepted and Fanny's is rejected. Why?
What does the tenacity of peoples good opinion of the Crawfords--despite damning evidence, and the tenacity of their bad opinion of Fanny, despite the corroboration of her opinions, say about their own prejudices?
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