Posted by Ann on April 29, 1997 at 02:42:36:
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:
It seems that many people consider Fanny to be meek, but I completely disagree with this. She is a very strong woman, who knows where to make her stand. She might let her Aunt Norris walk all over her, but there she has little choice. Mrs. Norris is in the position of almost total power over Fanny. Norris can ship her back to her unruly family in Portsmouth any time she wants. If Fanny failed to bend to her Aunt's wishes, she would have been branded by her Aunt as a very disagreeable and ungrateful child who was not worthy of being brought up under the charity of Mansfield Park. In such a situation it is not meekness but wisdom to go with the flow and protect ones own interests.
In other cases she was very strong. She refused to be talked into participating in the events just before Sir Thomas' return, and most important she refused to be talked into accepting a man whom she did not respect. This certainly is not meekness, but strength. We all admire Elizabeth Bennet for sticking to her principles and not accepting either Mr. Collins or Mr. Darcy, despite the alternative prospect of being thrown into relative poverty on the death of her father, and despite her mother's violent reaction to her first refusal. We also generally like Anne Elliot even though she did bend to the mistaken will of others. People who dislike Fanny's personality, her shyness and social timidity, do not seem to give Fanny the same respect they give the more vivacious Lizzy. Fanny's shyness should not be confused with weakness; a person can have great personal strength and still be shy.
Kali, you seem to look at MP with the eyes of an Emma reader (no surprise there!). Where Emma, as you have pointed out, is a book about growing up and learning from your mistakes, Mansfield Park is a very different sort of book, and Fanny a very different sort of character. I would agree that she shows little growth the way that you present it, but Fanny was faced not with a comfortable position in life from which she could experiment with new ideas and people, but a very uncomfortable and tenuous position with few options and with ill consequences for offending those with power over her.
For Fanny her goal was merely to survive in the harsh climate of Mansfield Park. Aunt Norris never let her forget for a second that she did not really belong there; that she was beneath everyone else at the Park; that she should be grateful for the honor of having been brought to Mansfield, and for the charity of Sir Thomas and herself. Fanny was relegated to a room in the attic near the servants with no heat and few amenities. Her cousins were encouraged to mock and belittle her. She underwent sometimes intense mental and emotional abuse. She is at times treated as little more than a servant, and only Edmund cares about her feelings or opinions about anything. She is then faced with seeing the only person at the Park she cared about and loved, make a fool of himself with a woman she did not respect--and who he should not have respected either. When the others at the park lobbied her to accept the offer of marriage, there was the implicit threat of being banished from her beloved home. Fanny could have been crushed and broken under all of these pressures, but she was not. That is her success and her purpose as a heroine--not to learn and grow but merely to survive.
I am not sure that I understand how you think Fanny should have reëvaluated her opinion of the Crawfords. They behaved in an improper and immoral way, as did her own cousins, should she have grown to think their impropriety was acceptable? If she did, what would her patron have thought of her? She behaved as she did not only to please Edmund or because that is what Edmund had taught her, but also to obey the wishes and respect the feelings of her Uncle, Sir Thomas--this was something his own children did not do. She was a guest in his home and had a responsibility to act in accordance with his wishes.
As for Fanny not growing in the course of the book, people need some reason or inducement to trigger their introspection and personal growth. I do not see what impetus Fanny could have had for a reëxamination of her choices. In Emma, Emma was faced with the realization that she had held silly opinions, had acted wrongly, and been unkind when she should have been more considerate. In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy and Darcy both act in prideful and prejudiced ways; they grow when they learn of their own wrong-headed opinions. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne is faced with her over-indulgent romaticisation of the world and awakened to a harsher reality; in this awakening she grows. In Persuasion, Anne meets with the object of a lost love and comes to learn exactly what she lost by making the choices she made; this forces her reëxamination. In all these cases the heroines behaved wrongly or thought wrongly about those around them (less so perhaps in Anne's case). It is in the realization of their errors that they find room to grow. I would say this is a fairly universal phenomenon. People do not grow when they are correct, but learn from their mistakes.
Fanny was not wrong! She was, on the contrary proven to be absolutely correct about everything. Why should she have reëvaluated her correct opinions? As Twentieth Century readers we may find the Crawfords modern and refreshing, but in an early Nineteenth Century context they were ill-mannered and misbehaved, and in the end they proved themselves to be immoral as well. Fanny saw through them when no one else did--not Sir Thomas and not even Edmund, who should have known better. If she had taken a moment for self-reflection, she would soon have been very satisfied with her value system and the courses of action she took. Where was she wrong?
You say that, "she refuses to analyze the Crawfords with an unbiased, open mind." But does she really? I believe she looks very plainly at them and finds them lacking. She is the only one who does see them clearly. Everyone else is shocked by their later behavior--Fanny is not because she has seen them in an unbiased manner.
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