Posted by Kali on April 29, 1997 at 23:45:38:
In reply to Re: Parts I-III: Ann's defense of Mansfield Park posted by Zoe on April 29, 1997 at 22:20:42
If we are not to derive our identity from our principles, what do you see as an acceptable way to derive our identity? (For what it's worth, and to allay any fear that I'm attacking you, I always enjoy your witty and intelligent posts, and generally make a point of looking at comments with your name attached.)
First of all thanks, I'm flattered (blush)! ;) And no, no offense taken!
Second of all, yes, identity is derived from one's own principles, but the operative words here are own principles. I wouldn't mind Fanny's rigidity if her instincts were logically correct (Austen makes her "instincts" correct, but only after she has passed judgement, and, I continue to maintain, in an unbelievable fashion), but they're not. It is unfortunate that her "strength," as Ann calls it, manifests itself primarily as stubborn prejudice when it comes to Mary and Edmund. Despite the fact that I like Mary (and Ann, I don't think I like her becuase she seems to be a "nice" or "good" person - it's because she's brilliant and open to experience [Mr. Kngihtley would like that, I'm sure!]! She's obviously got her flaws, but the extent to which Austen takes them is not credible!), I'm glad for Fanny that she ends up being correct. However, she is so limited by family circumstance, as Ann has said, and by living in a contained world with only one real friend (Edmund), that she has allowed herself to neglect to forge her own set of guiding principles, and even her own identity apart from Edmund. Without stimulation - and upon the arrival of the Crawfords, in reaction to it - Fanny's personal growth is stunted to personally-dysfunctional levels. As I stated before, she has taken what Edmund has taught her and taken it to extremes - to the point of narrow-minded selfishness and prejudice. Her principles are generically "correct," orthodox to the max, and, luckily for her, they do "well" by her in the end. But the PROBLEM I still have with the situation is that Fanny isn't really "right," she is lucky. There is really no skill of experience in her "insight." She plagiarised the fruit of another's moral education and merged it with her own reactionary victimhood (let's face it, part of her disdain for the morality of her cousins and the Crawford's lies in the fact that they're "cool" and she's not - and this is coming from a former Fanny, here!). Fanny lacks an understanding of the unfairness of reality and the sometimes bewildering truth that your "enemies" are not always the diametric "wrong" to your own "right."
I'm not saying that she has to like the Crawfords (I've said this before) - I am merely saying that mature, intelligent, and life-successful individuals attempt to understand the world about them, most especially the foreign or shady elements, before passing judgement. And when they DO pass judgement, they do so with the understanding that morality isn't black and white, but shaded with gray (yeah, I'm an ethical utilitarian).
My biggest problem with Fanny's conclusions are that they are falsely-based. She violently rejects the seemingly-reformed (through Portsmouth) Henry mostly because she can't stop obsessing over Edmund, who's obviously clueless and wimpy. I mean, she can't even be polite to the guy! And she REFUSES to get to know Mary because she's jealous of her power over Edmund, not because she's a nutcase. Typical, natural reactions, but not incredibly mature ones (but Fanny doesn't realize this, either - it might be different if she were aware of her own iniquity). Austen writes that Fanny has an understanding of the natural rather than the human (Mary), which is admirable but doesn't make up for an inability to live life thinking for oneself in the social world of humanity. She gives up on herself and defaults to Edmund's modes of thinking - and veritably out-Edmunds Edmund himself on occasion! A cop-out, really, despite the "strength" of her resolve. At best, it seems that Fanny is almost a force of nature...a physics formula...always theoretically right, but only in a vaccuum, where there are no human variables to screw it all up. She's like Scarlett O'Hara in that she's made up a nice suit of clothes (out of Edmund's second-hand ones, to boot!) for herself, for Edmund, and for her life that fit the frames, but hang inexpertly from the body, as if she's grabbed something pret-a-porter from the rack rather than taken the time to carefully select and fit a garment. Think about Fanny's place in the world with Edmund married to another, and Crawford unreformed. I tend to think that if removed from Mansfield Park to anywhere else, she still couldn't fit in - or even function in tandem with others (think Portsmouth...where only her sister, who near-worships Fanny and thereby gratifies and validates her flawed identity, is able to really interact with her). This nullifies the excuse that Fanny is really a whole person, but under wraps. She's kind and generally helpful, but utterly uncreative, non-group-adaptable, and prone to approach-avoidance and grudges.
And yeah, I know she's not Emma. Duh. But I'm not suggesting that she should be. Merely, I'm pointing out that by human standards, Fanny doesn't deserve to be happy. And not because she's quiet and simple of heart, but because she's self-centered and stubborn to the point of closed-mindedness (I know many very extroverted, entertaining people who exhibit the same tendency).
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