Posted by Kali on April 30, 1997 at 17:53:24:
In reply to Yes, professor; no, professor posted by Amy on April 30, 1997 at 12:02:20
"Growth" need not, as everyone seems to be screaming at us, come in the form of a hyperbolic, Emma-style epiphany. Still, if the characters aren't learning something, why read - or write - the book (unless the writer is attempting something sneaky and contrary, but even then, who'll get it?)? Mansfield Park could teach us plenty about life, but since Fanny herself actually gleans very little, nothing poignant happens, the action warps, and we conclude with anticlimax and half a heroine. It's almost as if Fanny herself is in the role of a simple, uninterested but not unbiased reader (think of a junior high student watching Dynasty) - an observer - not trying terribly hard to understand what's really going on, and satisfied when her favorite charater wins the man and ends up "happy."
On Anne: She's learned, all right - we're just catching the tail end of her growth phase. She's at a "forming conclusions" stage, at the end of which she will be able to reevaluate her relationships with her family and friends. When Wentworth reenters her life and makes it evident that he still cares, she realizes once and for all that she should trust herself (a notion that's been incubating all along - bucking her father's wishes to go see her crippled school friend, for example), and take what others say - even Lady Russell, and old friend and confidante - with the appropriate measure of salt.
On Elinor: I agree that she and Marianne are designed to be two sides of the same coin. Probably, as the original incarnation of the story was written while Austen was very young, both sisters were fashioned as the two sides of Austen's own personality. Marianne's growth is easy to chart (with such a violent upheaval, who couldn't change?). Elinor's development is quieter, more subtle. In her frustrated love for Edward, she comes to better understand the role of emotion in living life as well as her sister's impulses toward openness, thereby better understanding Marianne herself. Elinor, like Fanny Price, is not in a position to change her love's situation or her own, but she can, and does, try to put life into perspective without letting childish jealousy get in the way. She can't stand Lucy or Fanny Dashwood becasue they're silly, mean people, and NOT simply because they stand in her way.
I think the key is not really so much the obvious "signs" of growth or lack thereof - it's the mindset and creative intelligence of the character! This is not to suggest that flamboyant, gregarious people are creative and intelligent while quiet, introverted ones are not - rather, those who can surmount selfishness, think independently, and learn from the world rather than fight against it like mules are brilliant, interesting, and useful to us as readers while the others are not. Elinor's behavior and thoughts are fodder for contemplation and models of procession (it doesn't matter if she gets Edward or not - she's still gained something). Fanny's, in and of themselves, are dead ends, as her moral vindication is a result of luck rather than original moral insight or skill of experience.
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