Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

It was strange reading this novel. Not because the novel itself was weird to me, but because of the contrast between the reactions between me and my classmates. I loved the novel. Out of the four I have read (Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), Mansfield Park is my favorite. This was not the case with my classmates. They found it harder to read, less interesting, and less relatable. They had a distaste for Fanny Price for lacking confidence or will, and thought she was prudish and too quiet. I, on the other hand, found her refreshingly reserved, wise, and prudent. I think this can certainly be traced to my Christian background in a secular classroom.

Fanny exhibits many Christian qualities.

  • Fanny can sit and rest (patience).
  • She loves to look at nature and wonder. She also loves to contemplate life and the important and deep aspects of it.
    • “‘Here’s harmony!’ said she, ‘Here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe. Here’s what may tranquillize every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.'” (Volume I Chapter XI)
    • “‘This is pretty–very pretty,’ said Fanny, looking around her as they were thus sitting together one day [Fanny and Mary]: ‘Every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as any thing, or capable of becoming any thing; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps in another three years we may be forgetting–almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!’ And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: ‘If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient–at others, so bewildered and so weak–and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond controul!–We are to be sure a miracle every way–but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out.'” (Volume II Chapter IV)
  • Fanny is selfless–she often makes herself useful, serving those around her.
  • Fanny is simple. She is honest, not an actor like the The Crawfords are. “Simplicity, indeed, is beyond the reach of almost every actress by profession.” (Volume I Chapter XIV)
  • Fanny is a listener. “Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and distresses of most of them.” (Volume I Chapter XVIII)
  • Fanny denies herself–denies her own will, that is. “‘If you cannot do without me ma’am,’ said Fanny, in a self-denying tone–” (Volume II Chapter IV)
  • Fanny practices self-sacrifice. Fanny puts others before her. This ties into her listening, her self-denial, and with her humility.
  • Fanny is humble: she believes herself to be inferior to others.
  • Fanny perseveres. She has solid, wise principles that she sticks to always. She is resolute in not acting (although she gives in at the end), and she is sure of her love of Edmund (although she begins to think differently about Henry).
  • Fanny is human. She does end up agreeing to act and she does consider marrying Henry near the end right before the scandal.
  • Fanny is compassionate and sympathetic. She actually cares for others.
  • Fanny is able to think and reflect, but also imagine! “Her eye fell every where on the lawns and plantations of the freshest green: and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state, when farther beauty is know to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination.” (Volume III Chapter XV)
  • Fanny considers everything a gift.

All of this attracted me to Fanny. My classmates couldn’t get past that she wouldn’t speak up for herself. Many thought this very sexist and anti-feminist. Well, (1) I think Austen thinks it prudent for women AND men to be restrained, and all the above qualities. (2) I actually want to posit that this is the most “feminist” of Austen’s novels (that I have read so far). Fanny is the one of the four (five if you count Marianne) heroines that does not have a serious misjudgment or mis-recognition. It is the people around her who are ignorant. Austen shows us that the woman does not have to have some serious folly. Also, Austen seems to employ the least amount of irony regarding her heroine in this novel. Other novels, especially Northanger Abbey, have pitcherfulls of irony concerning the heroine. Austen seems to endorse the characteristics of Fanny more so than any other of her characters (so far).

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