Sunday, 22 December 2013

Fanny Price and Jane Eyre

This entry shall have 2 parts:
Part 1:
1/ Whilst both are in an inferior situation, both are independent and have their own set of principle, Jane Eyre has many other admirable qualities that can't be found in Fanny, such as strength, toughness, boldness, courage, endurance, vivid imagination, frankness... She works as a governess and later as a teacher, and earns her own living. The fact that she leaves Rochester on her own, when figuring out about Bertha Mason, and goes away regardless of the future, is already enough to show that she can do things Fanny's never capable of, and it's because of her strong mind, boldness and determination that she's more valuable to a woman reader than someone like Fanny. Fanny can sometimes be moralistic and self-righteous to the point of being priggish and unlikeable, she can sometimes be rather selfish, and passive, not doing anything for herself and her family.

2/ This is an excerpt from "Mansfield park":
"Having visited many more rooms than could be supposed to be of any other use than to contribute to the window-tax, and find employment for housemaids, "Now," said Mrs. Rushworth, "we are coming to the chapel, which properly we ought to enter from above, and look down upon; but as we are quite among friends, I will take you in this way, if you will excuse me."
They entered. Fanny's imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. "I am disappointed," said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. "This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be 'blown by the night wind of heaven.' No signs that a 'Scottish monarch sleeps below.'"
"You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements."
"It was foolish of me not to think of all that; but I am disappointed."
"It is a pity," cried Fanny, "that the custom should have been discontinued. It was a valuable part of former times. There is something in a chapel and chaplain so much in character with a great house, with one's ideas of what such a household should be! A whole family assembling regularly for the purpose of prayer is fine!"
"Very fine indeed," said Miss Crawford, laughing. "It must do the heads of the family a great deal of good to force all the poor housemaids and footmen to leave business and pleasure, and say their prayers here twice a day, while they are inventing excuses themselves for staying away."
"That is hardly Fanny's idea of a family assembling," said Edmund. "If the master and mistress do not attend themselves, there must be more harm than good in the custom."
"At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such subjects. Everybody likes to go their own way—to chuse their own time and manner of devotion. The obligation of attendance, the formality, the restraint, the length of time—altogether it is a formidable thing, and what nobody likes; and if the good people who used to kneel and gape in that gallery could have foreseen that the time would ever come when men and women might lie another ten minutes in bed, when they woke with a headache, without danger of reprobation, because chapel was missed, they would have jumped with joy and envy. Cannot you imagine with what unwilling feelings the former belles of the house of Rushworth did many a time repair to this chapel? The young Mrs. Eleanors and Mrs. Bridgets—starched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different—especially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at—and, in those days, I fancy parsons were very inferior even to what they are now."
For a few moments she was unanswered. Fanny coloured and looked at Edmund, but felt too angry for speech; and he needed a little recollection before he could say, "Your lively mind can hardly be serious even on serious subjects. You have given us an amusing sketch, and human nature cannot say it was not so. We must all feel at times the difficulty of fixing our thoughts as we could wish; but if you are supposing it a frequent thing, that is to say, a weakness grown into a habit from neglect, what could be expected from the private devotions of such persons? Do you think the minds which are suffered, which are indulged in wanderings in a chapel, would be more collected in a closet?"
"Yes, very likely. They would have two chances at least in their favour. There would be less to distract the attention from without, and it would not be tried so long."
"The mind which does not struggle against itself under one circumstance, would find objects to distract it in the other, I believe; and the influence of the place and of example may often rouse better feelings than are begun with. The greater length of the service, however, I admit to be sometimes too hard a stretch upon the mind. One wishes it were not so; but I have not yet left Oxford long enough to forget what chapel prayers are."
Edmund looked round at Mr. Rushworth too, but had nothing to say.
"Your father's return will be a very interesting event."
"It will, indeed, after such an absence; an absence not only long, but including so many dangers."
"It will be the forerunner also of other interesting events: your sister's marriage, and your taking orders."
"It is fortunate that your inclination and your father's convenience should accord so well. There is a very good living kept for you, I understand, hereabouts."
"Which you suppose has biassed me?"
"But that I am sure it has not," cried Fanny.
"Thank you for your good word, Fanny, but it is more than I would affirm myself. On the contrary, the knowing that there was such a provision for me probably did bias me. Nor can I think it wrong that it should. There was no natural disinclination to be overcome, and I see no reason why a man should make a worse clergyman for knowing that he will have a competence early in life. I was in safe hands. I hope I should not have been influenced myself in a wrong way, and I am sure my father was too conscientious to have allowed it. I have no doubt that I was biased, but I think it was blamelessly."
"It is the same sort of thing," said Fanny, after a short pause, "as for the son of an admiral to go into the navy, or the son of a general to be in the army, and nobody sees anything wrong in that. Nobody wonders that they should prefer the line where their friends can serve them best, or suspects them to be less in earnest in it than they appear."
"No, my dear Miss Price, and for reasons good. The profession, either navy or army, is its own justification. It has everything in its favour: heroism, danger, bustle, fashion. Soldiers and sailors are always acceptable in society. Nobody can wonder that men are soldiers and sailors."
"But the motives of a man who takes orders with the certainty of preferment may be fairly suspected, you think?" said Edmund. "To be justified in your eyes, he must do it in the most complete uncertainty of any provision."
"What! take orders without a living! No; that is madness indeed; absolute madness."
"Shall I ask you how the church is to be filled, if a man is neither to take orders with a living nor without? No; for you certainly would not know what to say. But I must beg some advantage to the clergyman from your own argument. As he cannot be influenced by those feelings which you rank highly as temptation and reward to the soldier and sailor in their choice of a profession, as heroism, and noise, and fashion, are all against him, he ought to be less liable to the suspicion of wanting sincerity or good intentions in the choice of his."
"Oh! no doubt he is very sincere in preferring an income ready made, to the trouble of working for one; and has the best intentions of doing nothing all the rest of his days but eat, drink, and grow fat. It is indolence, Mr. Bertram, indeed. Indolence and love of ease; a want of all laudable ambition, of taste for good company, or of inclination to take the trouble of being agreeable, which make men clergymen. A clergyman has nothing to do but be slovenly and selfish—read the newspaper, watch the weather, and quarrel with his wife. His curate does all the work, and the business of his own life is to dine."
"There are such clergymen, no doubt, but I think they are not so common as to justify Miss Crawford in esteeming it their general character. I suspect that in this comprehensive and (may I say) commonplace censure, you are not judging from yourself, but from prejudiced persons, whose opinions you have been in the habit of hearing. It is impossible that your own observation can have given you much knowledge of the clergy. You can have been personally acquainted with very few of a set of men you condemn so conclusively. You are speaking what you have been told at your uncle's table."
"I speak what appears to me the general opinion; and where an opinion is general, it is usually correct. Though I have not seen much of the domestic lives of clergymen, it is seen by too many to leave any deficiency of information."
 "Where any one body of educated men, of whatever denomination, are condemned indiscriminately, there must be a deficiency of information, or (smiling) of something else. Your uncle, and his brother admirals, perhaps knew little of clergymen beyond the chaplains whom, good or bad, they were always wishing away."
"Poor William! He has met with great kindness from the chaplain of the Antwerp," was a tender apostrophe of Fanny's, very much to the purpose of her own feelings if not of the conversation.
"I have been so little addicted to take my opinions from my uncle," said Miss Crawford, "that I can hardly suppose—and since you push me so hard, I must observe, that I am not entirely without the means of seeing what clergymen are, being at this present time the guest of my own brother, Dr. Grant. And though Dr. Grant is most kind and obliging to me, and though he is really a gentleman, and, I dare say, a good scholar and clever, and often preaches good sermons, and is very respectable, I see him to be an indolent, selfish bon vivant, who must have his palate consulted in everything; who will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one; and who, moreover, if the cook makes a blunder, is out of humour with his excellent wife. To own the truth, Henry and I were partly driven out this very evening by a disappointment about a green goose, which he could not get the better of. My poor sister was forced to stay and bear it."
"I do not wonder at your disapprobation, upon my word. It is a great defect of temper, made worse by a very faulty habit of self-indulgence; and to see your sister suffering from it must be exceedingly painful to such feelings as yours. Fanny, it goes against us. We cannot attempt to defend Dr. Grant."
"No," replied Fanny, "but we need not give up his profession for all that; because, whatever profession Dr. Grant had chosen, he would have taken a—not a good temper into it; and as he must, either in the navy or army, have had a great many more people under his command than he has now, I think more would have been made unhappy by him as a sailor or soldier than as a clergyman. Besides, I cannot but suppose that whatever there may be to wish otherwise in Dr. Grant would have been in a greater danger of becoming worse in a more active and worldly profession, where he would have had less time and obligation—where he might have escaped that knowledge of himself, the frequency, at least, of that knowledge which it is impossible he should escape as he is now. A man—a sensible man like Dr. Grant, cannot be in the habit of teaching others their duty every week, cannot go to church twice every Sunday, and preach such very good sermons in so good a manner as he does, without being the better for it himself. It must make him think; and I have no doubt that he oftener endeavours to restrain himself than he would if he had been anything but a clergyman."
"We cannot prove to the contrary, to be sure; but I wish you a better fate, Miss Price, than to be the wife of a man whose amiableness depends upon his own sermons; for though he may preach himself into a good-humour every Sunday, it will be bad enough to have him quarrelling about green geese from Monday morning till Saturday night."" 

Mary Crawford, in this extract, shows some prejudices, but in these discussions, I generally find myself siding with her instead of Fanny. I don't even have a word to call Fanny, but this is another thing at which Jane Eyre is better than Fanny, because Jane Eyre makes a clear distinction between religion and morality and the novel deals with some bad Christians such as Mr Brocklehurst and St John Rivers.

3/ Another aspect in which "Jane Eyre" beats "Mansfield park" is its originality, its fire. "Jane Eyre" attracts, intrigues, engrosses, scares, haunts, shocks, enrages, and excites many such strong emotions. The readers can't forget the red room, Rochester's bed in fire, Richard Mason covered with blood, Bertha Mason's appearance and laugh, the torn wedding dress, St John Rivers's perfectly beautiful but emotionless face... and above all, Jane Eyre's childhood and suffering and all the injustices she faces. Jane Austen's novels are very natural and realistic and may have deep impression and influence on the readers, but are never 'explosions'.

Part 2: 
"Jane Eyre", on the other hand, has many defects. Some of them have been discussed on my blog before, such as problems with the plot: Jane Eyre, after leaving Rochester, ends up at the most impossible place- her cousins' home; when she leaves St John Rivers and returns to Rochester, she finds everything conveniently solved and now, with Bertha dead and herself inheriting a fortune, is able to marry him. As Virginia Woolf has written, in "A room of one's own", Charlotte Bronte once in a while preaches about gender inequality, which deviates from the narrative, and she seems to write with a bit too much indignation.
Not only so, the link at the top shows that there are other 'nuisances' about this novel, such as ethnic slurs. 
It also reminds me of an essay I read a while ago in my "Fiction and film" course- "The sultan and the slave: Feminist Orientalism and the structure of "Jane Eyre"" by Joyce Zonana, which can be read here:
"Bronte's use of feminist orientalism is both embedded in and brings into focus a long tradition of Western feminist writing. Beginning early in the eighteenth century, when European travelers' tales about visits to the Middle East became a popular genre, images of despotic sultans and desperate slave girls became a central part of an emerging liberal feminist discourse about the condition of women not in the East but in the West. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Margaret Fuller and Florence Nightingale, one discovers writer after writer turning to images of oriental life- and specifically the "Mahometan" or "Arabian" harem- in order to articulate their critiques of the life of women in the West. Part of the larger orientalism that Edward Said has shown to inform Western self-representation, the function of these images is not primarily to secure Western domination over the East, though certainly they assume and enforce that domination.4 Rather, by figuring objection- able aspects of life in the West as "Eastern," these Western feminist writers rhetorically define their project as the removal of Eastern ele- ments from Western life. Feminist orientalism is a special case of the literary strategy of using the Orient as a means for what one writer has called Western "self- redemption": "transforming the Orient and Oriental Muslims into a vehicle for... criticism of the West itself" (Al-Bazei 1983, 6).5 Specifically, feminist orientalism is a rhetorical strategy (and a form of thought) by which a speaker or writer neutralizes the threat inherent in feminist demands and makes them palatable to an audience that wishes to affirm its occidental superiority. If the lives of women in England or France or the United States can be compared to the lives of women in "Arabia", then the Western feminist's desire to change the status quo can be represented not as a radical attempt to restructure the West but as a conservative effort to make the West more like itself. Orientalism- the belief that the East is inferior to the West, and the representation of the Orient by means of unexamined, stereotypical images- thus becomes a major premise in the formulation of numerous Western feminist arguments." (Joyce Zonana)
And "This Western man is "Eastern" in his ways, and for Jane to be happy, he must be thoroughly Westernized." (Joyce Zonana)

The essay goes on to list heaps of examples, hints, signs of Feminist Orientalism in "Jane Eyre", which I always overlooked during the 2-3 times reading the book, and now having known Charlotte Bronte's attitude (any European treatment of women found as objectionable is labelled as Eastern, like Mary Wollstonecraft had done) and learnt about this 'trend' among many 19th century feminists, I find it utterly impossible to look at the book the same way as before. 

In the end, I must repeat once more that, albeit starting to appreciate Jane Austen's works, I am still a fan of the Bronte sisters, especially Emily, and by no means, a detractor of Charlotte Bronte, especially when I've read only 1 novel by her whereas, by Jane Austen, I've read "Emma" and "Sense and sensibility" and "Mansfield park" and am now reading "Northanger Abbey". Any such comparison isn't fair, Virginia Woolf says Charlotte's masterwork is not "Jane Eyre" but "Villette". Having said that, I'm not blind to the flaws of "Jane Eyre", my favourite novel of junior high school years, and now, see even more things I would like to write about. A book itself stays the same, our perception of it changes over time as we grow.
Any thoughts? 

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