Friday, 24 January 2014

Fanny Price and Jane Austen's philosophy of the virtues

1/ "Fanny's quiet, modest, stiff intellect is reminiscent of typical 18th century heroines a la Fanny Burney/Maria Edgeworth. But unlike her predecessors Austen recasts Fanny as a convincing character. She is not a mere goody-goody model of perfection: she is sensitive and delicate, and almost nobody admires her (even Edmund is somewhat patronising to her). She is a creature of habit, though like everyone else she likes a novelty off and on. It is startlingly similar to Susan Cain's book on introverts in today's world, and Fanny is one of them. Introverts can be creatures of habit, and need less excitement to be happy. I admit I was annoyed with her refusing to join the play, because I didn't think plays were immoral. But I now see that flirting onstage would be improper by Victorian standards, and the more severe Regency ladies. Fanny is uncomfortable with this. Fanny's love for novelty is from within, not from exciting activity. She seems to be more influenced by intellectual excitement than plays, because it shapes her way of thinking and feeling, and she is a dull moron with acting silly plays. And she is not totally averse to plays, because she admires Shakespeare. There is a reason Austen mentions Shakespeare as well as Kotzebue's silly play. Fanny's taste is high and selective. The others are selective for high society, she is selective for literary taste. I call Fanny a new Romantic, because she prefers the grand and noble, the emotional and the pastoral to the humorous and socially-elevated. She has more affinity with Cowper and Walter Scott than the 18th century wits. Her longing for nature and the good old days seems backward, and therefore casts doubt on her romanticism (because we thinking of romantics as radicals) but that is not true. The Romantics yearned for the days before industrialism and false taste, for inward bliss rather than mean gratifications. Ironically this makes her more progressive than the others, she has more soul than the other well-born characters. Shakespeare lost some reputation in the 17th century and the early 18th century, but in the latter half of the 18th century and the early 19th century he became king of drama, and the Romantics responded to him in kind. Fanny is an individual, never a member of a set, and I wonder if Austen was thinking of a literary bluestocking when she wrote MP. The character is so unusual and yet so convincing I suspect she had a friend with a similar character. If you look at Dorothy Wordsworth there are some similarities with Fanny Price."
(Caroline Helstone)


3/ On the book "Jane Austen's philosophy of the virtues":


Is she not over the Jane Austen mania yet? I know what you're thinking. Well, no. Not really. 
But I am reading "Invisible man" by Ralph Ellison at the moment, and will soon write about it, if possible. 

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