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Friday, 5 September 2014

Fanny and Anne

I've just found an insightful comment on Fanny Price in Mansfield Park:
"Fanny's critical views of others is generally the reason why readers tend to dislike her. But if you look very carefully, she does criticise herself and Edmund. She tells herself she is useless and unwanted during the theatre scene, whereas Mrs Grant is bustling, happy and wanted. But it is at Portsmouth when she undergoes real character development. She sees Susan busy, bustling and genuinely trying to reform the messy household, and feels sad because being meek, quiet and afraid of not being able to do much, she cannot reform anything, and admires Susan for being braver and more active than her. As for Edmund, she (inwardly) criticises him for joining the play after denouncing it at first. Of course she doesn't voice out her self-criticisms verbally, because that would have been out of character, but you can see she is aware of her self-esteem issues. Jane Austen was too smart to make her voice out her own faults, as people tend to voice out people's faults instead of her own. But I do think she is very hard on herself, and there are several examples in the book. Fanny is actually a sympathetic person. Yes she does criticise people severely, but she sympathises for the underdog, when other people neglect their sufferings e.g. Julia who is heartbroken and left out of the play, Maria who is abandoned by Henry, Mr Rushworth who can't get people to rehearse with him. She even has some fondness for Mary. I think Fanny sees the world differently from most people, and she tends to sympathise with underdogs rather than happy flourishing people, which is why her goodness is cast into the shade."
(http://thebriarfieldchronicles.blogspot.com)

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I've just realised how similar Fanny Price and Anne Elliot are.
- Both are introverted, quiet, gentle, timid, passive; not the type to stand up for themselves openly the way Elizabeth Bennet does.
- Both are sensitive, contemplative, thoughtful and insightful.
- Both love nature, poetry and solitude, and embody Romantic ideals.
- Both are listeners.
- Both are treated unfairly by the people around them.
- Both suffer, and suffer quietly.
- Both tend not to voice their opinions.
Of course, Fanny and Anne are not the same, Jane Austen does not repeat her characters. Fanny can be seen as rather selfish, for instance. And Anne, because of her age and lost love, has the maturity and melancholy not found in Fanny. That is, I haven't mentioned that the young Anne yields whereas Fanny resists to the end.
People who dislike Fanny are likely to think that she's too judgemental, not as kind and sweet as Anne, which has a bit of truth in it, but they forget 3 things: 1st, Fanny sounds harsher because she is jealous and, at the same time, if Anne has always been alone, Fanny isn't, she's abandoned and misunderstood by the person who has always been close to her- Edmund. 2nd, Fanny is compassionate like Anne- that's the point of the quote above, she notices everything and sympathises with the underdog (these details are easily overlooked, especially by those who are too busy condemning Fanny and feeling for Henry and Mary). And 3rd, both Fanny and Anne are the only ones in Mansfield Park and Persuasion, respectively, who distrust a person that everyone else adores- Henry Crawford and William Elliot. And they both are right. 
Let's look again at a passage from Persuasion
"... Though they had now been acquainted a month, she could not be satisfied that she really knew his character. That he was a sensible man, an agreeable man, that he talked well, professed good opinions, seemed to judge properly and as a man of principle, this was all clear enough. He certainly knew what was right, nor could she fix on any one article of moral duty evidently transgressed; but yet she would have been afraid to answer for his conduct. She distrusted the past, if not the present. The names which occasionally dropt of former associates, the allusions to former practices and pursuits, suggested suspicions not favourable of what he had been. She saw that there had been bad habits; that Sunday travelling had been a common thing; that there had been a period of his life (and probably not a short one) when he had been, at least, careless in all serious matters; and, though he might now think very differently, who could answer for the true sentiments of a clever, cautious man, grown old enough to appreciate a fair character? How could it ever be ascertained that his mind was truly cleansed?
Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.
Mr Elliot was too generally agreeable. Various as were the tempers in her father's house, he pleased them all. He endured too well, stood too well with every body. He had spoken to her with some degree of openness of Mrs Clay; had appeared completely to see what Mrs Clay was about, and to hold her in contempt; and yet Mrs Clay found him as agreeable as any body." 
One can ask, why so hard on William Elliot? why not believe that he has changed? why not simply accept that he's agreeable? And yet I haven't never seen anyone ask why Anne distrusts William so much, why she's so judgemental, why she's so harsh and unforgiving. Not that I think so, mind you. I'm only pointing out the similarities between Fanny and Anne, and questioning why some people are so hostile to Fanny. 
At this point, I believe that those that dislike Fanny do so less because of her personality, as they claim, than because of the charming Crawfords.

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