Such is Fanny Price’s fate in Mansfield Park, where, as the consummate poorer relation, she grew up in constant reminder of her position in her mother’s sister’s family, the Bertrams. There she lived with her four cousins, the kindest of whom is the younger son, Edmund. He calls her My very dear Fanny and treats her like his very own sister and friend.
When Sir Thomas Bertram leaves Mansfield Park to attend to business abroad and when the Crawfords arrive in the nearby parsonage, a series of events take place.
Edmund falls in love with the witty Mary Crawford. His newly-engaged sister, Maria Bertram, is seduced by Mary’s brother, the exciter, Henry Crawford.
Fanny is aware of the wickedness of the Crawfords, but keeps her observations to herself, until she becomes Henry’s object of affection, a project that would soon fail because of his vanity.
Much has been said about Fanny Price’s being the untypical Austen heroine—–she’s not witty, she’s not daring, she’s content to sit silent when in company. She only becomes interesting when the worldly and independent Crawfords see in her the qualities that Edmund Bertram has long recognized.
Still, there’s something about Fanny that Jane Austen didn’t want us to forget.
She is incorruptible, which is why Edmund continues to regard her, to confide in her, to seek her opinion and judgment. She’d rather be thought ungrateful by her uncle, Sir Thomas, than marry someone whom she knows she can’t love. Unlike Mary Crawford, she doesn’t aspire to be rich nor to lead in any way for personal gain.
Jane Austen gave Fanny not wit, but principles and their application, which endeared her to the Bertrams, to Mansfield, her home. And to someone whose place in society is not warranted and who has little claim to her poor parents’ affections, her high morals and goodness of character have given her the thing she wanted most.
That, to me, is heroic.
Though nowhere near the preciousness of Persuasion or the excitement and drama in Pride and Prejudice, this novel is still a joy to read.
The misguided Crawfords, compared to the fortune-seeking Wickhams or even Mr. Willoughby, are more interesting antiheroes because of their sophistication and vanities.
Also, lookout for shifts in the first person POV. It’s a nice diversion, Jane Austen referring to herself as “I” or to her characters as “my” (My Fanny).