Mansfield Park primarily revolves around the character Fanny Price as she acutely feels many emotions throughout the book, battles with herself on questions of conduct and principles and finally, like every heroine in Jane Austen’s novels is blessed with complete happiness. The story centres around Fanny Price and her cousins in Manfield Park, but also brings in questions of what it means to be “educated” and how we value accomplishments above understanding in our course of “education”. It is a satire over the claims of Modern society in being highly accomplished and superior.
Fanny Price is arranged to be brought into Mansfield Park from her home at Portsmouth which cannot support the ever-increasing number of children. Her re-location in this manner, makes her a timid child of ten who is ‘longing for the home she has left’. This state is unpredicted by the residents of Mansfield Park, Mr. Bertram and his family, who expect a child with ‘vulgarity of manner’ and a ‘meanness of opinion’ that shall be corrected as the child grows up in a better environment. They assume the child will be flushed and royally happy at this elevation of position to be at Mansfield Park. The young Bertrams- Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia are handsome, intelligent, socially confident and in every way as accomplished as their father could wish for. Poor Fanny arrives in such a home with the most elementary skills: she can ‘read, sew and write.’ The Bertram girls, on the other hand, trained in the most fashionable method of memorizing tables, charts and chronologies are praised by their Aunt Norris at every turn. There is a clear discrimination between the educated and accomplished ladies as compared to the uneducated and unaccomplished Fanny Price. Later in the novel, as the story unfolds, we find these children of the Bertram family lacking an ‘active principle’ from their education as Sir Bertram realizes. In a general sense, this novel’s educational theme compares the shallow, pleasure-seeking nature of the accomplished women as compared to the moral inward knowledge acquired by Fanny Price.This study provides the reader with an insight into how characters may be formed in relation to environment and opportunity, a project undertaken to test the limits and potentials of individual reprogramming.
Throughout the novel, Fanny remains a most timid and subdued being who struggles inwardly but never raises her voice in the company of people, even when her gentleness can be a bane to the listeners like Mr. Crawford who do not sense the steel resolution behind it. The meekness and subdued nature of Fanny Price makes it a matter of debate for me whether she is the ideal model of feminine delicacy. I like the more authoritative natures of Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett who could not be trampled over or mistaken for gentle weak creatures. While she is described variously as ‘exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice’, ‘the perfect model of a woman’ and ‘who firm as a rock in her principles,.. Will make her male partner every thing’ and even as having ‘some touches of the angel’ in her, I admire and compliment these ingredients but at the same time disagree with the entire basis of her excellence. Fanny’s excellence lies in her ‘consciousness of being born to struggle and endure’, her inferior birth makes her meek and submissive to the needs and wants of others. Her charitable constitution, her fear of giving offence, her hidden sufferings all originate due to her inferiority of birth and her strict morality from her limited companions and experiences. She cannot afford to be otherwise, with so much at stake. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, blessed with wealth, is a more animated creature with her ready wit, beauty and boldness. She is placed in stark contrast to Fanny Price, both of whom are everything that the other is not. Mary comes closer to being a real character- with her selfishness, her affections, her fancies and her individuality. I cannot help but feel disturbed by Fanny Price, her constant timidity and taciturn nature, her inability to stand up for herself are qualities I cannot admire. And yet, there is much to like and learn from her uprightness, steadfastness, charitableness and lack of self-indulgence and vanity.
The instance in the novel where I liked her best was when she is taking a walk with Mary Crawford, and reflecting upon the nature of human memory while Miss Crawford, head buzzing with more worldly concerns and unused to such pondering is not quite listening to her. This is an example of some very uncharacteristic eloquence on the part of Fanny Price.
“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 control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”
Fanny Price is certainly no Elizabeth or Jane Eyre or Elinor or Emma. And perhaps, that is the point. Fanny Price is a puzzle to me– should I be more accepting and tolerating of the timidity which packages the steadfastness, moral uprightness and general goodness or is boldness and being able to assert and express yourself a virtue that cannot be dispensed with?