Fanny Price

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Fanny Price
Billie Piper portraying Fanny Price in the 2007 ITV television adaptation of Mansfield Park
Billie Piper portraying Fanny Price in the 2007 ITV television adaptation of Mansfield Park
Maiden name Fanny Price
Gender Female
Height small
Age 10 at the beginning of the novel, 18 at the end
Income None
Education By a governess
Rank None
Primary residence Mansfield Park after leaving her small home in Portsmouth
Family
Romantic interest(s) Edmund Bertram
Parents Mrs. Francis "Fanny" Price and Mr. Price
Sibling(s) William, John, Richard, Susan, Mary (deceased), Sam, Tom, Charles, and young Betsey

Fanny Price is the heroine in Jane Austen's 1814 novel Mansfield Park. Austen describes Fanny Price as "extremely timid and shy, shrinking from notice", and repeatedly reinforces that Fanny is shy, timid, and afraid of everyone and everything.[1]

Fanny's arrival at Mansfield Park[edit]

Fanny Price is the eldest daughter of an obscure and poor retired Marine lieutenant in Portsmouth, who is father to eight other children. Fanny's mother's sisters, the wealthy Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris, offer to take her in and bring her up at Sir Thomas Bertram's estate, Mansfield Park, in Northamptonshire. Upon her first arriving in Mansfield, she is intimidated by her new home and her cousins (Thomas, Edmund, Maria and Julia), and is very homesick. None of her cousins are very obliging to her except Edmund, the younger son, who befriends her and helps her adapt to her new life. Mrs Norris, who prefers her richer cousins, constantly emphasises her inferiority, while Fanny's female cousins make fun of her apparent ignorance. As she grows, she finds Edmund to be a considerate companion and confidante, and she also becomes romantically attracted to him. As a child, Fanny is described as being small, not a striking beauty, with an awkward but not vulgar air and a sweet voice.

As an adult, Fanny is pretty with a good figure and countenance but tires quickly from any exercise, including dancing. Fanny is a quiet and conscientious character, passive, shy, and timid, who is frequently walked over by her more vibrant and forceful relatives and reluctant to give her own opinions or assert herself. She is intelligent and insightful and lives by a strict moral code that has made some Austen reviewers consider her to be "priggish". Kingsley Amis described Fanny as "morally detestable".[2] Other critics point out that she is a complex personality, perceptive yet given to wishful thinking, and that she shows courage and grows in self-esteem during the latter part of the story. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin argues that "it is in rejecting obedience in favour of the higher dictate of remaining true to her own conscience that Fanny rises to her moment of heroism."[3]

The arrival of the Crawfords[edit]

When Fanny is 15, her uncle Norris, the local clergyman, dies, leaving the Mansfield living for Edmund, who is intended to be ordained soon; however, Edmund's elder brother, Tom, has been living too extravagantly, and the living has to be sold to repay his debts. A priest named Dr. Grant and his wife move into the parsonage. Fanny's Aunt Norris is compelled to take a small home in the village. Dr. Grant's wife has a half brother and sister, Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford, whom she cherishes but has been unable to see frequently, because they lived in London. However, they finally come and stay temporarily at the parsonage in order that Mary can get away from their London home. Her parents being dead, she lived with her uncle, an Admiral; when he moved his mistress into the house, it became improper for Mary to stay there. The Crawfords are elegant, and both captivate the attentions of the Bertram children. Both Maria and Julia Bertram are attracted to Henry Crawford, although Maria is engaged to Mr. Rushworth, a dull, unintelligent, but very rich man. Mary Crawford originally decides to try to captivate Tom Bertram, as he is the older brother and heir to the estates and baronetcy, but he proves to be more interested in his horse racing pursuits. She then becomes more interested in Edmund, who quickly becomes attached to her in turn, as he sees her as congenial and pleasant. Fanny is jealous of Mary Crawford and finds Henry Crawford's attentions to and flirtations with the engaged Maria Bertram to be inappropriate. Soon, Sir Thomas and Tom are taken from them, as they go to Antigua to settle some business there. This frees up the Bertram children to act outside of his stern presence; Lady Bertram is lazy and indolent, and does not exert herself to raise her children at all.

The impropriety of a theatre[edit]

The elder son, Tom Bertram, now back from Antigua, under the influence of his flighty friend, Mr. Yates, decides that the party should undertake some amateur theatricals at Mansfield Park. He arranges for a small theatre to be built in the billiard room. All apart from Fanny and Edmund are enthusiastic, and the play Lovers' Vows is chosen after much discussion. Edmund and Fanny think the performance to be improper as the play has some risqué lines and has inappropriately romantic scenes between unmarried couples, and they endeavour to persuade the others to abandon the project. Edmund, finally, feels compelled to participate when Tom and Yates suggest bringing an outsider in to play the role they had had in mind for him. This alarms Edmund, because he feels it to be even more inappropriate to have a stranger present to perform a rather suggestive scene with Mary Crawford. Fanny continues to refuse despite being pressed by the rest of the party and her aunts. She does act as a prompter and helps them rehearse their speeches. A few evenings before the performance, Sir Thomas arrives home early from Antigua and puts an end to the play. Sir Thomas is upset with most of the party, but Edmund informs him, "All of us have been more or less to blame except Fanny."

Henry Crawford and Fanny[edit]

Maria Bertram succumbs to Mr. Crawford's flirtations and becomes attracted to him, despite her engagement to Mr. Rushworth, for whom she cares little and only wishes to marry because of his wealth. However, when Mr. Crawford leaves Mansfield indefinitely to see to his estate and stay in London with his uncle, Maria marries Rushworth. When Mr. Crawford finally returns, he decides to amuse himself by courting Fanny, showing her attention and kindness, in order to make her fall in love with him. Gradually, her goodness grows on him and he finds himself falling in love with her in earnest. Fanny, in love with Edmund and with a bad opinion of Mr. Crawford's character, does not appreciate his attentions. Sir Thomas begins to realize that Mr. Crawford is in love with Fanny, and approves—it would make a very good match for a penniless girl such as Fanny. Mr. Crawford dances with Fanny at a ball, and later tries to gain her favour by facilitating the promotion of her favorite brother, William, to lieutenant in the Royal Navy by using his uncle's influence. But when he proposes to Fanny, she rejects him due to her love for Edmund, his scandalous flirting with Maria and Julia, and because his behavior has made her believe he has no principles. The refusal angers Sir Thomas, who demands an explanation. Fanny can neither tell anyone of her secret love of Edmund nor reveal Henry Crawford's scandalous behavior towards Julia and Maria to Sir Thomas. Therefore Sir Thomas believes her to be simply selfish and willful. He remonstrates with Fanny quite severely for her ingratitude for what he has done for her. Fanny is emotionally devastated by this, but still refuses Crawford, as he continues to court her.

A scandalous affair[edit]

Fanny is sent by Sir Thomas back to her family in Portsmouth, so that she can better understand the benefits of what seems to him to be an ideal match with a wealthy suitor. Crawford visits Fanny in Portsmouth and she finds that his love for her is apparently constant and he does not disparage her poor family. She begins to think upon him more favorably, believing he has genuinely changed. Crawford then goes to London, where Maria is staying with her husband. At the same time, it seems that Edmund is moving towards marriage with Mary Crawford, despite her denigration of his desired profession of clergyman. It appears Mary truly loves Edmund. And Edmund told Fanny, "She is the only woman in the world whom I can think of as my wife." Just as the story begins to seem like it will resolve with Edmund marrying Mary and Fanny marrying Crawford, a triumph of love healing character flaws, the story abruptly changes as Crawford and Maria are caught in a compromising position, causing them to elope. Newspapers inform the general public of the scandal. Edmund, heartbroken, visits Mary Crawford in London. He is horrified to learn that she does not regard the scandal as too terrible. Her character's lack of a moral foundation is exposed at last, and he realizes he can never marry her. Edmund and Fanny return to Mansfield Park; over the course of time, Edmund realises that he does love Fanny and is delighted to find that she has always loved him and they are married.

Portrayals[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Emily Auerbach, Searching for Jane Austen, Univ. of Wisconsin, 2006.
  2. ^ Kingsley Amis, What Became of Jane Austen?, 1963.
  3. ^ Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage, 1997), p. 230.