Monday 13 June 2011

Fanny Price - Admirable Heroine or Dreary Killjoy?

Fanny Price is, in her own way, as much a heroine as any other. She may not have the confidence of Elisabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, or the careless naïveté of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, yet she experiences just as much as they do — if not more — and she has just as great an effect on the other characters in Mansfield Park. However, Fanny leads an extraordinarily quiet life. She only leaves Mansfield twice, barely has the strength to walk or ride a horse, and is kept very close by her aunt Lady Bertram. This essay intends to argue that Fanny both is and isn't a typical Austen heroine, and exemplify why both sides of this dichotomy are true.

According to her contemporary standards, Fanny Price is the stereotypical woman. By making her seem ridiculous and weak, Austen illustrates how ludicrous those standards really are. For a woman to accept her role to never show any taken offence, to be quiet in society and know that her place is the lowest everywhere, she must be someone like Fanny Price. Only Fanny would find pleasure in "being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand" (Austen, 167) and therefore the one knowing all the absurd complaints of the others. The fact that she is criticised as too dull or too frightened to be a heroine goes to show that those female standards were in every respect wrong.

Nothing ever happens to Fanny Price. Before going to visit Southerton she has never left Mansfield since arriving there. The reader is treated to her first dance, her first ball and her first proposal of marriage. This process of moving from being and having nothing to leading an eventful life is her story. In all respects she is a normal young woman to whom normal things happen. Yet, as the reader becomes increasingly aware, there is little normality in what happened to Fanny as she grew up. In fact, she has overcome more than most.