I am currently watching the 1983 BBC mini-series of Mansfield Park staring Sylvestra le Touzel as the famously insipid Fanny Price. Poor Fanny. Traditionally, she gets a bum rap all around from readers, and her family in the novel. Of all of Jane Austen’s heroines, I think that she is the most misunderstood and under-appreciated. With this in mind, I am looking at the story from her perspective, quite determined to be her friend; the dissenting voice against the tide of derision! All Fanny bashers can stop reading now and go back to your respective corners. I am waving a white flag and calling a temporary truce in the Fanny war.
This is my first viewing of this film adaptation. I can’t say how it has passed me by for twenty-five years since this Anglophile rarely missed a Masterpiece Theatre presentation let alone a feature film with any remote British connection. I had to think long and hard about where I was in 1983. Wow, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were in power, The Return of the Jedi was the top grossing film, and a gallon of gasoline costs $1.25. Gulp! It’s amazing to think that a good portion of people reading this blog weren’t even born yet.
I am to the point in the film where Fanny Price gets caught in a rain storm outside of the parsonage, and Dr. Grant rescues her with an umbrella and whisks her inside where creepy Mary Crawford is waiting to pounce on her next victim. My first instinct is to shout out a warning to Fanny to not go in there. An evil witch lives in that house, but it would all be for naught. It’s a set up you see. Austen wants us to feel that way. She wants us to understand Fanny’s helplessness; – her being bashed about by her family to fetch and carry and run errands and at the disposal of the neighbors too. Mary Crawford is no better. Insisting that she come inside and listen to her play her darn harp. All the while poor Fanny is anxiously looking out the window at the weather saying it has cleared and she must go because her aunt Norris is expecting her return. Mary thinks otherwise. That’s when Austen drops this great line into Mary’s mouth, “South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening.” This creeps me out. A chills and goose bumps moment. Like it takes one to know one, and Mary Crawford is definitely a black cloud herself.
Besides the sinister Mary Crawford, Fanny’s not so bad, at all — and now despise me if you dare.