Mansfield Park: Why does Fanny Price Rankle Our Ire?

Illustration by Hugh Thomson, Mansfield Park, Macmillion & Co, London (1897)When her two dances with him were over, her inclination and strength for more were pretty well at an end; and Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely. From that time Mr. Crawford sat down likewise. 

“Poor Fanny!” cried William, coming for a moment to visit her, and working away his partner’s fan as if for life, “how soon she is knocked up! Why, the sport is but just begun. I hope we shall keep it up these two hours. How can you be tired so soon?” 

“So soon! my good friend,” said Sir Thomas, producing his watch with all necessary caution; “it is three o’clock, and your sister is not used to these sort of hours.” 

“Well, then, Fanny, you shall not get up to-morrow before I go. Sleep as long as you can, and never mind me.” 

“Oh! William.” 

“What! Did she think of being up before you set off?” 

“Oh! yes, sir,” cried Fanny, rising eagerly from her seat to be nearer her uncle; “I must get up and breakfast with him. It will be the last time, you know; the last morning.” 

“You had better not. He is to have breakfasted and be gone by half-past nine. Mr. Crawford, I think you call for him at half-past nine?” 

Fanny was too urgent, however, and had too many tears in her eyes for denial; and it ended in a gracious “Well, well!” which was permission. 

“Yes, half-past nine,” said Crawford to William as the latter was leaving them, “and I shall be punctual, for there will be no kind sister to get up for me.” And in a lower tone to Fanny, “I shall have only a desolate house to hurry from. Your brother will find my ideas of time and his own very different to-morrow.” 

William Price, Fanny Price, Sir Thomas Bertram & Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 28 

Of all of Jane Austen heroine’s Fanny Price is more sharply criticized for her character flaws than any other. Lizzy Bennet may be quick to judge, Emma Woodhouse think too highly of herself or Marianne Dashwood over romanticize, but Fanny’s timidity and insecurity garner more objections than any other failing. Why? I have a pet theory that involves her lack of confidence. It causes people around her and the reader to disconnect and dismiss her. Weak Fanny; — we must pity and mollycoddle her. In the quote above, her brother William exclaims “Poor Fanny” when he sees her “knocked up” (tired) after dancing at the ball. She says nothing in her own defense allowing Sir Thomas to speak for her. Now, Lizzy Bennet or Emma Woodhouse would never permit anyone else to answer for them without having the last word. Instead, Fanny is silent and forced to tears of frustration and pain before Sir Thomas will consent to her wishes. This view of Fanny always acquiescing to others runs throughout the novel. As readers it is difficult to see a heroine bantered about and not defend herself. Why Austen chose this type of retreating personality in opposition her pervious strong heroines was long been debated. In the end, Austen redeems our ill opinion of her weaknesses when Fanny turns out to be the strongest character in the novel. A nice twist that some seem to overlook, wanting instead to remember that it took over 473 pages of rankling our ire to get there. 

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25 thoughts on “Mansfield Park: Why does Fanny Price Rankle Our Ire?

  1. I really like your blog!

    I love Mansfield Park, it is my second favorite Austen novel, but I agree with your opinions about Fanny. I also love the Mansfield Park adaptations made in ’99 and ’07, but they do not describe Fanny properly. I think the 80’s adaptation has a good Fanny, quite the same than in the novel.

    But yeah, your blog is amazing, I totally love it! :D

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  2. I can’t stand Mansfield Park! Fanny totally irritates me, but not just because she plays the silent poor relation for most of the book. I found her bearable until Edmund enters the picture (or whatever her beloved cousin is named). He irritated me even more than Fanny. He came across as a sanctimonious hypocrite who couldn’t tell a good egg from a bad one. Why love a man who drops you (forgets you exist) to drool over a better looking more entertaining woman? I wanted to slap him and then Fanny for not exploring her options. They’re like this irritating couple who totally deserve each other and whom if I had the displeasure to know I’d move away and hope to never see again.

    I’d like to know why Austen wrote this book. No one writes that many pages by long hand for a laugh. She must have had a reason…I wonder if it was the poor relation thing. Her family were the poor relations…maybe she needed to vent her frustation at having to be subservient to wealthier people? I don’t know, but I can’t help but wonder if Jane could have married any of her characters which one she’d have chosen…I have an awful feeling it would have been Edmund (or whatever his name is).

    If I had a time machine I’d go back and ask her, but I don’t.

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  3. I have always struggled with Fanny too – and I have to say that Mansfield Park is my least favourite of Austen’s novels. I do see the strength displayed in Fanny but I just don’t connect with her at all.

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  4. Mansfield Park is my favorite novel of all time and Fanny Price is my favorite heroine. I would disagree that she only shows strength toward the end of the novel.
    I think her subservient obedience to those who are higher in the social order, even if far below her in merit, requires internal fortitude and a willful obedience to her sense of right and wrong. I relate to her so completely that I’ve given her the honorary birthday of July 11th, my birthday. (We know from the novel that her birthday is early in July) I’m not a huge believer in astrology, but from what I’ve read, Fanny is a Cancer through and through, the quiet little homebody.
    Why do I think Jane Austen created such a heroine? I think she liked the challenge of exploring a character with a different combination of traits. If every one was a Lizzy Bennet it would be boring! I can picture Jane Austen saying “what if a story revolved around a woman who was the smallest and the weakest, the least in the household. The only strong thing about her is her moral will. Even her health and frailty is a foil to the inner passion for doing right. How would that story play out?”
    Fanny Price is my hero. I love her sweetness and determination. Theres a lot in her story that I can relate too, and maybe that’s part of the attraction. And the whole Edmund story is very believeable too. The cute guys always ignore the girl who’s always been there in favor of the flashy new girl in town. Totally realistic.
    I’ve even named my blog after Fanny’s room, The Little White Attic. The name is symbolic of her purity and worth, despite being small and overlooked.

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  5. “Still waters run deep”

    The old English proverb rings true here. A calm, reserved countence often conceals great depths of character. Hidden beneath the surface, revealed in due timing…it’s there, waiting to bloom at an opportune time.

    I think that was Fannie Price.

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  6. Oh my, why is it that Fanny Price always fires up a discussion? We feel so passionately about her one way of another. No grey area for Miss Price. You either love her or can not abide her. Why?

    Bluestocking – you are not alone! Anyone who particapted in the Mansfield Park Madness event here last August will know that I am a Fanny fan. In fact, when I took the Which Austen Heroine Are You Quiz, I am Fanny Price!

    http://www.strangegirl.com/emma/quiz.php

    Lynnae – thank you for your thoughtful observations and defense of Miss Price. I could not agree more.

    Cheers, LA

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  7. Fanny is actually my favourite of Austen heroines. I think that seeing Fanny as completely different from other Austen heroines is not correct- she has more in common with some than other (for example she is more similar to Elinor than Emma). IMO, great strength of JA as the writer was not having one type of heroine. It should be remembered that in these times being a part of society was important and it meant taking under consideration needs of others. None of Austen;s good characters is completely invidualistic- except mayjbe for Marianne, who had to change. Emma, for instance, often supresses her wishes because of her father and prefers subtle manipulation of him than open confontation.

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  8. I used to dislike Fanny Price, but after several readings of the book and some growing up of my own, I began to appreciate her. Now I see her as a person of remarkable strength who stands up to the people in power despite her ostensibly powerless position. I also like that Austen made her flawed; she is not Miss Perfect at all, because she is eaten up with jealousy, a very ugly emotion.

    Now, would I rather hang out with Fanny than Mary Crawford? Mary would certainly be a more amusing person to have lunch with or a drink (make that an Austentini, Laurel Ann!). She’s always ready with a witty comment or a naughty joke, while Fanny is quivering with fear in a corner, afraid to speak lest she be noticed. But I would want the chance to draw Fanny out. I think somewhere inside she does have a sense of humor; we see her trying not to laugh at Tom’s joke and being diverted nevertheless. She’s just in such a subordinate position in that house that she’s got to spend all of her energy surviving; who has time for humor?

    What’s really interesting is that I think I have a lot in common with Fanny, which is why she triggered the hell out of me for years. I too took that Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You Quiz, and one day I was Elizabeth Bennet; a couple of months later I was Fanny Price. Go figure.

    Thanks for a great post, Laurel Ann.

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  9. I also most often score as Fanny and when I’m not, I’m upset :).

    I don’t actually find Mary Crawford so amusing- when I laugh, it’s because she’s so annoying with her self-centredness and need of having the whole attention. And Fanny isn’t always afraid of speaking- I love when she speaks with Mr Rushworth about Henry or with Mary about Edmund’s name. Fanny only refrains from speaking when somebody could be hurt.

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  10. Lynnae

    What a lovely passionate defence of Fanny…I shall give her another try…just because of you! You’re probably right. Austen probably did wake up one day and think…I wonder what the heroine was the smallest nothingest (not really a word I know) person in a household… Though I’m afraid Edmund will still irritate me realistic man or no…

    If I could hang out with one of Auste’s heroines I’d pick Anne!
    I’ve never taken the Jayne Austen which heroine are you test thingy…I’ll have to hunt that down.

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  11. I can’t stand Fanny Price: she’s sanctimonious, weak, judgmental and incredibly annoying.
    But you know what is worse? She has no sense of humour whatsoever, she doesn’t get irony, she’s always snivelling or cowering.
    All other Austen heroines have a sense of humour, but Fanny is totally devoid of it.
    And Edmund is like her: boring, boring, boring.
    Thank God the lively and fun Mary Crawford escapes the clutches of that drone.
    Fanny and Edmund deserve each other and when the happy ending arrives you wish never to hear about them again.
    Jane Austen must have run out of Prozac when she concocted these characters!

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  12. In order for me to enjoy Fanny as a character, it would be nice if I found her interesting and not so ridiculously ideal. Which is the problem I have with her. She is boring. Period. I must admit that the 1999 version portrayed Fanny as a more witty and vibrant personality. Yet, she still came off as too ideal for my tastes.

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  13. The main problem I have with the Fanny Price character is that she does not really grow as a character. Not really. She maintains her one-dimensional views of morality to the end. She also maintains a lack of tolerance toward the flaws of other characters to the very end. And she consistently blinds herself to Edmund’s flaws.

    The main problem with approaching “MANSFIELD PARK” is that many filmmakers, critics and fans of the story never consider the possibility that there are no true villains or heroines/heroes in the story. Practically all of the characters – Fanny and Edmund included – maintain their flaws to the very end without acknowledging them.

    Perhaps future filmmakers should adapt “MANSFIELD PARK” as a criticism of human nature and humans’ inabilities to acknowledge their own flaws.

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  14. Fanny is my favorite character in Mansfield’s Park because i believe she would act as many of us do right now. She comes from a lower class than the rest so she is treated differently and as a result she will not act as everybody else would. When she evolves it is noticeable because she has adapted with the environment and can finally stand up for herself. The case of being inlove with her cousin was abit puzzling at first then i realized that Edmund was the individual with the best sense of affection towards her. She could have like Henry if she had noticed his ill doing with Julia and Maria……

    I admired Fanny and i believe she is a character with a REAL attitude!!

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  15. Someone above mentioned Fanny’s sanctimony, and that is one of my main problems with her. She bores me to tears, is dull, humorless, cringing. Anne Eliot and Elinor Dashwood are both quiet, demure, smart, and each is as constant in her love as Fanny. Each strikes me as good and moral (Elinor in particular), and goodness and morality are supposed to be Fanny’s best and truest qualities. All three share many qualities, yet I love Anne and Elinor and can barely stand Fanny. Her earnest righteousness and nearly total lack of humor make her too hard for me to like. Also the fact the she loves the hypocritical Edmund (who, to be fair, at least has a sense of humor) makes me itch. I love Mansfield Park and re-read it often; I just wish Fanny and Edmund weren’t in it.

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    • LOL sjelly! No Fanny and Edmund? But we would have nothing to complain about in the novel. I agree that Fanny is tiresome and Edmund a ninny, but I think that was Austen’s point. The contrast of siblings Mary and Henry Crawford against cousins Fanny and Edmund is just so delicious. Each set has its faults, but who wins in the end, in Austen’s eyes? Fanny and Edmund. I think it totally ironic that I like the black hats more than the white hats as far as interest. Concerning morality, Edmund and Fanny win. It surly makes you think about what Austen was trying to say to us. The story would be so off balance without Fanny and Edmund.

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  16. Laurel Ann, how gracious you are. Of course, you’re right to LOL at my intemperate comment. I don’t *really* mean for Fanny and Edmund to disappear; what I’d really like is to see them more charitably, but no matter how many times I read MP, I can’t like either of them. I can’t even sympathise and this irritates me. I *want* to view them differently and they just won’t let me.
    I love this blog. I don’t visit it as often as I’d like, but there’s always much to like when I do. Thank you.

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  17. Pingback: Friend of Fanny: Austenprose « Mansfield Park

  18. I’ve just read Mansfield Park for the first time and am so glad to learn I’m not the only one who was irritated by Fanny Price. I wasn’t bothered by her shyness, etc although the level of physical weakness she possessed was extreme – there was something wrong with her. Instead, I found Fanny self-righteous and judgmental. Maybe Austen was exploring an imperfect heroine, but then why does she triumph so drastically at the end in comparison to the other characters? She not only gets the man she’s been passive aggressively pursing, but she is the “daughter” Sir Thomas always wanted; her Aunt Norris and Maria are out of the way and doomed to their own personal hell; her poor sister gets stuck humoring her needy aunt; and all the cheerful and energetic characters are banished in shame (or shamefully subdued) – never to annoy Fanny again with their noise. At the end, Mansfield Park has been altered into the perfect little habitat for the neurotic Fanny. It’s creepy.

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    • LOL Diane. Many have reached your same conclusions and asked the same questions about Mansfield Park. Of all of Austen’s novels it is the most thought provoking. Since Jane was so clever, I am sure she had her reasons for creating Fanny and her personality. Not to second guess Austen, but I think Fanny and her quirks could have been forgiven if Austen had given us a different ending. I still really enjoy MP and am a Fanny fan, despite her flaws. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. LA

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  19. I love this discussion on Mansfield Park and Fanny Price, in particular. Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel (although, I probably would have loved Sanditon best, had Austen finished it). For me, Fanny is a fascinating character. She resembles Anne Eliot, in the sense that she, unlike the other heroines, comes from an unhappy childhood. Fanny’s parents are horrible, and so is her homelife. She was poor, and then taken in by rich relatives, only to be treated like a servant. Surely this would explain some of Fanny’s characteristics. She did not have the encouragement and love that Elizabeth Bennet, Catherine Morland, Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood, and Emma Woodhouse had. She was just another mouth to feed.

    Often, we read Mansfield Park wanting the same plot as the other novels, but I’ve read commentaries that caution us, saying that the central plot question for Mansfield Park is not whom will Fanny marry, but where will Fanny find a home? This desire for safety and stability is most what Fanny craves.

    Another element to Fanny’s personality is her evangelical religion. I don’t mean “evangelical” in the modern sense. During Austen’s time, Anglicanism was experiencing several reforms, one of which is labelled “evangelical”. While Austen did not agree with everything the Evangelicals stood for–particularly, their propensity to shove their faith down everyone else’s throat–she did appreciate the evangelical emphasis on the family and good moral living. Is sometimes Fanny seems uptight, well, she is–but there’s also a religious/spiritual depth to her that I don’t think there is in the other heroines. Which of the other heroines delivers a speech on the power of nature to draw people out of themselves, (Fanny’s solution to the world’s misery)?

    Yet, she does get tired so easily! I guess all that contemplation wears her out.
    Br. Paul, OP

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  20. Fanny’s timidity does not bother me. I don’t care how upright or stick-in-the-mud she is. What I cannot stand about Fanny’s is her hypocrisy, Even if Austen managed to allude to Fanny’s hypocrisy, she doesn’t allow the character to detect it. Worse, Fanny gets to triumph in the end without acknowledging this particular and very apparent flaw of hers. And Austen expects her readers to wallow in Fanny’s triumph? Perhaps many readers are willing to do. I simply can’t do it.

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