‘Mansfield Park’: In defense of Fanny Price

Jane Austen’s literary works are read by people all over the world and for good reason. However, readers are undecided about the main character in Austen’s “Mansfield Park,” a humble and quiet girl who takes quite a contrast to many of Austen’s typical spunky and independent female characters.

Of course, like all of Austen’s books, the plot is entertaining, the characters are full of life and everyone gets a happy ending by marrying the one they love. However, the book’s main character, Fanny Price, has sparked some controversy among Austen’s 21st century readers.

Fanny is the second eldest of 10 children born to a poor family. At the age of 8, she is sent off to live with and be raised by her rich uncle and aunt, the Bertrams. She is treated as only slightly above a servant by most of the adults in the house, including Lady Bertram’s sister, Mrs. Norris, who constantly reminds her that she is socially lower then her rich cousins. Everything looks bleak for young Fanny, until her older cousin, Edmund, not only defends her, but begins teaching her the things her education lacked. Learning these things would help lessen the ridicule from her family and sisters.

In the true nature of Austen’s works, the story includes love and forbidden romance, and comments on standards for how one should behave according to their position in society. However, many modern audiences dislike this book the most out of all of Austen’s novels. Many film adaptations do not accurately portray the character of Fanny.

This is likely due to the fact that Fanny is not a strong, independent woman, but rather she is a humble and quiet character. Modern audiences want her to stand up to her evil Aunt Norris, to tell Edmund she loves him and to tell off Mr. Henry Crawford. Yet, Fanny does none of these things. Audiences do not like it, and they get bored and frustrated with her. This is a shame, though, because Fanny has a lot to offer, especially to young girls.

All of these frustrations make sense in our society, but we do not often consider characters in the context of their own.

For Fanny, it would have been mortifying to be at the center of attention, and it only would have made her situation worse, as it was very impolite. People in the context of the book would have adhered to polite standards to advance in society, as straying away from norms would actually have lessened it. It is ideal for women to be strong and assertive today, but it definitely was not in Austen’s time.

The character can also be relatable to young girls who maybe aren’t as assertive. The truth is that not every girl, even raised in an ideal and loving home, grows up to be Wonder Woman or Princess Leia. Not everyone is able to be assertive. Many young girls grow up just like Fanny, and that is not such a bad thing. Of course there will always be a place and desire for the Elizabeth Bennets and the Emmas of the world, but we should not let them outshine the place of the Fanny Prices.

In the book, Fanny eventually learns to take better charge in her life and even begins teaching her sister the values she believes in. There are moments where she stands her ground, such as when she refuses to be an actor in a play, or when she was unwilling to marry a man she did not love. For the majority of the book, however, she allows herself to be used by other people a lot. Austen credits this as apart of her humble nature. Not everyone is as bold as some of the other female characters in Austen’s books, and there isn’t anything wrong with Fanny’s humility.

Women and men who are confident in themselves will always make their mark on society, but we tend to forget that those people are supported by the quiet ones in their lives who may be too afraid to step in the spotlight. I would personally like to see more characters like Fanny in literature. I believe it is good to be reminded that not all heroes carry swords and are at the top of their fields. Sometimes they are the ones who are always quietly there for you when everyone else leaves.