Tuesday, January 03, 2006

BOOKS: Mary Crawford and Fanny Price Enter a Ring. Only One Leaves.

Mike of The Book You're Not Reading makes a strong case for why Mansfield Park's Mary Crawford is a better hero than Fanny Price:
Mary Crawford should be the hero of Mansfield Park. She's funny, flirty, interesting, and intelligent. Instead, though, Jane Austen sticks us with Fanny Price. Because for some reason, Jane Austen hates us. Probably because of all the mean things we said about her in high school -- but that was years ago and we were stupid. We didn't mean any of it. Seriously, Jane: call me.
Go here to read the rest of his (quite entertaining and compelling) argument even though I totally disagree with him. Unfortunately, I can't remember why. But I wrote 5000 words on the subject fifteen years ago, so I must have had SOME evidence.

Mike and I agree on one thing, though: Mansfield Park is one of Austen's most interesting and challenging novels.

10 comments:

Chiara said...

I've always wanted to write (or, well, read) a paper comparing Elizabeth Bennet and Mary Crawford; they're similar in being fond of the ridiculous and more interested in people than in the picturesque. Somehow Elizabeth gets away with it and Mary doesn't, and I don't just think it's because of her brother's dissipation, either. You can see why Edmund falls for her; I have to work pretty hard sometimes when I read the story to understand why she and Edmund are ultimately unsuitable. I do disagree with Mike that Fanny is passive-aggressive, I don't think the term applies to her at all. I think she's highly introverted and I think that her social situation is unique but I can't quite put together how it all works out to make her heroine status appropriate...because even though Mary is charming and snarky and beautiful, I always root for Fanny.

Mike said...
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Mike said...

[let's try that again, without the formatting mishigas]

My friend Steve agrees with you, Chiara: Fanny isn't passive aggressive; she's deeply wounded, and, like you said, highly introverted.

Where I disagree with both you and Steve, though, is that she's not as introverted as you'd think. Fanny has the strengths of her convictions -- and she's never afraid to voice them. When Mary smack-talks ministers and religion in general, Fanny stops being introverted. When the Scooby Gang wants to put on a show (to or something), there's Fanny, being a killjoy and not-so-muching with the intoversion. (That's totally a word.) This brings me back to Fanny as Evil Passive-Aggressive Succubus. She won't speak up when she needs something.

There's also the part where Fanny's a total hypocrite. After all Edmund's done throughout the novel -- and especially there at the end -- Fanny totally should have dropped him like an illicit stage production. He's proven himself, like the Crawfords, to not be of the same moral mettle as Fanny. But, because she'd been sweatin' him from the get-go, she's all, "I win. And I win Edmund. And soon: I shall rule the world."

Still: it's a damn good novel.

Mike said...

Nuts.

Cipher Savant said...

I wish I'd read Mansfield Park before seeing the film (which I did enjoy, but still). It's on my list for this year, so it's good to hear that it's interesting since I'm feeling a bit daunted by Jane Austen at the moment.

Elizabeth said...

I remember the first time I read Mansfield Park I kept waiting and waiting for Fanny to grow a spine. She has the beginnings of one, but does it ever fully develop? I think I'd already stopped caring by the time it did or didn't happen.

The thing is, I'm not a huge fan of Mary either. The quote you pulled, Mike, really is great at depicting their characters. Fanny: long-suffering, Mary: bored and selfish.

Maria might be my secret favorite. But then that lucky character changes with every reading...

Chiara said...

She does stick up for the clergy and she does repulse Henry Crawford...she refuses him repeatedly, over the objections of Sir Thomas...but I don't think that her having opinions, ideals, and convictions has anything to do with her introversion, nor her social and, let's not forget, financial situation. She is dependent on the Mansfield family and they have never let her forget it; her time in Portsmouth only serves to underline that.

I'm interested to hear more, Mike, about why you think Edmund isn't of the same moral character as Fanny. And speaking of morals, I think the same thing happened with her that happened with Anne Elliott and Jane and Lizzy Bennett: they seemed to develop moral compasses absolutely independently of their immediate families. Why does that happen for some people in Jane Austen's world and not in others? Regardless, I have to read Mansfield Park again now.

Mike said...

Chiara wrote:
"I'm interested to hear more, Mike, about why you think Edmund isn't of the same moral character as Fanny."

Well -- Edmund screws up. A lot. His first major "screw-up" is not falling madly in love with Fanny in the first place. He instead takes a detour down Mary Crawford Lane. If you're Fanny, and you have Fanny's moral code, I think you'd see this as a red flag. Edmund also takes part in the illicit theatre shenanigans -- against his will, yeah, but Fanny doesn't: she's rescued by the Deus Ex Machina appearance of Sir Thomas.

Edmund, then, clearly is not of Fanny's moral fortitude. He's easily swayed and not very firm on almost any of his convictions. But Fanny demands this of everyone else; why she doesn't of Edmund is where I lay my charge of moral hypocrisy against Ms. Price.

I don't know that my case against Fanny is airtight -- it would probably never stand up in any kind of court. But that's what makes this such a great novel, I think: there's this opportunity to grapple with the text.

In an email I sent to Doppleganger, I compared Fanny Price with Lucy Snow of Villette: "Lucy Snow is what Fanny Price might have been like had she grown a pair."

Marissa said...

Oh, I hate Mansfield Park. And I've never ever understood why I'm supposed to like Fanny. I don't much care for Mary, but she is, as someone else pointed out, only about two steps removed from being Elizabeth Bennet. I just don't understand why Jane wrote this one the way she did.

RosieP said...

There's also the part where Fanny's a total hypocrite. After all Edmund's done throughout the novel -- and especially there at the end -- Fanny totally should have dropped him like an illicit stage production. He's proven himself, like the Crawfords, to not be of the same moral mettle as Fanny.


If Fanny is truly so hypocritical that she was willing to turn a blind eye to Edmund's failing, then that only tells me that her moral mettle isn't any better or worse than the Crawfords or the Bertrams. Just different.