Monday, April 29, 2013

Those Fantastic Austen Females

F is for Fanny Price

Forget (F! See what I did there?) what you've seen in the movie adaptations of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, especially the Jonny Lee Miller one. No adaptation I've seen has adequately captured the original incarnation of Fanny Price.

Fanny comes from a large, impoverished family that basically gives her away to richer relatives because it means there's one less mouth to feed. This is hardly an auspicious beginning for a heroine, but as Austen proved with each novel, a heroine doesn't always look like a heroine from the start.

As a child, Fanny travels to her rich relations at Mansfield Park, a mammoth estate in the country. There, she meets her aunt and uncle Bertram and her four cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria (pronounced Mariah, like the pop star), and Julia. While she does find herself in better circumstances, wanting for nothing and basically having nothing to do besides little tasks for her aunt and neighbor Mrs. Norris, Fanny is treated by most of the family like a second-class citizen. She is an outsider and is often reminded of the painful circumstances of her origin. The only person in the house to treat her with respect and genuine kindness is Edmund. There's a beautiful scene when Fanny has spent too much time outside in the heat and has a bad headache. Mrs. Norris chastises her for lounging around and appearing to be lazy, but it's Edmund who realizes she's unwell, Edmund who comes to her aid. You can guess what happens. Back in those days, cousin-cousin love wasn't taboo like it is now.

I've been quite attached to Fanny ever since I first read Mansfield Park. Her shyness has always really spoken to me as I'm super shy myself. It's only recently that I've been able to accept as part of my personality and appreciate it for what it is instead of viewing it as a flaw or character defect. So watching Fanny struggle with her feelings is a bit like going through those struggles myself. I totally relate. Fanny isn't actually my favorite, but she is the one I relate to the most.

Tomorrow: taking a page out of J.K. Rowling . . . 

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