So I’m working on rewriting Mansfield Park.
And I’m struggling.
At the risk of upsetting fellow Austenites who have a different opinion, there is something about Fanny Price that I find less than…attractive (I’m trying to be nice). At least in the first part of the novel.
Perhaps it is her insecurity and shyness. Or maybe it is the way she takes on the role of caretaker for everyone except herself.
But then she changes.
And I start to like her. At least a little.
When she stands up to her uncle and refuses to marry Crawford, I find myself cheering for her. It’s about time, I want to yell through the pages of the book.
Standing up for yourself is not the easiest thing to do. Fanny’s banishment away from Mansfield Park (and back to her parents’ home!) seems like a very extreme punishment, especially given Mr. Bennet’s very different reaction when Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins. By sending Fanny back to her parents, Sir Thomas ensures that Fanny sees firsthand the living conditions of her youth. It’s a not so subtle reminder of how she would have grown up had the Bertrams not taken care of her.
Ironically, while Sir Thomas may have thought Fanny lacked the ability to change in the beginning of the novel, he certainly realizes that she has when she accepts the punishment with not even one complaint.
Her determination to refuse Henry’s offer of marriage is admirable.
It’s quite a different Fanny Price who stands up to Sir Thomas. I don’t believe that any of the Bertrams, including Edmund, expected that from her. After all, all of her life she has been basically pushed around and bullied by so many in the family. For the most part, she makes the conscious choice to avoid confrontation. But when Sir Thomas insists on her marriage, Fanny basically says “No more bullying!”
How often do we stand up for ourselves, butting heads with others who disagree or have a different perspective on a situation? What begins as a personal stance for our individual rights or beliefs becomes an impossible situation from which to retreat. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves and accept what feels like a humiliating defeat, admitting wrong doing when we feel that we are right. I think Jane Austen says it best: “Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”
But there are other times when we have to become Fanny Price and draw a line in the sand. And it’s not a popular stance.
Of course, in Fanny’s situation, the fact that she stood up for herself is the catalyst for Henry’s fall, Rushmore’s liberation, and Edmund’s revelation. Why, exactly, did it take him so long to finally see Mary Crawford’s true colors and FINALLY realize that Fanny is the woman he loves? Funny how that worked out…but I’ll save my opinion on Edmund for another blog post.