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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

My Tuesday Talk Guest: Fanny Price of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park: A Proto-feminist?


by Brooke West




No one has ever accused Fanny Price of being witty or exciting. She is barely beautiful and is wholly dependent upon wealthier relations for any standing in society or comfort at home. Everything that happens, happens to or around her, never because of her. When I first read Mansfield Park, I was exasperated with Fanny. I puzzled over why Fanny’s story was worth being told.

During my first read, Henry owned my heart and I kept thinking that maybe if I just wished hard enough, Fanny would see in him what I saw and finally, finally accept him. Fanny did no such thing and all my wishing was for naught. I ended the book frustrated and disgusted by her acceptance of Edmund. Edmund, who never seemed to listen to Fanny and constantly overlooked her, got the girl? I could only imagine his proposal was akin to Ron Weasley asking Hermione Granger to the ball: “Hey, you’re a girl….” Austen told us Fanny was happy with Edmund, but all I could think was, “What could have compelled Fanny to want that man?”

Publicity still of Billie Piper as Fanny Price in 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park.

I avoided Mansfield Park for years after the first read—only turning my attention to it long enough to consider making it into a horror story (I may still do this. Stay tuned.). When I finally did re-read it, I was struck dumb by a simple realization: Fanny was right. Henry was an ill fit. I realized I had fallen into the trap of thinking that just because a man wants a woman badly enough, he should have her. Just because he starts being nice to her, even though he’s still terrible to everyone else, he earned her. That it should be sufficient for the woman that the somewhat-handsome and well-off man loves her.

I had done Fanny wrong.

I had thought Fanny was the antithesis of a feminist. I had thought her acceptance of Edmund was a capitulation to a misogynistic marriage ideal that rewarded women for being dutiful and moral and quiet. Instead, I finally saw her inner strength had allowed her to remain true to her principles. Fanny was no fool. She saw what life with Henry would be and she rejected it. Not out of fear or insecurity, but out of her strong moral sensibilities. She wasn’t, as I’d first thought, being uncharitable and not allowing Henry to make a change for the better. She had the good sense to see that he had not and would not change, even though he seemed to try and managed to accomplish some very good deeds.

Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price
 in the 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park.

That every woman should have the freedom to decide how she lives her life is, to me, the foundational tenet of feminism. Fanny—while too early to be termed a “feminist”—lived that ideal. I was stunned by that realization and ashamed at how poorly I’d judged her. Fanny was to be admired and emulated. I could finally see her steely core and the resolve that allowed her to stand up to her family when her nature compelled her to concede to their wishes to make them happy.

The Bertrams, her Portsmouth family, Henry, Maria—everyone took advantage of her nature, her desire to please and to not disappoint. Though it pained her to do so, she held fast when it mattered. Fanny had a rational mind, but was not unfeeling.


Fanny Price exemplifies what I find to be the pure heart of feminism: the strength, the determination to find what is right for you and to live that truth. The unwillingness to be swayed by opinion or expectation. Fanny may be intensely moral, but her morals have no bearing on her feminism; feminism does not depend upon morality, though a woman’s morality certainly would inform her choices. Mary Crawford is, to my mind, as much a feminist symbol as is Fanny Price. Her morality (or lack of) does not diminish the brilliance of her independent spirit. She lost her love in the pages of Mansfield Park, but no one can doubt she lands on her feet, eventually.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean you always win. It means you’re true to yourself and make room for other people’s truths, even if they differ from yours.  You make your own choices and allow others the same freedom. So, Fanny made a choice and stuck with it. She rejected Henry, again and again. I, finally, could respect that.

But then she made another choice—to marry Edmund.

This, I could not fathom. Taking Fanny as the rational, clear-headed, intelligent, self-possessed woman I now saw her to be, I was at a loss to explain how she overcame every failing I saw in Edmund and chose to marry him.

Surely there was a lot that happened off the page that we never saw. Austen herself glossed their courtship. It couldn’t be that Fanny succumbed to a childish infatuation or married him out of obligation. Not after all she’d been through! After some pondering, I found my answer. It’s the only answer that would allow Fanny to take Edmund as a husband: she said yes because she wanted to, because it made sense for her to do so. And that is good enough for me.

Fanny Price taught me to be a more honest feminist, and for that I’ll always cherish Mansfield Park.

Still, I only tolerate Edmund because Fanny loves him.

Brooke West 

Brooke West is one of sixteen Austen-inspired authors in the anthology Rational Creatures, writing Fanny Price’s story “The Meaning of Wife”. West always loved the strong women of literature and thinks the best leading women have complex inner lives. When she’s not spinning tales of rakish men and daring women, Brooke spends her time in the kitchen baking or at the gym working off all that baking. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and son and their three mischievous cats. Brooke co-authored the IPPY award winning novel The Many Lives of Fitzwilliam Darcy and the short story “Holiday Mix Tape” in Then Comes Winter. She also authored the short story “Last Letter to Mansfield,” which you can find in Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues. Find 


Brooke on Twitter @WordyWest.


About Rational Creatures:
“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” —Persuasion
 Jane Austen: True romantic or rational creature? Her novels transport us back to the Regency, a time when well-mannered gentlemen and finely-bred ladies fell in love as they danced at balls and rode in carriages. Yet her heroines, such as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Elinor Dashwood, were no swooning, fainthearted damsels in distress. Austen’s novels have become timeless classics because of their biting wit, honest social commentary, and because she wrote of strong women who were ahead of their day. True to their principles and beliefs, they fought through hypocrisy and broke social boundaries to find their happily-ever-after.
 In the third romance anthology of The Quill Collective series, sixteen celebrated Austenesque authors write the untold histories of Austen’s brave adventuresses, her shy maidens, her talkative spinsters, and her naughty matrons. Peek around the curtain and discover what made Lady Susan so wicked, Mary Crawford so capricious, and Hettie Bates so in need of Emma Woodhouse’s pity.
 Rational Creatures is a collection of humorous, poignant, and engaging short stories set in Georgian England that complement and pay homage to Austen’s great works and great ladies who were, perhaps, the first feminists in an era that was not quite ready for feminism.
 “Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; —that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” —Mary Wollstonecraft
Stories by: Elizabeth Adams * Nicole Clarkston * Karen M Cox * J. Marie Croft * Amy D’Orazio * Jenetta James * Jessie Lewis * KaraLynne Mackrory * Lona Manning * Christina Morland * Beau North * Sophia Rose * Anngela Schroeder * Joana Starnes * Caitlin Williams * Edited by Christina Boyd * Foreword by Devoney Looser

Find out more:




48 comments:

  1. Brilliant! It took me the longest time (and lots of life experience) to come around in seeing Fanny's value. She really is one of the most wrongly maligned of Austen's heroines! I hope everyone gets a chance to read Brooke's take on Fanny's story, it is wonderful!

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    1. Thank you Beau - I agree with you!

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    2. I agree, Beau. And I hope reader give your Louisa Musgrove another look in our “Rational Creatures”—surprising to see rational behavior and thoughts from those we brushed offer in canon—and yet, Austen left clues to make us think their surely must have been more to them.

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    3. Yes, Beau, it does take some maturity to see Fanny's worth. For me, I was looking for the romance when I first read Mansfield Park -- I think that was the root of my disappointment. MP just isn't romantic...

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  2. I never like Fanny much—I felt sorry for her mostly—but reading various passages of “Mansfield Park” while reading Brooke’s short story manuscript made me see her in a different light — and in a vein that I think Austen must have intended. Fanny’s quiet strength and constancy from the beginning of the novel until the end is the beauty of Austen’s most unpopular novel. Brooke West’s short story is poignant and smart. Loved!

    Thank you, Helen Hollick, for hosting our last stop on our two-month epic blog tour for #RationalCreatures. Hope you find time to read our collection.

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    2. Christina, your kind words keep me coming back to my keyboard!

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  3. Helen, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Fanny Price. Yes, she stood firm under tremendous pressure to not marry Henry. I think that Edmund makes good husband material, but I know few agree with me!

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    1. Well, they are not 'my' thoughts, but those of the author of this article, Brooke West, but we know what you meant! *laugh*. Thanks for dropping by - and for leaving a comment!

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    2. yes, I am certain Edmund is a safe bet. But like Marianne Dashwood ‘what of passion’-type musings? Hahhaha

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    3. UGH Edmund. I'm sure I'm being unfair to the poor man, but I can't (and don't want to) help it! He did show passion towards Mary in the original and I was determined to drag some of that out of him and direct to Fanny!

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  4. Yes!!!! I loved reading your thought processing here. She is strong and did make a choice in the face of popular opinion. I was thrilled to read your Fanny story. I've always thought she was a strong as Elizabeth Bennet because she had more to lose and more riding on her choice to stand firm against her relations.


    You're a gem for hosting, Helen. Thanks!

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    1. My pleasure Sophia, and I must agree - I'm viewing Fanny in a different light now!

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    2. She did have much to lose! It was a bold move.

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  5. Lona, These are Brooke West’s opinions as she wrote the feature. We shouldn’t attribute these opinions to our blog host. Ha!

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  6. I have always thought that Fanny had a deep inner strength to cope with her relations and the way she was treated. She rose above it all and never became bitter.

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    1. I agree - and how nice to be able to look at her in a different light, so a huge thank you to Brooke for bringing Fanny out from the shadows!

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    2. Schilds— I look forward to hearing what you think after reading the collection. And if any of your opinions are changed.

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    3. Schilds, you hit directly on one of the reasons I most respect Fanny: her unfailing kindness and goodness.

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  7. Fanny Price is a controversial female character to begin with. True that she made tough choices that turn out to be right in the end but she does not appeal to me as a favourite character (that distinction belongs to Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse). And I still don't think that Edmund deserve her love after what he had put her through.

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    1. Fanny is not one of my favourites, but then I think it's hard to beat Elizabeth Bennet (or actually Mrs Bennet, she makes me laugh!) Wouldn't it be nice to discover what Ms Austen really intended for us to think of her characters? ... anyone got a time machine?

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    2. I like Fanny in that she Constant from the beginning.

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    3. I can see how Fanny would not appeal to everyone. She's not glamorous or witty or clever. She's less fun to read on the page, but I do think she's got a lot of substance.

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  8. I agree with much of your post especially the part of only tolerating Edmund because Fanny loves him.

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  9. What an interesting post. I experienced the same distaste you describe when I first read it - not so much for Henry's rejection as for Fanny's general mildness and pasivity, which, I thought, led her to Edmund. I only started respecting her when I realized that sometimes ssaying no is as much of a principled position as saying yes.

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    1. I agree... saying 'no' can be very difficult sometimes but is often essential - it is a sign of inner strength I think.

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    2. Yes, must love Fanny’s quiet strength.

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    3. Yes, exactly! It's often a lot harder to disappoint those you love than it is to disappoint yourself.

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  10. I really LOVE Fanny! She was a strong independent woman, specificially her thinking, we all know other independence was very different for women at that time. But she knew who she was and would not pretend to be anything or anyone else to please another. I wish more women today were like this! But yes, Edmund was not the best and I am not his biggest fan but I console myself knowing she would have straightened him out quick once they were married....at least that is what I imagine Ms. Asuten would have her do, she would not create such a strong female character to have her accept a man who was unworthy. :-)

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    1. I don't know a lot of the historical aspect of Jane Austen herself, but I wonder if, more than any other character, if Fanny was more like her personality and ideals?

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    2. Indeed. If only there were more constant and strong people of this world. It’s hard to not look like a pushover when meerly picking battles and saying no when your heart and brain says it’s not right—while everyone around you says it’s for the best.

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    3. Yep, that was my biggest challenge: how to show Edmund as being worth Fanny's regard.

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  11. "I had fallen into the trap of thinking that just because a man wants a woman badly enough, he should have her." Yes! This is brilliant, as was your rendition of Fanny's story. I loved how you did not gloss over Edmund's failings, even while helping me understand how Fanny might come to accept, on her own terms, his offer of marriage. Thanks!

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    1. Yes, I felt that too - isn't it interesting when you discover a different way of looking at things?

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    2. One thinks this is an error of young people but I see this even in my middling years.

      Quiet strength is not often enough applauded.

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    3. Thanks, Christina M.! Not to get preachy here (unless y'all want me to, because I totally will), but it is a real challenge for women -- even those who are looking at the issues thoughtfully -- to overcome the internalized sexism and stop favoring the men just because they're men. Fanny *clearly* knew better, yet it took me a second read and a few years under my belt to really get that.

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  12. It took me a long time to make it through Mansfield Park, and even then, I only finished with the help of reader group (support group?) I didn't love reading about Fanny, but as I read MP, I did see her integrity come through - she followed her own truth - and she got my respect for it. I totally agree with Brooke about Edmund though :P

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    1. I had to read Mansfield Park when I was at school - it nearly put me off reading for life! Fortunately I rediscovered Austen in later years (many later years *laugh* ) Not one of my favourites, but Brooke has made me think again about it.

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    2. Yes, Mansfield Park is a book that has a lot going on and i am reading it with a group made it more interesting as others discussed the layers. How cool!

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    3. Haha, Karen! "Support group" indeed! Glad you made it through. ;)

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  13. Helen, thank you so much for hosting! I love your blog and it was an honor to be able to share my thoughts on feminism and Fanny Price here with you and your readers.

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  14. I've always understood her strength and rejection of Henry and her choice of Edmund. She loved Edmund, she didn't love Henry and she realized he's not really changed. However, I was still bored by her character in my first read. After several yrs, older myself, I reread and this time loved the book so much more and appreciated Fanny much more. I truly liked her and pitied her lack of self confident because she didn't realize her oen strength although she acted upon it. Since them I have reread the book a few more time and I like it better than Emma or Northanger Abbey.

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  15. This article is still one of my favorite analysis of Fanny Price and I revisit it often. Even the thoughtful comments that follow in this thread.

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