Links: September 2013

Here are some articles that I have read in the past few months and found interesting. Enjoy!

The Briarfield Chronicles, a blog that I read off and on, has recently posted a couple of interesting articles about Mansfield Park:

Fanny Price and Dorothy Wordsworth

Mansfield Park and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Not long ago I discovered a new blog, Quill and Qwerty. It is written by a graduate student about her literary studies. Right now she is blogging about children’s literature and fairytales, but her earliest posts are about Jane Austen’s novels. Many of them are quite amusing. Of especial interest for my blog are her posts on Mansfield Park.

Jane Austen's Signature

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily endorse or agree with everything contained in these posts (or the blogs that they are on). I have linked to them to them simply because I enjoyed reading them or found them otherwise interesting.

Reasons I like Fanny Price

“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” — I Peter 3:3-4

Though Jane Austen’s Fanny Price often gets a bad rap, she has her admirers. I like Fanny for many reasons. She is opinionated, with a good head on her shoulders. However, she is also gentle, kind, and considerate, and has the grace to keep her opinions to herself unless there is an appropriate occasion to air them. She is self-controlled.

%22Lilac%22 Edmund Blair Leighton 1901Not only is Fanny opinionated, she has correct opinions. She notices what is going on between Henry Crawford and the Miss Bertrams and sees clearly where almost no one else around her does. She later tells Miss Crawford, “I was quiet, but I was not blind.” She tells her, “I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman’s feelings” (Ch. 36). She sees and disapproves of Miss Crawford’s flippancy. She condemns Edmund’s weakness in joining the play. When Henry Crawford tries to reminisce with her about the play, she firmly tells him her mind on the subject. She is no pushover — she stands firm despite immense pressure over the play business and Henry Crawford’s proposals. Still, she is respectful of others. She listens to Edmund and others. She is willing to learn. But when she discerns that anyone (including Edmund) is wrong, she sticks with her own convictions.

Fanny is smart. She likes to read — travels, poetry, history, &c. — and discuss and quote what she reads. She is very affectionate. She loves her brother William deeply. She respects her sister Susan and hopes to be of use to her, endeavoring to “exercise for her advantage the juster notions of what was due to everybody, and what would be wisest for herself, which her own more favoured education had fixed in her” (Ch. 40). And, of course, she loves Edmund for all of his kindnesses to her. She is grateful. Even in a situation where she could easily have not seen much to be grateful for, instead of becoming bitter, she is thankful for the kindnesses that she is shown and for the generosity shown to her family. Even despite the fact that he tries to use his service to William to manipulate Fanny, she is still grateful to Mr. Crawford for William’s promotion — “he had been conferring an obligation, which no want of delicacy on his part could make a trifle to her” (Ch. 31). She is trustworthy. Henry Crawford recognizes in her “a steadiness and regularity of conduct, such a high notion of honour, and such an observance of decorum as might warrant any man in the fullest dependence on her faith and integrity” (Ch. 30). “I could so wholly and absolutely confide in her,” he tells his sister.

She is industrious. Even thought she is not strong, Fanny stays busy and works hard. She gardens and runs errands, sometimes walking beyond her strength. She is a companion to her lazy aunt, reading to her and helping her with her “work”. She is very patient. She is charitable, working to help the poor. She sews. During the play, she is kept busy sewing costumes and helping others learn their lines. She spends time studying. She regularly corresponds with her brother William. She takes what exercise she can (mostly horseback riding) as regularly as she can.

I don’t think Fanny is perfect. She is too shy. She herself recognizes that where her sister Susan tries to help, she would have just gone and cried. Despite Susan’s faults of manner, she “was only acting on the same truths, and pursuing the same system, which [Fanny's] own judgment acknowledged, but which her more supine and yielding temper would have shrunk from asserting” (Ch. 40). Fanny needed more confidence. (On the other hand, she is so meek that sometimes she appears even more shy than she really is.) She is, perhaps, too passive.

Despite her faults, however, Fanny Price is a young woman of quiet strength. She is gentle, strong, intelligent, graceful, and refined — a type of woman that I greatly admire.

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Painting “Lilac” by Edmund Blair Leighton (1852-1922).

Fairly Caught

“I am quite determined to marry Fanny Price. … I am fairly caught. You know with what idle designs I began; but this is the end of them. I have, I flatter myself, made no inconsiderable progress in her affections; but my own are entirely fixed.” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Ch. XXX)

Many people think that it is unnatural for Henry Crawford to fall in love with Fanny Price. I find Fanny to be a very lovable girl, so it is not a stretch for me to think of a charming man falling in love with her. Furthermore, I think that it was natural under the circumstances for Henry to fall in love with her, and I shall attempt to explain why.

Fanny is not as immediately attractive as others of Jane Austen’s heroines, but, when you get to know her, she has a quiet charm of her own. Henry only intended to flirt with “Returning to her seat to finish a note” Chap XXX H. M. BrockFanny, not to fall in love with her. His attraction was simply boredom (the Bertram sisters weren’t around anymore for him to flirt with) and the desire to conquer. He tells his sister, “Her looks say, ‘I will not like you, I am determined not to like you’; and I say she shall.” (Ch. XXIV). In the process of wooing her, however, he gets to know her better and falls in love with her. He discovers her sweetness, her intelligence, her high sense of honor — and no one has denied that she is a pretty girl. He feels that he can depend on her “faith and integrity”. “Her temper he had good reason to depend on and to praise. He had often seen it tried. … Her affections were evidently strong. To see her with her brother! What could more delightfully prove that the warmth of her heart was equal to its gentleness? What could be more encouraging to a man who had her love in view?” (Ch. XXX).

Fanny’s attractions increased—increased twofold; for the sensibility which beautified her complexion and illumined her countenance was an attraction in itself. He was no longer in doubt of the capabilities of her heart. She had feeling, genuine feeling. It would be something to be loved by such a girl, to excite the first ardours of her young unsophisticated mind! She interested him more than he had foreseen. A fortnight was not enough. His stay became indefinite. (Ch. XXIV)

Unlike the other girls Henry has known, who were all ready to flirt with him, he must earn Fanny’s respect and regard. Henry expressed his feelings toward marriage earlier in the novel, “I am of a cautious temper, and unwilling to risk my happiness in a hurry.” He is willing to flirt with any attractive girl, but unwilling to commit his happiness to her. Fanny is different. “I could so wholly and absolutely confide in her,” said he; “and that is what I want.” (Ch. XXX). Fanny’s resistance presents him with a challenge, which stimulates him, making “her affection appear of greater consequence because it was withheld, and determined him to have the glory, as well as the felicity, of forcing her to love him” (Ch. XXXIII).

Love such as his, in a man like himself, must with perseverance secure a return, and at no great distance; and he had so much delight in the idea of obliging her to love him in a very short time, that her not loving him now was scarcely regretted. A little difficulty to be overcome was no evil to Henry Crawford. He rather derived spirits from it. He had been apt to gain hearts too easily. His situation was new and animating. (Ch. XXXIII)

I think also that Henry liked the idea of marrying a “damsel in distress”, so to speak, — of “rescuing” her and raising her up. He tells his sister, “[Maria and Julia Bertram] will now “He….left them only at the door” Chap XLI H. M. Brocksee their cousin treated as she ought to be, and I wish they may be heartily ashamed of their own abominable neglect and unkindness. … Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed: a daily, hourly difference, in the behaviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it, that I am the person to give the consequence so justly her due. Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten. … What can Sir Thomas and Edmund together do, what do they do for her happiness, comfort, honour, and dignity in the world, to what I shall do?” (Ch. XXX, bold emphasis mine)

I think that Fanny is not the kind of woman that Henry would have imagined marrying, or even as likely to attract him, but, once he got to know her better, he could see her charm and goodness. Probably if the Bertram sisters had not left, he would never have noticed Fanny. His initial attraction to Fanny can be expressed in his words, “Why did she draw back and look so grave at me? I could hardly get her to speak. I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this.” (Ch. XXIV). He was used to gaining hearts too easily. Her attraction was simply that she did not care for him. So, Henry set about a flirtation with her, and then fell in love.

In his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns puts it like this:

[I]tis perhaps worth noting that both the men in Fanny’s life, Henry and Edmund, take quite a while to see [Fanny] as an object of desire. … Fanny Price takes some getting to know. For what it is worth, my own experience has been that the longer one lives with Mansfield Park, the more lovable she becomes. …

Some critics have found it hard to believe that a lively, worldly man like Henry Crawford could ever have fallen for a good little mouse like Fanny, but on the contrary, he is exactly the type of man who marries his secretary. It is significant that he is said to be plain: he needs to prove to himself his power of conquest. Henry is vain: he wants power and he wants admiration. He knows that Fanny is pretty and gentle, but he also comes to realize that she is passionate: he has seen this from the warmth and strength of her love for her brother. … But he also wants adoration. His sister sees it at once: ‘I approve your choice from my soul, and foresee your happiness as heartily as I wish and desire it. You will have a sweet little wife; all gratitude and devotion.’ … [G]enuine love and affection may be inextricably bound up with a gentle vanity and the gratification of self-esteem. … And the irony in Henry Crawford’s case is that he has misread: Fanny, who is a great deal meeker than Catherine [Morland of Northanger Abbey], is not so simple and artless: she is a tough, severe judge.1

If Henry had met Fanny in London, I doubt he would ever have noticed her. Even in Mansfield, he overlooks her until Maria and Julia are gone, and she is the only young woman left for him to notice. (As his sister said, “The truth is, that she was the only girl in company for you to notice, and you must have a somebody.” — Ch. XXIV) But, under the circumstances, he does notice her. He finds her to be pretty, gentle, passionate, trustworthy, and sweet. The idea of gaining her affections and “rescuing” her, so to speak, attracts him. So, was it natural for Henry to truly fall in love with Fanny? I think so.

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1 A Fine Brush on Ivory, by Richard Jenkyns (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 109, 135-136).

Illustrations: “Returning to her seat to finish a note” (Chap XXX) and “He….left them only at the door” (Chap XLI), by H.M. Brock.

Marrying the Bad Guy

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife:
and they shall be one flesh.” — Genesis 2:24

The Tenant of Wildfell HallI recently had a discussion which turned to the subject of the foolishness of marrying a man, however charming and seemingly reclaimable, in the hope of reforming him. An element of a great deal of romantic fiction is the heroine marrying (often with the desire to reform) the “baddies” — the charming scapegrace, dashing highwaymen, Byronic heroes, &c. In Georgette Heyer’s novels, for example, we are often called on to admire wicked men (a case in point is her novel The Black Moth).

In contrast to these, two novels come to mind: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. In the latter, the heroine, Helen, marries Arthur Huntingdon, a reckless and profligate young man. She believes that he is good, but has been led astray by bad companions. She hopes that she can reclaim him — if indeed he needs it. She tells her aunt,

“I should not wish to guide him; but I think I might have influence sufficient to save him from some errors, and I should think my life well spent in the effort to preserve so noble a nature from destruction. He always listens attentively now when I speak seriously to him (and I often venture to reprove his random way of talking), and sometimes he says that if he had me always by his side he should never do or say a wicked thing, and that a little daily talk with me would make him quite a saint. It may he partly jest and partly flattery .… If I do think there is any mixture of truth in it, it is not from confidence in my own powers, but in his natural goodness.” (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Ch. XVII)

Tenant publicity shot - Helen and Arthur Huntingdon

Helen’s aunt warns her, “That sounds presumptuous, Helen. Do you think you have enough [sense and principle] for both; and do you imagine your merry, thoughtless profligate would allow himself to be guided by a young girl like you?” But Helen insists, “till people can prove their slanderous accusations, I will not believe them. And I know this, that if he has committed errors, they are only such as are common to youth, and such as nobody thinks anything about; for I see that everybody likes him”. She lives to bitterly repent her error. Arthur behaves for a while, but then descends into drunkenness and, eventually, adultery.

Tenant publicity shot - Helen Huntingdon

In Mansfield Park, the heroine, Fanny Price, is desired to marry Henry Crawford, an unprincipled, selfish man. Fanny has watched him toy with the happiness of two of her cousins — gaining their affections simultaneously and then dumping first one and then the other. Does this sound like a man you would want to entrust your happiness to? And yet, Henry Crawford is very charming. He becomes more and more gentle, serious, and considerate, and he falls genuinely in love with Fanny. Because of what she has seen him do, Fanny distrusts him. When she tells her cousin Edmund that Henry’s disposition and character are such that she does not think they are suited to one another, Edmund protests that Henry only lacks a little seriousness — and that his wife might supply. Fanny, however, understandably shrinks from the task of reforming her husband. “I would not engage in such a charge,” cried Fanny, in a shrinking accent; “in such an office of high responsibility!” (Mansfield Park, Ch. XXXV). She is proved right. Henry’s “reformation” proves to not be genuine, or at least not complete.

Mansfield publicity shot - Fanny Price with Henry Crawford

The point is that there are no guarantees that the person you marry will change. If only Fanny had married Henry, we might think, he would have been happy and good forever… perhaps. But, the marriage could have been at the sacrifice of Fanny. What if, having gained her, he had still regressed?

Mansfield publicity shot - Henry CrawfordUnlike Arthur Huntingdon’s, Henry’s relapse does not involve the misery of his wife, for Fanny continued to resist him. Yet many, including Jane Austen’s own sister, wish that Henry could have married Fanny. Jane Austen so well portrays Henry’s charm and the temptation to marry a woman to a man because he needs her for his reformation. Despite Arthur’s telling Helen that “a little daily talk with [her] would make him quite a saint”, neither he nor Henry Crawford really admit to themselves the need for repentance. Admitting oneself to be wrong is, I believe, the first step to changing for the better.

From our first introduction to Arthur Huntingdon, however, we suspect his “goodness”. Perhaps this is mainly because we do not meet him until after we have already met the hero, Gilbert Markham — a man who has gained Helen’s affections and whose character requires no change before he will be a suitable husband and father to her young son. (Remember that, in order to be good for a husband, a man must be good for a father too. The man you marry will be the father of your children.) I think that Anne Brontë’s novel is a good portrayal of the reasons against marrying a man in the hope of reforming him and Jane Austen’s is an excellent portrayal of the temptation to do so.

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Illustrations:

Publicity Shots from the 1996 adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Tara Fitzgerald as Helen and Rupert Graves as Arthur Huntingdon.

Publicity Shots from the 2007 adaptation of Mansfield Park with Billie Piper as Fanny Price and Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford.

Links: November 2012

I have been so busy that I haven’t had much time for writing lately. I do have a couple of posts that I have been slowly working on, but they probably won’t be ready for awhile. However, I have read a few posts about Mansfield Park that I found interesting. I don’t agree with everything written in these posts, but I at least found what they had to say thought-provoking.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen” (July 1, 2012) on Speaking of Books

What forms one’s character?  This question, implicitly set forth by Austen in her masterpiece, Mansfield Park, is similar to the question posed in Plato’s Meno, “Can virtue be learned?”  By transplanting the young ten year old Fanny Price into her Uncle Thomas Bertram’s household at Mansfield Park, the question is examined.

Mansfield Park” (September 1, 2012) on The Classics Reader

Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and the last.

Such is Fanny Price’s fate in Mansfield Park, where, as the consummate poorer relation, she grew up in constant reminder of her position in her mother’s sister’s family, the Bertrams.

Damsels in Disgust” (October 11, 2012) on Beyond the Dreamline

A quick skim on Goodreads throws up a series of criticisms remarkably similar to those damning Bella Swan – Fanny is too passive, too timid, too moral and submissive. Why, people demand, is she not more like Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse? Why, I ask, should she be? Austen had already written about Elizabeth and Emma. Why on earth should all the female protagonists of her books, indeed of any books, all be the same? Real women certainly aren’t.

I have never read the books discussed in the first half of “Damsels in Disgust”, but the defense of Fanny Price is interesting.

Befriending Men in Jane Austen’s World” (October 12, 2012) on The Squeee

I’ve often wondered why in Jane Austen the interesting new acquaintances of the heroine’s age are often men rather than women. If the women are bad, they are petty, malicious, proud and inconstant. If the women are good, they are giggly, unintellectual, sometimes sensible, never really deep or profound. (We’re not talking about the heroines themselves). Perhaps Jane Austen preferred the company of men? (We seem to see quotes from her letters favourable things about the gentlemen she met). Was she trying to tell us something by having the heroines be friendlier (in a platonic sense) to men than women?

This post is not just about Mansfield Park, but several of Jane Austen’s other novels as well.

Classics Challenge: Mansfield Park” (October 21, 2012) on The Briarfield Chronicles

The passage shows that Fanny is the deeper, more superior sister, because she genuinely enjoys reading for its own sake, unlike Susan who only reads to appear genteel. Jane Austen here is having a sly dig at those people who are intelligent enough to read good books, but don’t care to be intellectual. While Fanny is intellectual and thoughtful, Susan is merely quick and intelligent. The originals of an idea or thought should be read to appreciate the author’s thoughts the best, and yet Susan prefers Fanny to interpret those works for her, because Fanny is easier to understand. This shows Susan can be shallow, and is learning only for self-vanity and interest. Susan is overall a sympathetic character, so I hope you don’t dislike her. Many of us are more like Susan than we care to admit.

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily endorse or agree with everything contained in these posts (or the blogs that they are on). I have linked to them to them simply because I enjoyed reading them or found them otherwise interesting.