His Mother Called Me “Fanny”

Mansfield Park has been called a “problem novel”, especially when it comes to adapting it for television. Fanny, it is said, is too quiet and retiring to make a compelling heroine in a movie. The bulk of adaptions (and there are not many), have simply changed the heroine—think of Frances O’Connor’s and Billie Piper’s take on the modest and subdued Fanny Price (in the 1999 and 2007 versions respectively). Not everyone, however, agrees with this point of view. They point out that shy, under-appreciated girls have become succesful heroines in movies before—consider Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin, Bleak House, 2005), Amy Dorrit (Claire Foy, Little Dorrit, 2008), and Molly Gibson (Justine Waddell, Wives and Daughters, 1999). Molly Gibson, the heroine of Wives and Daughters, a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, is a shy, retiring young woman, comparable to Jane Austen’s Fanny Price.

Fanny and Molly are both quiet, retiring, gentle, kind, loyal, and steadfastly moral. They both get bullied. Molly’s step-mother, though often kindly intentioned, sometimes seems to be around solely to thwart her step-daughter. Fanny has to deal with much more serious bullying from her Aunt Norris and her cousins, but both Molly and Fanny bear their trials patiently and submissively—at least usually.

Their similarities of character and temperment are not the only points in which Fanny Price and Molly Gibson resemble each other. Their stories have several points of likeness. We are introduced to both Molly and Fanny when, as children, they are brought to a great house—Molly to Cumnor Towers and Fanny to Mansfield Park. Molly, of course, is only at the Towers for a short time, but it was long enough for her to feel when she left that she was “never so unhappy” in all her life as she was all that “long afternoon” (W&D, Ch. II).

… all the girl thought of was, how little they wanted her in this grand house; how she must seem like a careless intruder who had no business there. …

She followed the ladies out of the dining-room, almost hoping that no one would see her. But that was impossible, and she immediately became the subject of conversation between the awful Lady Cumnor and her kind neighbour at dinner. …

So Molly sate on, turning over pictures which she did not see; her heart growing heavier and heavier in the desolation of all this grandeur. (W&D, Ch. II)

Molly, in fact, continues to have “a dislike to the house” ever “since that unlucky day in her childhood” until, towards the end of the story, she is forced to stay there again, and finds it “rather pleasant than otherwise” (W&D, Ch. LVII). “When Molly went to bed she . . . tried to reconcile old impressions with new ones, until she fell asleep.” (W&D, Ch. LVII).

The next day Molly went home; she was astonished at herself for being so sorry to leave the Towers; and found it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the long-fixed idea of the house as a place wherein to suffer all a child’s tortures of dismay and forlornness with her new and fresh conception. She had gained health, she had had pleasure, the faint fragrance of a new and unacknowledged hope had stolen into her life. (W&D, Ch. LVIII)

Fanny is to stay at Mansfield, away from everybody she had been used to, astonished, but not consoled by the grandeur of her new home.

Sir Thomas, seeing how much she needed encouragement, tried to be all that was conciliating: but he had to work against a most untoward gravity of deportment; and Lady Bertram, without taking half so much trouble, or speaking one word where he spoke ten, by the mere aid of a good-humoured smile, became immediately the less awful character of the two. …

It required a longer time, however, than Mrs. Norris was inclined to allow, to reconcile Fanny to the novelty of Mansfield Park, and the separation from everybody she had been used to. Her feelings were very acute, and too little understood to be properly attended to. Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort. …

The grandeur of the house astonished, but could not console her. The rooms were too large for her to move in with ease: whatever she touched she expected to injure, and she crept about in constant terror of something or other; often retreating towards her own chamber to cry; and the little girl who was spoken of in the drawing-room when she left it at night as seeming so desirably sensible of her peculiar good fortune, ended every day’s sorrows by sobbing herself to sleep. (MP, Ch. II)

But Fanny becomes reconciled to the place, and comes to love it. When she is sent to Portsmouth, she looks forward to her return to Mansfield with “intense desire” (MP, Ch. XLV), and she is overjoyed when she is finally sent for.

To-morrow! to leave Portsmouth to-morrow! She was . . . exquisitely happy . . . . To be going so soon, sent for so kindly, sent for as a comfort, and with leave to take Susan, was altogether such a combination of blessings as set her heart in a glow . . . (MP, Ch. XLVI)

Both Molly and Fanny fall in love with a man who regards them with sisterly affection. Roger Hamley even says to Molly, after his mother’s death,

“I suppose it would never do now for you to come and stay at the Hall, would it? It would give my father so much pleasure: he looks upon you as a daughter, and I’m sure both Osborne and I shall always consider you are like a sister to us, after all my mother’s love for you, and your tender care of her at last. But I suppose it wouldn’t do.” (W&D, Ch. XXI).

While his mother is dying Roger asks Molly, “Have you ever noticed that she [Mrs. Hamley] sometimes calls you “Fanny”? It was the name of a little sister of ours who died.” (W&D, Ch. XVIII). Later,

“’I am his sister,’ she [Molly] would say to herself. ‘That old bond is not done away with, though he is too much absorbed by Cynthia to speak about it just now. His mother called me “Fanny;” it was almost like an adoption. I must wait and watch, and see if I can do anything for my brother.’” (W&D, Ch. XXXII)

And Edmund, after his two sisters, Maria and Julia, run away, calls Fanny, “My Fanny, my only sister; my only comfort now!” (MP, Ch. XLVI). The men, however, fall for the heroines’ more sparkling, but flawed, foils. Edmund Bertram falls for Fanny’s “friend”, Mary Crawford, while Roger Hamley is smitten by Molly’s lovely step-sister, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. A difference here is that while Molly loves her step-sister, Fanny does not think well of Miss Crawford. Also, Cynthia, though not as good as Molly, has not Miss Crawford’s “blunted delicacy” and “corrupted, vitiated mind” (MP, Ch. XLVII).

The heroine’s real aquaintance with the hero begins when he finds her crying—they have met before, but their interest in one another begins from that time. Fanny is unhappy in her new home, and

the little girl who was spoken of in the drawing-room when she left it at night as seeming so desirably sensible of her peculiar good fortune, ended every day’s sorrows by sobbing herself to sleep. A week had passed in this way, and no suspicion of it conveyed by her quiet passive manner, when she was found one morning by her cousin Edmund, the youngest of the sons, sitting crying on the attic stairs.

“My dear little cousin,” said he, with all the gentleness of an excellent nature, “what can be the matter?” And sitting down by her, he was at great pains to overcome her shame in being so surprised, and persuade her to speak openly. Was she ill? or was anybody angry with her? or had she quarrelled with Maria and Julia? or was she puzzled about anything in her lesson that he could explain? Did she, in short, want anything he could possibly get her, or do for her? For a long while no answer could be obtained beyond a “no, no—not at all—no, thank you”; but he still persevered; and no sooner had he begun to revert to her own home, than her increased sobs explained to him where the grievance lay. He tried to console her. …

Fanny’s feelings on the occasion were such as she believed herself incapable of expressing; but her countenance and a few artless words fully conveyed all their gratitude and delight, and her cousin began to find her an interesting object. He talked to her more, and, from all that she said, was convinced of her having an affectionate heart, and a strong desire of doing right; and he could perceive her to be farther entitled to attention by great sensibility of her situation, and great timidity. He had never knowingly given her pain, but he now felt that she required more positive kindness ….

From this day Fanny grew more comfortable. (MP, Ch. II)

Molly, on the other, had just found out that her father was going to remarry.

When she had once got to the seat she broke out with a suppressed passion of grief; she did not care to analyze the sources of her tears and sobs—her father was going to be married again—her father was angry with her; she had done very wrong—he had gone away displeased; she had lost his love, he was going to be married—away from her—away from his child—his little daughter—forgetting her own dear, dear mother. So she thought in a tumultuous kind of way, sobbing till she was wearied out, and had to gain strength by being quiet for a time, to break forth into her passion of tears afresh. She had cast herself on the ground—that natural throne for violent sorrow—and leant up against the old moss-grown seat; sometimes burying her face in her hands; sometimes clasping them together, as if by the tight painful grasp of her fingers she could deaden mental suffering.

She did not see Roger Hamley returning from the meadows, nor hear the click of the little white gate. He had been out dredging in ponds and ditches, and had his wet sling-net, with its imprisoned treasures of nastiness, over his shoulder. … He stopped; he saw a light-coloured dress on the ground—somebody half-lying on the seat, so still just then, he wondered if the person, whoever it was, had fallen ill or fainted. He paused to watch. In a minute or two the sobs broke out again—the words. It was Miss Gibson crying out in a broken voice,—

‘Oh, papa, papa! if you would but come back!’

For a minute or two he thought it would be kinder to leave her believing herself unobserved; he had even made a retrograde step or two, on tip-toe; but then he heard the miserable sobbing again. It was farther than his mother could walk, or else, be the sorrow what it would, she was the natural comforter of this girl, her visitor. However, whether it was right or wrong, delicate or obtrusive, when he heard the sad voice talking again, in such tones of uncomforted, lonely misery, he turned back, and went to the green tent under the ash-tree. She started up when he came thus close to her; she tried to check her sobs, and instinctively smoothed her wet tangled hair back with her hands.

He looked down upon her with grave, kind sympathy, but he did not know exactly what to say. …

‘Papa is going to be married again,’ said she, at length. …

‘You are sorry for it?’ (W&D, Ch. X)

Roger does his best to comfort her, and then brings her in to his mother.

As soon as he was gone, Molly lifted up her poor swelled eyes, and, looking at Mrs Hamley, she said,—’He was so good to me. I mean to try and remember all he said.’

‘I’m glad to hear it, love; very glad. From what he told me, I was afraid he had been giving you a little lecture. He has a good heart, but he isn’t so tender in his manner as Osborne. Roger is a little rough sometimes.’

‘Then I like roughness. It did me good.’ …

If Roger was not tender in words, he was in deeds. Unreasonable and possibly exaggerated as Molly’s grief had appeared to him, it was real suffering to her; and he took some pains to lighten it, in his own way, which was characteristic enough. That evening he adjusted his microscope, and put the treasures he had collected in his morning’s ramble on a little table; and then he asked his mother to come and admire. Of course Molly came too, and this was what he had intended. He tried to interest her in his pursuit, cherished her first little morsel of curiosity, and nursed it into a very proper desire for further information. Then he brought out books on the subject, and translated the slightly pompous and technical language into homely every-day speech. Molly had come down to dinner, wondering how the long hours till bedtime would ever pass away: hours during which she must not speak on the one thing that would be occupying her mind to the exclusion of all others; for she was afraid that already she had wearied Mrs. Hamley with it during their afternoon tete-a-tete. But prayers and bedtime came long before she had expected; she had been refreshed by a new current of thought, and she was very thankful to Roger. (W&D, Ch. X)

To make matters worse for the heroines, they are supposed to be grateful for what has happened.

Mrs. Norris had been talking to her [Fanny] the whole way from Northampton of her wonderful good fortune, and the extraordinary degree of gratitude and good behaviour which it ought to produce, and her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy. … (MP, Ch. II)

Says Mr. Gibson, ‘I must tell Molly about it [his engagement]: dear little woman, I wonder how she’ll take it! It’s done, in a great measure, for her good.’ (W&D, Ch. X). Says Roger to Molly,

‘Still he must have thought it for the best, or he wouldn’t have done it. He may have thought it the best for your sake even more than for his own.’

‘That is what he tried to convince me of.’

Roger began kicking the pebble again. He had not got hold of the right end of the clue. (W&D, Ch. X)

Edmund and Roger help to educate Fanny and Molly.

Kept back as she [Fanny] was by everybody else, his [Edmund’s] single support could not bring her forward; but his attentions were otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures. He knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which, properly directed, must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French, and heard her read the daily portion of history; but he recommended the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment: he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read, and heightened its attraction by judicious praise. In return for such services she loved him better than anybody in the world except William: her heart was divided between the two. (MP, Ch. II)

And Roger missed her [Molly] too. Sometimes her remarks had probed into his mind, and excited him to the deep thought in which he delighted; at other times he had felt himself of real help to her in her hours of need, and in making her take an interest in books, which treated of higher things than the continual fiction and poetry which she had hitherto read. He felt something like an affectionate tutor who was suddenly deprived of his most promising pupil; he wondered how she would go on without him; whether she would be puzzled and disheartened by the books he had lent her to read; how she and her stepmother would get along together? (W&D, Ch. XIII)

On top of having to watch the man they love falling in love with someone else, both Fanny and Molly must listen to his raptures. Edmund tells Fanny,

“There is not a shadow of either [ill-humour or roughness] in the countenance or manner of Miss Crawford: nothing sharp, or loud, or coarse. She is perfectly feminine, except in the instances we have been speaking of. There she cannot be justified. I am glad you saw it all as I did.”

Having formed her [Fanny’s] mind and gained her affections, he [Edmund] had a good chance of her thinking like him; though at this period, and on this subject, there began now to be some danger of dissimilarity, for he was in a line of admiration of Miss Crawford, which might lead him where Fanny could not follow. (MP, Ch. VII)

Roger confides to Molly, “I can’t tell you how much I like Miss Kirkpatrick, Molly. It must be a great pleasure to you having such a companion!” (W&D, Ch. XXI).

Both Fanny and Molly are used to confiding in their respective love interests. This is shown vividly when they are, for different reasons, prevented from doing so. Fanny will not confide in Edmund her troubles about Henry Crawford, for she believes that he blames her for refusing him (Mr. Crawford, that is).

Edmund was not unwilling to be persuaded to engage in the business [of talking to Fanny about Henry Crawford]; he wanted to know Fanny’s feelings. She had been used to consult him in every difficulty, and he loved her too well to bear to be denied her confidence now; he hoped to be of service to her, he thought he must be of service to her; whom else had she to open her heart to?  If she did not need counsel, she must need the comfort of communication.  Fanny estranged from him, silent and reserved, was an unnatural state of things; a state which he must break through, and which he could easily learn to think she was wanting him to break through. (MP, Ch. XXXV).

Molly cannot confide her troubles in Roger, as she used to, for he is at the heart of her difficulties.

And so it went on during all the time of her [Molly’s] visit. If sometimes she forgot and let herself go into all her old naturalness, by-and-by she checked herself, and became comparatively cold and reserved. Roger was pained at all this–more pained day after day; more anxious to discover the cause. ….

He saw in an instant that something had distressed Molly; and he longed to have the old friendly right of asking her what it was. But she had effectually kept him at too great a distance during the last few days for him to feel at liberty to speak to her in the old straightforward brotherly way; ….

His voice was so kind and true,—his manner so winning yet wistful, that Molly would have been thankful to tell him all; she believed that he could have helped her more than any one to understand how she ought to behave rightly; he would have disentangled her fancies,–if only he himself had not lain at the very core and centre of all her perplexity and dismay. How could she tell him of Mrs. Goodenough’s words troubling her maiden modesty? How could she ever repeat what his father had said that morning, and assure him that she, no more than he, wished that their old friendliness should be troubled by the thought of a nearer relationship? (W&D, Ch. LIX)

The love interests of Molly and Fanny are both younger sons. Their fathers, Squire Hamley and Sir Thomas Bertram, both start out by being against either of their sons marrying the poor girl (Fanny, Molly), but by the end actually wish for it. When Sir Thomas considers undertaking the care of Fanny, he “debated and hesitated;—it was a serious charge;—a girl so brought up must be adequately provided for, or there would be cruelty instead of kindness in taking her from her family. He thought of his own four children, of his two sons, of cousins in love, etc.” (MP, Ch. I). But by the time Fanny and Edmund become engaged it is related:

Their own inclinations ascertained, there were no difficulties behind, no drawback of poverty or parent. It was a match which Sir Thomas’s wishes had even forestalled. Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity, he had pondered with genuine satisfaction on the more than possibility of the two young friends finding their natural consolation in each other for all that had occurred of disappointment to either; and the joyful consent which met Edmund’s application, the high sense of having realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny for a daughter, formed just such a contrast with his early opinion on the subject when the poor little girl’s coming had been first agitated, as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours’ entertainment.

Fanny was indeed the daughter that he wanted. His charitable kindness had been rearing a prime comfort for himself. His liberality had a rich repayment, and the general goodness of his intentions by her deserved it. He might have made her childhood happier; but it had been an error of judgment only which had given him the appearance of harshness, and deprived him of her early love; and now, on really knowing each other, their mutual attachment became very strong. After settling her at Thornton Lacey with every kind attention to her comfort, the object of almost every day was to see her there, or to get her away from it. (MP, Ch. XLVIII)

The Squire confesses his change of opinion to Roger:

“And to think that when you two lads flew right in your father’s face, and picked out girls below you in rank and family, you should neither of you have set your fancies on my little Molly there. I daresay I should ha’ been angry enough at the time, but the lassie would ha’ found her way to my heart, as never this French lady, nor t’ other one, could ha’ done.”

Roger did not answer.

“I don’t see why you might not put up for her still. I’m humble enough now, and you’re not heir as Osborne was who married a servant-maid. Don’t you think you could turn your thoughts upon Molly Gibson, Roger.”

“No!” said Roger, shortly. “It’s too late—too late. Don’t let us talk any more of my marrying. Is not this the five-acre field?” And soon he was discussing the relative values of meadow, arable and pasture land with his father, as heartily as if he had never known Molly, or loved Cynthia. But the squire was not in such good spirits, and went but heavily into the discussion. At the end of it he said apropos de bottes,—

“But don’t you think you could like her if you tried, Roger?”

Roger knew perfectly well to what his father was alluding, but for an instant he was on the point of pretending to misunderstand. At length, however, he said, in a low voice,—

“I shall never try, father. Don’t let us talk any more about it. As I said before, it is too late.”

The squire was like a child to whom some toy has been refused; from time to time the thought of his disappointment in this matter recurred to his mind; and then he took to blaming Cynthia as the primary cause of Roger’s present indifference to womankind. (W&D, Ch. LIX)

There are similar scenes of Fanny and Molly in trouble with their father figures—albeit for very different reasons—though neither heroine has actually done wrong. Sir Thomas is angry with Fanny for refusing Mr. Crawford’s proposal of marriage (MP, Ch. XXXII). Mr. Gibson is angry with Molly for meeting with Mr. Preston in secret (W&D, Ch. XLVIII).

Even in appearances, Fanny and Molly have much in common. They are both delicately pretty—not a flashy beauty. They are both without the robust color that announces health and beauty. It is not really brought out in the movie ‘Wives and Daughters’, but Molly also is somewhat fragile in health—not strong—like Fanny. Fanny grows into a pretty young woman, as her cousin, Edmund Bertram, points out:

“Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny—and that is the long and the short of the matter. Anybody but myself would have made something more of it, and anybody but you would resent that you had not been thought very pretty before; but the truth is, that your uncle never did admire you till now—and now he does. Your complexion is so improved!—and you have gained so much countenance!—and your figure—nay, Fanny, do not turn away about it—it is but an uncle. If you cannot bear an uncle’s admiration, what is to become of you? You must really begin to harden yourself to the idea of being worth looking at. You must try not to mind growing up into a pretty woman.” (MP, Ch. XXI)

Roger Hamley similarily notices Molly’s impovement in looks: “’Poor Osborne was right!’ said he. ‘She had grown into delicate fragrant beauty just as he said she would: or is it the character which has formed the face?’” (W&D, Ch. LV).

And then, each of them has their happy ending. Edmund Bertram finally falls in love with Fanny Price:

Exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire.

With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regard founded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness, and completed by every recommendation of growing worth, what could be more natural than the change? Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness, an object to him of such close and peculiar interest, dearer by all his own importance with her than any one else at Mansfield, what was there now to add, but that he should learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones. And being always with her, and always talking confidentially, and his feelings exactly in that favourable state which a recent disappointment gives, those soft light eyes could not be very long in obtaining the pre-eminence.

Having once set out, and felt that he had done so on this road to happiness, there was nothing on the side of prudence to stop him or make his progress slow; no doubts of her deserving, no fears of opposition of taste, no need of drawing new hopes of happiness from dissimilarity of temper. Her mind, disposition, opinions, and habits wanted no half-concealment, no self-deception on the present, no reliance on future improvement. Even in the midst of his late infatuation, he had acknowledged Fanny’s mental superiority. What must be his sense of it now, therefore? She was of course only too good for him; but as nobody minds having what is too good for them, he was very steadily earnest in the pursuit of the blessing, and it was not possible that encouragement from her should be long wanting. Timid, anxious, doubting as she was, it was still impossible that such tenderness as hers should not, at times, hold out the strongest hope of success, though it remained for a later period to tell him the whole delightful and astonishing truth. His happiness in knowing himself to have been so long the beloved of such a heart, must have been great enough to warrant any strength of language in which he could clothe it to her or to himself; it must have been a delightful happiness. But there was happiness elsewhere which no description can reach. Let no one presume to give the feelings of a young woman on receiving the assurance of that affection of which she has scarcely allowed herself to entertain a hope. (MP, Ch. XLVIII)

And, in the fullness of time, Roger Hamley falls in love with Molly Gibson:

He felt every day more and more certain that she, and she alone, could make him happy. He had felt this, and had partly given up all hope, while his father had been urging upon him the very course he most desired to take. No need for ‘trying’ to love her, he said to himself,—that was already done. …. Once safe home again, no weak fancies as to what might or might not be her answer should prevent his running all chances to gain the woman who was to him the one who excelled all. …

“I only wish you could know what a different feeling this is to my boyish love for Cynthia.” [said Roger to Mr. Gibson.] …. “Do you think that Molly, after seeing and knowing that I had loved a person so inferior to herself, could ever be brought to listen to me?” ….

“Lover versus father!” thought he [Mr. Gibson], half sadly. “Lover wins.” (W&D, Ch. LX)

There are many differences between Fanny and Molly, and their stories are very different, but there are enough similiarities to show that, with proper respect for the text, a good movie could be made of Mansfield Park.


  • In citing passages from the novels, I have abbreviated Mansfield Park by Jane Austen to ‘MP’ and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell to ‘W&D’.
  • Images from ‘Mansfield Park’ (1983, with Sylvestra Le Touzel) are from sns_red_curtain.
  • Images from ‘Wives and Daughters’ (1999, with Justine Waddell) are from desert sky.

It Was Really March: A Quotation

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on March 7, 2010, 9:46 AM

“Thither [to the ramparts] they now went; Mr. Crawford most happy to consider the Miss Prices as his peculiar charge; and before they had been there long, somehow or other, there was no saying how, Fanny could not have believed it, but he was walking between them with an arm of each under his, and she did not know how to prevent or put an end to it. It made her uncomfortable for a time, but yet there were enjoyments in the day and in the view which would be felt.

“The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute; and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each other on the ships at Spithead and the island beyond, with the ever-varying hues of the sea, now at high water, dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with so fine a sound, produced altogether such a combination of charms for Fanny, as made her gradually almost careless of the circumstances under which she felt them. Nay, had she been without his arm, she would soon have known that she needed it, for she wanted strength for a two hours’ saunter of this kind, coming, as it generally did, upon a week’s previous inactivity. Fanny was beginning to feel the effect of being debarred from her usual regular exercise; she had lost ground as to health since her being in Portsmouth; and but for Mr. Crawford and the beauty of the weather would soon have been knocked up now.”

(Mansfield ParkChapter XLII)

Purpose and Manner

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on March 3, 2010, 3:48 PM

Fanny Price and Elizabeth Bennet are very different heroines, yet they have some similarities. Both of them have a sweet manner, which on occasion causes those around them to react to them differently than they expected. While Elizabeth is staying with her sister Jane at Netherfield Park, Mr. Darcy asks her if she would like to dance a reel. She replies that she does not wish to dance dance a reel at all and dares him to despise her for it. “Indeed I do not dare,” he declares.

“Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter X)

When Fanny is sent to Sir Thomas’s room to personally refuse Mr. Crawford’s proposal of marriage, the “conference was neither so short nor so conclusive as the lady had designed”—for reasons similar to those that explain Elizabeth’s failure to affront Mr. Darcy.

“Fanny knew her own meaning, but was no judge of her own manner. Her manner was incurably gentle; and she was not aware how much it concealed the sternness of her purpose. Her diffidence, gratitude, and softness made every expression of indifference seem almost an effort of self-denial; seem, at least, to be giving nearly as much pain to herself as to him.” (Mansfield ParkChapter XXXIII)

A similarity of feeling between Fanny and Elizabeth is commented on by Richard Jenkyns in A Fine Brush on Ivory: “We catch Fanny hoping that Henry will not be put off by the vulgarity of her family (Lizzy Bennet had similar feelings).” 1

“It was soon pain upon pain, confusion upon confusion; for they were hardly in the High Street before they met her father, whose appearance was not the better from its being Saturday. He stopt; and, ungentlemanlike as he looked, Fanny was obliged to introduce him to Mr. Crawford. She could not have a doubt of the manner in which Mr. Crawford must be struck. He must be ashamed and disgusted altogether. He must soon give her up, and cease to have the smallest inclination for the match; and yet, though she had been so much wanting his affection to be cured, this was a sort of cure that would be almost as bad as the complaint; and I believe there is scarcely a young lady in the United Kingdoms who would not rather put up with the misfortune of being sought by a clever, agreeable man, than have him driven away by the vulgarity of her nearest relations.” (Mansfield ParkChapter XLI)

Elizabeth often is embarrassed by her family’s “total want of propriety” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXV). When she meets Mr. Darcy at Pemberley and introduces her uncle and aunt to him, her feelings are described.

“Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph. It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush. She listened most attentively to all that passed between them, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of her uncle, which marked his intelligence, his taste, or his good manners.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XLIII)

Here are some more passages describing Elizabeth’s shame at her family’s “impropriety of conduct”:

“There were some very strong objections against the lady,” were Colonel Fitzwilliam’s words; and those strong objections probably were, her having one uncle who was a country attorney, and another who was in business in London.

“To Jane herself,” she exclaimed, “there could be no possibility of objection; all loveliness and goodness as she is!—her understanding excellent, her mind improved, and her manners captivating. Neither could anything be urged against my father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain, and respectability which he will probably never reach.” When she thought of her mother, her confidence gave way a little; but she would not allow that any objections there had material weight with Mr. Darcy, whose pride, she was convinced, would receive a deeper wound from the want of importance in his friend’s connections, than from their want of sense; and she was quite decided, at last, that he had been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partly by the wish of retaining Mr. Bingley for his sister. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXIII)

The compliment to herself and her sister was not unfelt. It soothed, but it could not console her for the contempt which had thus been self-attracted by the rest of her family; and as she considered that Jane’s disappointment had in fact been the work of her nearest relations, and reflected how materially the credit of both must be hurt by such impropriety of conduct, she felt depressed beyond anything she had ever known before. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXVI)

Such were the kind of lamentations resounding perpetually through Longbourn House. Elizabeth tried to be diverted by them; but all sense of pleasure was lost in shame. She felt anew the justice of Mr. Darcy’s objections; and never had she been so much disposed to pardon his interference in the views of his friend. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XLI)

Elizabeth’s misery increased, at such unnecessary, such officious attention! Were the same fair prospect to arise at present as had flattered them a year ago, every thing, she was persuaded, would be hastening to the same vexatious conclusion. At that instant, she felt that years of happiness could not make Jane or herself amends for moments of such painful confusion. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter LIII)

And another instance of Fanny’s comparable feelings:

Before they [Mr. Crawford and Fanny Price] parted, she had to thank him for another pleasure, and one of no trivial kind. Her father asked him to do them the honour of taking his mutton with them, and Fanny had time for only one thrill of horror, before he declared himself prevented by a prior engagement. He was engaged to dinner already both for that day and the next; he had met with some acquaintance at the Crown who would not be denied; he should have the honour, however, of waiting on them again on the morrow, etc., and so they parted—Fanny in a state of actual felicity from escaping so horrible an evil!

To have had him join their family dinner-party, and see all their deficiencies, would have been dreadful! Rebecca’s cookery and Rebecca’s waiting, and Betsey’s eating at table without restraint, and pulling everything about as she chose, were what Fanny herself was not yet enough inured to for her often to make a tolerable meal. She was nice only from natural delicacy, but he had been brought up in a school of luxury and epicurism. (Mansfield ParkChapter XLI)

Despite their great differences, both Fanny and Elizabeth possess “that sweetness which makes so essential a part of every woman’s worth in the judgment of man, that though he sometimes loves where it is not, he can never believe it absent” (Mansfield Park, Chapter XXX).


1A Fine Brush on Ivory, by Richard Jenkyns; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; Chap. 4, p. 138.

2 Images from sns_red_curtain.

The Evergreen: A Quotation

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on January 23, 2010, 7:59 PM

“The evergreen! How beautiful, how welcome, how wonderful the evergreen!

When one thinks of it, how astonishing a variety of nature! In some countries we know the tree that sheds its leaf is the variety, but that does not make it less amazing that the same soil and the same sun should nurture plants differing in the first rule and law of their existence. You will think me rhapsodising; but when I am out of doors, especially when I am sitting out of doors, I am very apt to get into this sort of wondering strain. One cannot fix one’s eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy.”

(Mansfield ParkChapter XXII)

Anne Elliot and Fanny Price

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on January 9, 2010, 8:43 AM

“I think that in her last three works are to be found a greater refinement of taste, a more nice sense of propriety, and a deeper insight into the delicate anatomy of the human heart, marking the difference between the brilliant girl and the mature woman.”

from Chapter X of Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh

In reading, I noticed two similar passages, one in Mansfield Park and one in Persuasion. In each passage the heroine listens to complaints from most of the people around her. During the play at Mansfield Park, Fanny Price “being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most” of the company. Anne Elliot finds that, when she removes from Kellynch to Uppercross, one of “the least agreeable circumstances of her residence there was her being treated with too much confidence by all parties, and being too much in the secret of the complaints of each house.”

So, Fanny and Anne both have to listen to everyone’s grievances. Fanny’s compassion is all that is wanted from her in these cases, however, while Anne is actually desired to fix everything for the complainer. Each of these passages is closely followed by the heroines being useful to those around them in a practical way, Fanny by sewing, and Anne by playing the piano for dancing.

Fanny Price

‘Fanny, being always a very courteous listener, and often the only listener at hand, came in for the complaints and the distresses of most of them. She knew that Mr. Yates was in general thought to rant dreadfully; that Mr. Yates was disappointed in Henry Crawford; that Tom Bertram spoke so quick he would be unintelligible; that Mrs. Grant spoiled everything by laughing; that Edmund was behindhand with his part, and that it was misery to have anything to do with Mr. Rushworth, who was wanting a prompter through every speech. She knew, also, that poor Mr. Rushworth could seldom get anybody to rehearse with him: his complaint came before her as well as the rest; and so decided to her eye was her cousin Maria’s avoidance of him, and so needlessly often the rehearsal of the first scene between her and Mr. Crawford, that she had soon all the terror of other complaints from him. So far from being all satisfied and all enjoying, she found everybody requiring something they had not, and giving occasion of discontent to the others. Everybody had a part either too long or too short; nobody would attend as they ought; nobody would remember on which side they were to come in; nobody but the complainer would observe any directions. ….

‘Many uncomfortable, anxious, apprehensive feelings she certainly had; but with all these, and other claims on her time and attention, she was as far from finding herself without employment or utility amongst them, as without a companion in uneasiness; quite as far from having no demand on her leisure as on her compassion. The gloom of her first anticipations was proved to have been unfounded. She was occasionally useful to all; she was perhaps as much at peace as any.

‘There was a great deal of needlework to be done, moreover, in which her help was wanted; and that Mrs. Norris thought her quite as well off as the rest, was evident by the manner in which she claimed it—”Come, Fanny,” she cried, “these are fine times for you, but you must not be always walking from one room to the other, and doing the lookings-on at your ease, in this way; I want you here. I have been slaving myself till I can hardly stand, to contrive Mr. Rushworth’s cloak without sending for any more satin; and now I think you may give me your help in putting it together. There are but three seams; you may do them in a trice. It would be lucky for me if I had nothing but the executive part to do. You are best off, I can tell you: but if nobody did more than you, we should not get on very fast.” ’ (Mansfield ParkChapter XVIII)

Anne Elliot

‘One of the least agreeable circumstances of her residence there was her being treated with too much confidence by all parties, and being too much in the secret of the complaints of each house. Known to have some influence with her sister, she was continually requested, or at least receiving hints to exert it, beyond what was practicable. “I wish you could persuade Mary not to be always fancying herself ill,” was Charles’s language; and, in an unhappy mood, thus spoke Mary: “I do believe if Charles were to see me dying, he would not think there was anything the matter with me. I am sure, Anne, if you would, you might persuade him that I really am very ill–a great deal worse than I ever own.”

‘Mary’s declaration was, “I hate sending the children to the Great House, though their grandmamma is always wanting to see them, for she humours and indulges them to such a degree, and gives them so much trash and sweet things, that they are sure to come back sick and cross for the rest of the day.” And Mrs Musgrove took the first opportunity of being alone with Anne, to say, “Oh! Miss Anne, I cannot help wishing Mrs Charles had a little of your method with those children. They are quite different creatures with you! But to be sure, in general they are so spoilt! It is a pity you cannot put your sister in the way of managing them. They are as fine healthy children as ever were seen, poor little dears! without partiality; but Mrs Charles knows no more how they should be treated–! Bless me! how troublesome they are sometimes. I assure you, Miss Anne, it prevents my wishing to see them at our house so often as I otherwise should. I believe Mrs Charles is not quite pleased with my not inviting them oftener; but you know it is very bad to have children with one that one is obligated to be checking every moment; “don’t do this,” and “don’t do that;” or that one can only keep in tolerable order by more cake than is good for them.”

‘She had this communication, moreover, from Mary. “Mrs Musgrove thinks all her servants so steady, that it would be high treason to call it in question; but I am sure, without exaggeration, that her upper house-maid and laundry-maid, instead of being in their business, are gadding about the village, all day long. I meet them wherever I go; and I declare, I never go twice into my nursery without seeing something of them. If Jemima were not the trustiest, steadiest creature in the world, it would be enough to spoil her; for she tells me, they are always tempting her to take a walk with them.” And on Mrs Musgrove’s side, it was, “I make a rule of never interfering in any of my daughter-in-law’s concerns, for I know it would not do; but I shall tell you, Miss Anne, because you may be able to set things to rights, that I have no very good opinion of Mrs Charles’s nursery-maid: I hear strange stories of her; she is always upon the gad; and from my own knowledge, I can declare, she is such a fine-dressing lady, that she is enough to ruin any servants she comes near. Mrs Charles quite swears by her, I know; but I just give you this hint, that you may be upon the watch; because, if you see anything amiss, you need not be afraid of mentioning it.”

‘Again, it was Mary’s complaint, that Mrs Musgrove was very apt not to give her the precedence that was her due, when they dined at the Great House with other families; and she did not see any reason why she was to be considered so much at home as to lose her place. And one day when Anne was walking with only the Musgroves, one of them after talking of rank, people of rank, and jealousy of rank, said, “I have no scruple of observing to you, how nonsensical some persons are about their place, because all the world knows how easy and indifferent you are about it; but I wish anybody could give Mary a hint that it would be a great deal better if she were not so very tenacious, especially if she would not be always putting herself forward to take place of mamma. Nobody doubts her right to have precedence of mamma, but it would be more becoming in her not to be always insisting on it. It is not that mamma cares about it the least in the world, but I know it is taken notice of by many persons.”

‘How was Anne to set all these matters to rights? She could do little more than listen patiently, soften every grievance, and excuse each to the other; give them all hints of the forbearance necessary between such near neighbours, and make those hints broadest which were meant for her sister’s benefit. ….

‘She played a great deal better than either of the Miss Musgroves, but having no voice, no knowledge of the harp, and no fond parents, to sit by and fancy themselves delighted, her performance was little thought of, only out of civility, or to refresh the others, as she was well aware. She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation. Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world; and Mr and Mrs Musgrove’s fond partiality for their own daughters’ performance, and total indifference to any other person’s, gave her much more pleasure for their sakes, than mortification for her own.

‘The party at the Great House was sometimes increased by other company. The neighbourhood was not large, but the Musgroves were visited by everybody, and had more dinner-parties, and more callers, more visitors by invitation and by chance, than any other family. There were more completely popular.

‘The girls were wild for dancing; and the evenings ended, occasionally, in an unpremeditated little ball. There was a family of cousins within a walk of Uppercross, in less affluent circumstances, who depended on the Musgroves for all their pleasures: they would come at any time, and help play at anything, or dance anywhere; and Anne, very much preferring the office of musician to a more active post, played country dances to them by the hour together; a kindness which always recommended her musical powers to the notice of Mr and Mrs Musgrove more than anything else, and often drew this compliment;–“Well done, Miss Anne! very well done indeed! Lord bless me! how those little fingers of yours fly about!” ’ (Persuasion, Chapter VI)