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 Park, Chapter 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 Park, Chapter 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 Park, Chapter 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.