Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and its heroine Fanny Price have many detractors, but they also have many defenders and admirers. This post is part of a series of ‘Friend of Fanny’ (FOF) posts that I will be putting up in appreciation of the latter.
Ashton Dennis’ website, Male Voices in Praise of Jane Austen, is “a site dedicated to the illumination and preservation of Jane Austen’s vision.” It is a “web site for those who might wish to explore Jane Austen’s novels from a masculine point of view.” “My hope,” Ashton Dennis wrote, “is that Jane Austen’s vision will be continually restored, illuminated, and preserved and that this site might contribute in some small way to that effort.” The site is kept up by “Sophia Sentiment“, who writes, “The Male Voices web site is published here as a memorial to my friend, the late Ashton Dennis. Male Voices was a labor of love for him, and we believe it should be made available for a while longer.”
Ashton Dennis said of the heroine of Mansfield Park, “Fanny Price is the most perfectly drawn of all of Jane Austen’s many perfect creations.” (Quote from this page.) The table of contents on Male Voices has links to several essays on Mansfield Park by Ashton Dennis: Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (“there are no Fanny Price-bashers here,” he announces). There is also a page of “the Passionate Passages” in Mansfield Park and a page comparing Fanny Price and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
Here are some quotes from Ashton Dennis’ essays on Male Voices:
“This is clever device of Jane Austen – to create a character banished and disengaged in this way. I believe that because, in this way, Jane Austen invented a keen observer of the inhabitants of the estate. Fanny was not allowed a stake in anything; she had nothing to risk and no expectations were allowed or imagined. Fanny had no expectations and she was allowed no consideration or notice. Surely Fanny must have ached, and surely she must have seen everything. Fanny Price, the disinterested observer, is the most perfectly drawn of all of Jane Austen’s many perfect creations, Jane Austen’s ingenious device.” (Quote from “Considering Who and What She Is“)
“Many readers hate Fanny Price; I was surprised to learn that – did not know that until I made my way onto the internet. I think the reason is this: if Fanny can judge the Crawfords, in such an absolute way, then she might very well judge the reader in the same manner. They are right about that you know? – those readers who hate her; they have much to fear from a Fanny Price or a Jane Austen. Those readers must invent reasons to bash Fanny Price because they are not able to justify their condemnations with reference to Jane Austen’s text. I suspect that many readers of our times are so compromised, so conditioned to tolerate the Crawfords, or worse, that they see Fanny as a threat. And Fanny Price is judging our cultural values, the cultural values of this late twentieth century.” (Quote from “Considering Who and What She Is“)
“Sir Thomas is the King Lear of Mansfield Park and Fanny Price is his Cordelia. I don’t propose that Jane Austen borrowed so very much from the Shakespeare tragedy. – there is no madness or murder in Jane Austen’s story. I merely want to evoke some sense of that; there are some elements of Cordelia and Lear in the Mansfield characters. Fanny saw all that was dishonorable and persisted in doing the honorable thing herself. And Fanny maintained her integrity while under a great deal of pressure from Sir Thomas to act differently. It was the fate of Sir Thomas to learn the guilt of his two natural daughters, and that his own values were to be carried into the next generation, instead, by that adopted-daughter/niece for whom he had had limited expectations, and against whom he had raged his disapproval and disappointment. … But the Austen Lear was to learn the same lesson as Shakespeare’s. He was to understand that Cordelia had it right after all. There was this difference, Sir Thomas’s Cordelia would live, and would present him with his grandchildren. This is Jane Austen after all.” (Quote from “Would He Only Have Smiled Upon Her“)