“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.
Not 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.
Painting “Lilac” by Edmund Blair Leighton (1852-1922).