Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park II

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Welcome back, I hope you’re enjoying this Janeite analysis.

These aren’t real academic essays, I’m just spouting my thoughts stream-of-conciousness style, so I’m not going to go searching for quotes. If you do have a question, or feel like I’m remembering something incorrectly, tell me in the comments!

Now, onto Mansfield Park. Those who love to read Austen will recall that there are many instances when Fanny begins to think something negative and internally chastises herself.

I don’t think this is Fanny being a prude or stick in the mud or goody-two-shoes even though that’s how it can come off. Fanny is Austen’s most internal and secretive character. Her whole identity is wound up in protecting herself, and so she’s curled up within her own mind, and often hides her feelings even from her own concious thoughts.

I would argue that, like Austentatious says in many of her essays, Fanny is performing. But my argument is that she’s performing the role of the good daughter. She doesn’t know how to generate positive attention, all she knows how to do is try to hide from the negative. She does this by not breaking any rules. Ever. (Until everyone wants her to marry against her will and it is VERY difficult for her to break the rules even then.)

An abused person, especially an abused female I would personally argue, is more likely to take on this role than to act out because the performance of femininity is to be submissive anyway. So when you add abuse to this era and this type of gender performance, I think Fanny is what you end up with.

I think that Fanny is so desperate for love, and the affection shown to her is so inconsistent, that she plays games in her mind to protect herself from harm.

For example, when she sees Maria or Mary doing something she doesn’t approve of or doesn’t like, instead of standing up for herself or condeming them, she often tells herself—she’s the bad one. She’s being unkind. I don’t have an exact quote, but I’m thinking in particular of the chapter when Fanny is sitting on the bench and Maria climbs over the gate. Fanny, slowly, as she waits for everyone, becomes angrier and angrier at having to wait. Yet, she argues with herself about what she’s feeling and subverts her anger into resignation and, in general, something of a depression. (Overall Fanny is not very upbeat and that’s in part because she has so much anger that she’s constantly sublimating into anxiety & depression.)

Therefore, it seems like Fanny has no backbone. But actually Fanny is trying to bend reality to this fantasy she has of love. Mom didn’t mean to hit me, she loves me. She was just upset because she lost her job. It’s my fault for bothering her when she was cooking dinner. —See, it makes sense.

Fanny does this with Edmund especially. She cannot bear to see him as anything other than her fantasy White Knight. And so she creates all kinds of fantastic reasons to maintain this view and to erase any anger, hurt, or disappointment she feels in reality toward him.

At the very end of Mansfield Park, the fantasy of many abused people becomes Fanny’s reality.  The unloving, abusive Maria is displaced and Fanny glorified in her stead as the Good Daughter. She finally gets the recognition she’s deserved all along.

Next time, we’ll talk about how this happy ending really isn’t so happy. And it’s all because of Maria.

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