From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fanny Price is the heroine in Jane Austen's 1814 novel Mansfield Park. Austen describes Fanny Price "extremely timid and shy, shrinking from notice." Despite her timidity, she is a very polarizing figure among Janeites (or fans of Jane Austen's work). While some find her snobbish, priggish and naive, a growing majority of readers find her to be strong of character, true to her moral integrity and most of all true to herself. Despite how one personally feels about Fanny Price, there is no denying that she is one of the most complex heroines in literature.
Fanny's Arrival at the Bertrams'
Fanny Price is the eldest daughter of an obscure and impecunious lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who is father to 8 other children. Fanny's parents realize that they can no longer afford to keep her, and she is sent off to live with her wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, in their elegant estate, Mansfield Park. Upon her first arriving in Mansfield, she is frightened by her cousins and her new home. None of her cousins were very obliging to her except Edmund, the youngest son. The Bertrams reinforce the inferiority of her circumstances, however her cousin Edmund showed her some kindness, making her feel more comfortable at Mansfield. As she grew, she found Edmund to be her true companion and confidante, but she also became attracted to him. As a child, Fanny is described as being small, not a striking beauty with an awkward but not vulgar air and a sweet voice.
As an adult, Fanny is very pretty with a good figure and countenance but tires quickly from all exercise including dancing. Fanny is a quiet and conscientious character, frequently timid, willing to let herself be walked over by her more vibrant and forceful relatives and not accustomed to giving her own opinion. She is also intelligent and insightful and lives by a strict moral code that has made many Austen fans and reviewers consider her to be priggish and unlikeable.
The Arrival of the Crawfords
When Fanny was fifteen, her uncle Norris died leaving the Mansfield living for Edmund, who intended to be ordained soon; however, Edmund's elder brother,Tom, had lived too extravagantly, and the parsonage had to be sold to retrench the debts. A man named Dr. Grant and his wife took control of the parsonage. Her dowager aunt Norris was compelled to take a small home in an adjacent village of Sir Thomas's. Dr. Grant's wife had a brother and sister of half blood, Mr. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary Crawford, whom she cherished but was unable to see them more frequently, for they lived in town. However, they were finally coming to stay temporarily at the parsonage. The Crawfords were elegant people, and both captivated the attentions of the Bertrams, who were no longer subject to the discipline and gravity of Sir Thomas, their father who had gone to Antigua with Tom to settle some business of property. Mr. Crawford instantly became an object of desire to Maria and Julia Bertram although Maria was engaged to a Mr. Rushworth, an insensible but affluent man. Edmund was instantaneously attached to Mary, whom he thought to be congenial and pleasant. Only Fanny remained doubtful of the Crawfords' influence.
The Impropriety of a Theatre
Tom returned early from Antigua, and had gone to Weymouth temporarily to take part as one of the dramatis personae in the drama Lovers' Vows. Upon his return, he decided that Mansfield Park must have a theatre for such entertainment. The wish was carried through to his complete satisfaction, and the play Lovers' Vows was chosen to be performed. Everyone took part in it, thinking it to be a capital idea, but Edmund and Fanny thought it improper and endeavored to persuade the others to forbear participating in such a manner. However, nobody complied, and Edmund was compelled to participate lest a stranger be requested to perform. Fanny was also asked, but she declined believing it to be preposterous and inappropriate. She endured the harangues of her odious Aunt Norris to maintain her scruple. However, she later complied to them, and followed. However, a few evenings before the performance, Sir Thomas arrived early from Antigua much to the despair and consternation of everybody. Sir Thomas was upset, but Edmund said, "All of us have been more or less to blame except Fanny."
Henry Crawford and Fanny
Nobody was aware of some clandestine and disgraceful courtship between Mr. Crawford and Maria though she was engaged. At the end Maria married Mr. Rushworth because it did not seem that Mr. Crawford cared for her. He left Mansfield for a fortnight, and did not seem to remember her. When Mr. Crawford returned, he decided to court Fanny by showing some conciliating kindness to her by dancing with her and ensuring the promotion of her brother, William, to a lieutenant. He proposed to Fanny, but she rejected him because of his concealed and disgraceful conduct with Maria. Sir Thomas did not comprehend it, and he remonstrated Fanny quite severely for her fatuity and her ingratitude for what he had done for her. Fanny was quite overcome by this, but did not explain. Ironically Mr. Crawford continued to court her, but she did not allow his attentions.
A Scandalous Affair
He then went to London, where Maria with her husband were present. At the same time, it seemed that Edmund would most certainly marry Miss Crawford, for he had earlier had said, "She is the only woman in the world whom I can think of as my wife." In London, Mr. Crawford eloped with Maria, and to increase the mortification of the scandalous circumstance, the newspapers apprised the general public of what had passed. Sir Thomas was full of remorse and compunction of authorizing the marriage, and the Bertrams were all completely dismayed. Mrs. Norris goes to live with Maria, and they become each other's punishment. Edmund had gone to visit Miss Crawford in London, where in her colloquy with him made evident the true nature of her character. She justified the conduct of her brother and Maria and harshly animadverted Fanny for not accepting her brother. Edmund was distressed that the lady whom he loved was truly like this, but he was later comforted by marrying Fanny, who was felicitous that she finally was connected by a conjugal affinity with the man whom she always had loved.
- Katie Durham Matthews as the young Fanny, and Sylvestra Le Touzel as the grown Fanny in the 1983 British television serial.
- Hannah Taylor Gordon as the young Fanny, Amelia Warner as the teenage Fanny, and Frances O'Connor as the grown Fanny in the 1999 film adaptation.
- Julia Joyce as the younger Fanny, and Billie Piper as the grown Fanny in the BBC television serial in 2007.