Having only seen the 1999 film adaptation of Mansfield Park, I was surprised to find a very different Fanny Price in Austen’s novel.
Fanny Price is taken into her rich uncle’s home when she is 10 years old. She is raised in a distinctly inferior manner compared to her four cousins: Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. Only Edmund treats her with kindness. Her regard for him turns into a romantic love as she grows up away from her much poorer family. When her uncle leaves for a year to tend to foreign business, the siblings Henry and Mary Crawford arrive to Mansfield Park. Their influence on the household creates tension in the family. Henry is a flirt, and he plays with the feelings of both Maria and Julia, even though Maria is very much engaged. Mary sets her eyes upon Edmund. Fanny watches the drama unfold.
Fanny is a kind, sensitive girl who never wavers from her good morals. She longs for Edmund, but she would never depart from decorum as do the more wordly Mr. and Miss Crawford. She watches in silence as Mary works to attract Edmund. She listens in silence as Edmund speaks so highly of Mary, blinded by her charm to her many faults of character. She doesn’t allow herself to be swept away when Henry turns his attentions toward her in a personal game.
Austen’s Fanny is virtually silent and suffers without complaint. I’d need to watch the movie again to be sure (it’s been years), but as I recall the Fanny of 1999 is quick to speak and has a biting wit. I don’t think this more assertive character is a complete departure from Austen’s original. I think they simply gave Fanny the voice she didn’t have in the novel.
While at first surprised, I don’t think the quieter Fanny is any less strong or spined. She held her own against the influences of the Crawfords. She held her own against her uncle when he scolded her supposed selfishness for refusing Mr. Crawford. She didn’t doubt her instincts.
I especially enjoyed how Austen ended the novel. She generally lets the reader know how the main characters fared in their future. In Mansfield Park she also gives a summary of the characters and their tragic flaws.
It’s no spoiler to anyone familiar with Jane Austen to reveal that Fanny gets her man in the end.
My favorite of Austen’s heroines are Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejuice) and Fanny Price. They are opposite creatures, but together they embody the woman I would want to be.
Quick with her tongue, but quicker with her mind.