While I love all Jane Austen’s heroines, (and Lizzie and Emma will always be my favorites), Fanny (Mansfield Park) has a special place in my heart.
Her strength is so gentle, and her integrity is so beautiful, and I can’t help but wish there were more role models like her.
It breaks my heart that gentle women are now looked down upon as weak and unimportant. The opposite could not be more true.
It takes strength, great strength to be submissive and gentle, to bend your ways before someone else’s, with respect. And that’s just what Fanny does. But she never sacrifices principle while doing it.
People like her are often overlooked, but they shouldn’t be. She displays beautifully:
She is constantly, constantly humble. Almost to a fault. She has no predilection to think herself above others, no vanity to cloud her judgment.
While I’m not sure if this is just another way to say humility, I feel like there is a nuance in the word that makes it worthy of its own characteristic. Selflessness, to me, is less of lowering yourself and more about putting others first. (Am I wrong there?) One of the things I most admire about Fanny is that no matter what, she always thinks of others first. “If I’m miserable, how much ever more so must be she!” It seems that a selfish thought has never crossed her mind.
In the vein of selflessness, which, as you can tell, is a theme with her, she is very thankful and grateful for anything and everything done for her. She doesn’t have an entitled attitude, and feels every good deed with all her heart and makes the hardest effort to pay them all back. It breaks her heart when she is accussed (either by herself or someone else) of ingratitude, and endeavors to be as thankful for any service or indulgence as possible.
“I am sure you have a grateful heart, that could never recieve kindness without wishing to return it.”
She was in a position more than once to shoot back caustic comments to others in defense of herself. But she didn’t. She had grace enough to keep it back and let it slide. I can say that many times reading M. Park I had anger enough to think of a sassy remark that I half wished she would say. She would have plenty of reasons, for sure, to be justified in saying them, but she never did anything of the kind. In turn, everyone (whether they knew it or not) was in debt to her for that; for witholding from them what they most certainly deserved to hear.
Fanny’s purity is radiating: her mind, character, & etc., are so brilliantly pure and the height and depth of it so large, that it—well deservingly!—inspires many people of her aqauintance. (I see you, Mr. Crawford!) Her purity and innocence is no näivety, though: she simply sets a high standard for herself and consistently lives up to it.
This is her “strength.” It’s not obvious, but nevertheless, it’s there. She doesn’t give up in her faith of others or her morals; speaking of which….
She constantly displays moral integrity. She knows what’s right and will do it, as difficult as it may be for her. She is consistent in her beliefs as well, and stands by them. (Again, another display of strength.)
“[Her] steadiness and regularity of conduct…high notion of honor, and…observance of decorum…might warrant any man in the fullest dependence on her faith and integrity…”
And another, because, why not?
“She had all the heroism of principle, and was determined to do her duty…”
(Last one, I promise.)
“[You are] a woman firm as a rock in her own principles, [and have] a gentleness of character so well adapted to recommend them… [H]e will make you happy; but you will make him everything.“
8. Gentleness & Sensitivity
Through everything, Fanny remains gentle and kind; beautifully so. She is never rough with anyone, and remains courageously soft. She is sensitive for others and gentle in dealing with them.
“Her manner was incurably gentle, and she was not aware how much it concealed the sterness of her purpose. Her diffidence, gratitude, and softness made every expression of indifference seem almost an effort of self-denial; seen at least, to be giving nearly as much pain to herself as to him.”
9. Optimism & Forgiveness
I’ve lumped these two together because, when people mistreated her, she always forgave them and thought of them in a positive way. (Again, grace.) How many times could she have (with reason) negatively thought of someone but refused to? Or at least tried? (Those Crawfords, man…) On second thought, I guess what I’m really trying to say is that she has great patience and forbearance. Such “ineffable sweetness and patience,” as Mr. Crawford put it.
10. Warmth of Heart
Ah, just remember those beautiful chapters of her with her brother! Crawford’s conclusion as to
“What could more delightfully prove that the warmth of her heart was equal to its gentleness [than seeing her with her brother]?”
is certainly not unfounded. Fanny’s affections are heart-felt and deep; very much worth having.
11. Delicacy & Decorum
Fanny’s manner is absolutely well-bred. Her delicacy of speech and action and the decorum with which she comports herself are so admirable, and so ladylike. There is no vulgarity whatsoever in her manner or address. She doesn’t say everything that she thinks, and fiters every word through the filter of someone else’s perspective and views. (That takes more strength of wil than I have!)
12. Soundness of Mind & Judgment
While she has all the depth of emotion which could be desired and the capability to control it, she also has strength of mind and soundness of judgment. Her conclusions of others are very accurate, and she is by no means weak minded; her intellect and reason are strong and well directed.
“I could so wholly and absolutely confide in her.”
Her only weakness, in fact, is a lack of confidence. She so little trusts herself, that beyond a great depth of feeling, is hardly moved to action. Does that make sense? She will forgive, obey, empathize with, and serve others because of an inward conviction or an outward request, but when it comes to her acting on her own, outside of decisions of principle and morality, she can rarely find the confidence to do so. She is so selfless, she can hardly ever impart a request on another or have something done for her without embarassment.
So she’s not perfect, but with her good sense, strenth of mind and character, grace, and humility, makes quite an impressive character.
“Young, pretty, and gentle, however, she had no awkardnesses that were not as good as graces, and there were few persons present that were not disposed to praise her. She was attractive, she was modest…It was enough to give her general favor.”
I’ll end with this quote from Edmund I touched on earlier:
“You have good sense, and a sweet temper, and I am sure you have a grateful heart, that could never reciece kindness without wishing to return it. I do not know any better qualifications for a friend and companion.”
And I must admit, I feel for her so strongly (in a sisterly way, of course!), that the night I read that her brother was coming for a visit, and her joyful reaction to it, I fell asleep a bit beyond the normal amount of happiness a sane person should feel on such a subject. 🙂
One last, random thing: I love how diverse Austen’s characters are; from the intellectual Lizzie to the lovable albeit vain Emma to the gentle Fanny, all are beautifully written and relatable. Who else can write like that?