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Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”

Fanny Price, the heroine of the novel Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, is one of those characters who are always correct and perceives, think, do, and speaks, as she ought to. She is a perfect picture of virtue and morality. That is why she is referred to as “prim, proper, and priggish” (Emsley 107). The character of Fanny Price has been contradictorily viewed by readers, and the reason being the existing blend of morality and too much morality. This essay discusses the perfect and imperfectness of Fanny Price.

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In Fanny, Austen portrayed a character of a good English Protestant girl who is sweet-tempered, full of virtue and morality, obedient to the norms of society, driven by her duty, and shy. She is therefore perfect. Fanny Price is the amalgamation of perfection and imperfections. Her character abounds with perfect morality and courage and imperfect dullness and unattractive so uncharacteristic of a heroine of any novel. Her incapability to never being wrong and her moral outlook make her almost impossible to be liked by readers. In a way, few have come to like the heroine of Mansfield Park. For instance, Fanny’s refusal of Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal, which becomes a central part of the novel, is an act of courage. She can be considered a courageously humble individual. This courage of Fanny stems out of her willingness and headstrongness to stand up against the social expectations especially that of her family and conventions during the period. Even though almost all other characters in the novel tries to persuade her to accept Crawford, she remains unmovable in her decision. Even the speech from her uncle Sir Thomas, the owner of Mansfield Park, could not persuade her otherwise:

Mr, Crawford must not be kept longer waiting, I will, therefore, only add, as thinking it my duty to mark my opinion of your conduct—that you have disappointed every expectation I had formed, and proved yourself of a character the very reverse of what I had supposed … I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper, self-conceit, and every tendency to that independence of spirit, which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence. But you have now shewn me that you can be wilful and perverse, that you can and will decide for yourself, without any consideration or deference for those who have surely some right to guide you—without even asking their advice.” (Austen 293-94)

Lady Bertram, the wife of Sir Thomas, is a woman who judges others by their “beauty and wealth” also urges Fanny to accept the proposal of Henry due to his good estate and financial condition. She pointedly adds, “You must be aware, Fanny, that it is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this.” (Austen 307) The narrator explains this was the only piece of advice that “Fanny had ever received from her aunt in the course of eight years and a half” (Austen 308). Even Edmund, Fanny’s cousin and a secret admirer, who in the end wins her hand in marriage, urges her to accept Henry’s proposal: “Let him succeed at last, Fanny, let him succeed at last. You have proved yourself upright and disinterested, prove yourself grateful and tender-hearted; and then you will be the perfect model of a woman, which I have always believed you born for” (Austen 322).

However, Fanny’s headstrongness and unchangeable resort not to accept Henry’s proposal is a courageous stunt, especially in a traditional sense. This shows that she is not weak enough to be persuaded by her elders’ directions against her own will and spurn the social conventions and risk the possibility of an insecure financial future. This makes the character perfect. Fanny, who is strong and courageous and rejects the social norms to remain constant to her own decision, becomes a picture-perfect model of human morality and righteousness. Her perfectness is accentuated by how she delivers her refusal and what she believes to be the reason for so.

When Henry proposed her, he immediately afterward said, “When you give me your opinion, I always know what is right. Your judgment is my rule of right.” (Austen 383) To which Fanny replied, “Oh, no!—do not say so. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be” (Austen 383). This speech is demonstrative of Fanny’s desire to follow her consciousness and not let other people decide for them. She professes this not only for her but also for others whom she wants to follow their own will and understanding to decide something.

Fanny is firmly committed to principles. She always does things right. That is why the narrator of the novel states: “She must do her duty, and trust that time might make her duty easier than it now was” (Austen 306). Her righteousness is evident from her appearance, as has been noted by Edmund in their first meeting that Fanny has “a strong desire of doing right” (Austen 17). Moreover, as she grows to be a woman he feels that she has become “a woman, who firm as a rock in her own principles, has a gentleness of character so well adapted to recommend them” (Austen 325). Thus, Fanny’s principles increase her perfection and make per act inappropriate manner in any circumstance.

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Fanny is a virtuous character who has been constantly praised and talked of as someone with “some touches of the angel” (Austen 318). Fanny is courageous and has a very strong understanding of morality and good and bad. She has the temperament for a social duty. The qualities that Austen gave Fanny made her an almost too good to be true character – almost perfect. However, there are certain imperfections to her character too. Fanny is, as stated earlier, “prim, proper, and priggish” (Emsley 26-28). She is that character who excites no interest or excitement in the reader. She is no fun to be around. She is a character who is always struggling to do the right thing and lets others realize without a blink the depth of her struggle and her emotions. Clearly, in her struggle to do the right thing, she does not do a certain act of duty with joy, but rather with loathing. Further, Fanny’s constant unselfish acts are a recurrent reminder of her being an imperfect heroine.

Fanny is unlike other Austen heroines as in Pride and Prejudice and Emma both have shown some weaknesses and acts of selfishness. Both Elizabeth and Emma have a sense of charm and charisma in their character. Both can be described a sociable, energetic, and of course attractive. However, Fanny is bestowed with none of these qualities, which can be observed in other Austen heroines. On the contrary, she is moody, shy, and usually depressed. She has no talents like painting or playing piano, or others. She gets tired and exhausted by spending a couple of hours “cutting roses [and] walking across the hot park”. She is often low, “out of spirits all… day,” and “unequal to” her meals. Thus, her character traits are completely unprepossessing and indistinctive to become that of a heroine of a novel. It is in her uncharacteristic traits that lie her imperfection.

Austen writes about Fanny and builds her as a perfect character with no imperfections. Fanny becomes so perfect in her virtue and willfulness, the author herself fails to point out and flaws or areas of improvement in her character. Clearly like her other heroines, Fanny Price is a part of Austen’s personality. There is little doubt that Fanny is just another reflection of Austen herself which always believes that even in face of objection from others one must do what is right and morally upright. To Austen, there cannot be any stability in life in absence of principle and certainty of conduct. As in Mansfield Park, it is Fanny who can always observe what others aim to do, even when they remain unaware of the consequences of their action. She has the strength of character to perceive it even if she may appear to be dull to readers. Thus, Austen wanted to portray a character who is always correct and her “judgment may be quite … safely trusted” (Austen 147) even if she is not loved by the readers. In a way, Austen herself wanted Fanny to be disliked to make her actions of righteousness more pronounced. Fanny’s focus on morality is so forcefully upheld because it is that of Austen herself. Austen’s acceptance of Fanny marrying Edmund is present throughout the novel. The whole novel implicitly states that Fanny is infatuated by Edmund and like her in her novels; Fanny is molded into the feminine entity of Edmund.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2003.

Emsley, Sarah. Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 24). Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”.

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1. StudyCorgi. "Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”." December 24, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”." December 24, 2021.


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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park”'. 24 December.

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