5 Things I Learned from Fanny Price

{Gentlemen, even though this post is based on a Jane Austen novel, it was not written solely for the ladies.}

I adore Jane Austen. We had a bit of a rough beginning, but after I finally finished Pride & Prejudice that first time, I fell deeply in love with her words and stories and characters and never looked back. I wish I could be best friends with Elizabeth Bennet. Most days, I see myself in Elinor Dashwood. I am exasperated and entertained by Emma Woodhouse. I weep and cheer for Anne Elliot. I believe Catherine Morland might be one of my younger sisters. And we can’t forget her heroes: Austen does write very dashing, lovely, swoon-worthy heroes. Her stories are delightful, her writing is clever, and I could read each of her novels over and over without hesitation.

Save one…

I cannot like Mansfield Park. Granted, I’ve only truly read it once, but it was a difficult read. It seems rather more dark than the others; more serious than lighthearted. It isn’t something that I long to get lost in. And I think the main reason for this is the trouble I have with Fanny Price.

Don’t get me wrong, I take issue with many other characters in the story. But I struggle with Fanny. She irks me. She is so timid and self-sacrificing and willing to forgo her own happiness in every possible way. She doesn’t really fight for herself. So often while reading it, I want to climb into the pages, wade past missed opportunities, and shake her. I am equal parts annoyed with her and moved to pity. And I’ve never understood why. What it is about this character, one that should evoke immense compassion, that irritates me so very much?

And yesterday, watching Billie Piper bring Fanny to life for BBC, I realized why I often cringe while watching it: I see so much of myself in Fanny. Far too much. I read or watch her doing things, or even more likely not doing things, and I want to take hold of her, look into her eyes, and tell her she deserves more. She deserves better. And I want so desperately for her to believe me.

I read her story and feel as if I am reading my story and my friends’ story…perhaps even your story. And while I want to live Lizzie Bennet’s story, I would do anything to avoid Fanny Price’s. The story of a girl who sits on the sidelines because that is where she was put and just accepts it. She waits. And waits. And waits for something to happen to her. Maybe it is how realistic her story is, how relatable it is to the lives of women and men today, that makes it hard for me to read.

So I’ve drafted a list of things I learned from Fanny’s story. Most of them are things I wish I could have told Fanny; things she might have written in a letter to her younger self if she was an actual person rather than a character in a novel. I present:

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1. You are allowed to say “No.”
To me, Mansfield Park is watching Fanny say “yes” over and over again – doing things she does not want to do or things she should not be doing to begin with. Many of her family members abuse her kind heart and willingness to help. There are no boundaries whatsoever. And it is unfair. Her family treats her like a servant, and Fanny never learned to say “no” because she grew up in a house that demanded a “yes”.
But it is selfish of people to always expect you to say yes to their whims. It is selfish of them to expect you to always be selfless. You have the right to stand up for yourself, to say “That is too much of you to ask of me.” Telling someone no does not mean that you don’t love them or care about them; it simply means that what they are asking is beyond you. You are allowed to step back and take care of yourself, to realize that there are some pieces of yourself you don’t have to give away.

2. People don’t determine your worth.
If I lived with Fanny’s family, the Bertrams, I would feel completely worthless. From the moment she sets foot in her aunt and uncle’s house, she is made to feel inferior. The Bertram’s opinion of Fanny is so low; they have so little respect for her. Her worth lies only in what she can do for them.
But your worth is not determined by the people around you. Your worth, your value as a person, is intrinsic. From the moment you were born, you were invaluable. There is no other person in all of history with your loving heart and giving hands and gorgeous soul. You are the only you, and you are worth everything. You are worthy beyond the demeaning words you hear and terrible way you are treated. You are not defined by the lines others draw around you.

3. Speak up.
From almost the very beginning, we learn that Fanny is in love with her cousin Edmund. (Yes, we are going to ignore the whole “her cousin” bit…) And the more you read, the more you see the depth of feeling, the passion, the amazing love she has for Edmund. She cares about him deeply; she would do anything for him. But she says nothing. Does nothing. She pines away in secret, watching him fall for another woman, a woman who wants to try and change him into a different kind of man, and Fanny remains silent. She waits.
You will never get what you want if you don’t ask for it. Not asking only guarantees you’ll never get it. This is true for a potential romantic relationship or your career or those random opportunities that seem to beckon you with their possibilities – waiting only takes you so far, before you need to speak up and show your interest. Men, the woman of your dreams will never know she’s the woman of your dreams if you don’t make a move. And to the women: you are allowed to show interest in a man. You are allowed to tell them you like them. If you don’t, they’ll never know.

4. You are allowed to be happy.
Fanny always seemed like a sad character to me. Not that she complains about her suffering, but you can see it in how she remains distant from the rest of her family. She is never made to feel like she belongs. She is a lonely outsider. There is so little happiness in her story, but she just seems to accept it. This is the way things are and nothing can be done about it. She watches as life unfolds around her, letting others take part while she resigns herself to whatever is left.
You deserve happiness. You deserve to take part in life, to leave your mark on it, and enjoy every single moment. You are allowed to discover what brings you joy and revel in its beauty and wonder. You’re worth everything you crave in the depths of your soul. So chase after it. Run after your dreams and happiness and never ever look back. Fight for what you want and never apologize for it.

5. Never settle.
Now this, Fanny did right. It was really her shining moment. Faced with the realization that Edmund is going to marry another woman, Fanny is offered a proposal of marriage from a man that she may not hate but does not love. He was persistent, and she has no other option before her. Even her family sees the match as prudent, most likely thinking it is the best she’ll ever do. While the marriage would be practical, it would not be rooted in love. And Fanny wants that love more than anything. She was denied it for so long that she realizes she cannot go on without it. So she waits for her true love. Finally, she says “No” and follows her heart.
You should never ever settle for anything less than true love. You should never feel pressured into a relationship full of the kind of compromises that leave you wanting or empty. You deserve more than almost or close enough. You deserve a love that leaves you breathless. A relationship that challenges you and lets you grow. A man that cares about you for everything you are, even the weird things. A woman that sees you for who you are today, not what you were in the past. A love that keeps you safe, holds you close, and breathes life into you. Wait for that.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter >> @cassiclerget.
I’m pretty entertaining.

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4 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned from Fanny Price

  1. God has the perfect timing, does He not? The funny thing is that Mansfield Park is actually one of my favorites, and because of this I was drawn into the post. He spoke to me through you into a certain situation in my life that I need to let go of & let Him take care of, even though it is SO hard. I don’t want to settle. I could be happier. I need to speak to “him” about how I’m feeling about us & what God’s been stirring inside of me. I’m worth more than how he makes me feel – my worth is found in Christ. And just because I say “no” absolutely does not mean I don’t care… It’s quite the opposite. :’-( So thank you for being His mouthpiece, even when you may not feel like it. God can use whatever He wants to speak life into people. Never stop writing! God is still speaking! :-)

  2. Pingback: Things to remember | A Corner of my Heart

  3. Just need to point out – Fanny did not “accept a proposal from a man that she may like but does not love”. She always and consistently refused Henry Crawford, and never even liked him, even when she stopped actively loathing him.
    Other characters choose to ignore her refusal, treat it as conditional, or nonsensical, or insane, but the closest she got to accepting was when Edmund asked her to, in Ch. 35, and she responded with “Oh! never, never, never; he never will succeed with me.”

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