Fanny Price vs. Jane Eyre

A comparison of the two heroines and their respective popularity

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2012

19 Seiten, Note: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Fanny Price, “the girl who triumphs by doing nothing” (Tanner 1986: 143)
2.1 The heroine and her story
2.2 Typical character traits - Fanny’s refusal to take part in the theatricals

3. Jane Eyre – the courageous rebellion
3.1 The heroine and her story
3.2 Typical character traits – Jane and her revolt against the role of women in society

4. The heroines and their (future) husbands
4.1 Fanny and Edmund
4.2 Jane and Rochester

5. Historical background

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

At first glance it seems odd to compare Fanny Price and Jane Eyre with each other. Albeit both published in the 19th century, the two novels were written in different historical time periods. Whilst Mansfield Park was written in the Regency era, Jane Eyre originates in the Victorian age (cf. Nünning 2004: 11 ). Furthermore, the genres of the two books differ, as Mansfield Park belongs to the genre of Social Comedy whilst Jane Eyre is classified as Bildungsroman.

Nonetheless, the two heroines show more parallels than might occur immediately. Fanny Price and Jane Eyre are both at least partly brought up by their wealthy aunts, where the two of them are struggling as there are not experiencing an equal treatment to their cousins. The heroines react quite differently to this circumstance but both develop a strong personality throughout the novel and stand out through their moral strength and character. The two are being confronted with many challenges but ultimately both succeed in marrying the love of their lives. However, Fanny and Jane are two very different young ladies and so is the development of their story. The aim of this paper is to compare the two heroines, to explore the very different ways in which they reach their goals and to find out why the two differ so much in their popularity and whether this is justified . In order to put the behaviour of the two ladies into perspective, a brief historical background is given before concluding.

2. Fanny Price, “the girl who triumphs by doing nothing” (Tanner 1986: 143)

2.1 The heroine and her story

Fanny is taken on by her wealthy relatives at Mansfield Park at the age of ten, when her poor parents cannot cope with the amount of children they have to feed. Even though she is accepted and treated fairly by most of the family, her aunt Mrs Norris never fails to remind her that she is “not a Miss Bertram” (Austen, 1994:9).

When Fanny first arrives, she does not know any of the people she now lives with, as she has never met her aunts and cousins before. This can be seen as one of the reasons for her being exceedingly shy, especially in the beginning. Coming from the loud and dirty city of Portsmouth, she is furthermore not used to the ‘rich family’s life-style’ the Bertrams lead in the country-side. In combination with the patronising way her aunt Norris treats Fanny, the poor girl cries herself to sleep at night, however, hides her feelings from the rest of the family. Her cousin Edmund is the only person who comes close to her, everyone else more or less tolerates or ignores her, apart from Mrs. Norris, who takes advantage of her position by occupying her with all sorts of chores and Lady Bertram, who uses her as a companion, when Mr. Bertram is not around.

Therefore, Fanny seems a burden to the family most of the time. No one really seems to need her, to a point where the whole Bertram family is in shambles and she can console everyone in their current misery. Even the ever so doped up Lady Bertram then “came from the drawing room to meet her; came with no indolent step; and falling on her neck said, ‘Dear Fanny, now I shall be comfortable’ ” (ebd. 452).

When considering secondary sources, it seems that Fanny Price is considered the least popular of Jane Austen heroines. Especially compared to Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood, who we cannot but like and feel with, Fanny seems much less likeable . “Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park”, Lionel Trilling (1963: 128) puts it. But what is it that makes her so dislikeable?

For once, she is very fragile and weak and, although this cannot be named a reason for disliking somebody, this seems to ultimately disable her to fight for her goals and ambitions and to protest against being treated unfairly as, for instance, Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse would do. Fanny is furthermore very passive in general and most things in her life do not happen because of what she does but mainly because of what other people do (cf. Poovey, 1997: 69). Considering this, she is according to Poovey (1997: 93) “everything a textbook proper lady should be; she is dependent, self-effacing and apparently free of impermissible desires.” Yet most readers do not seem to like “textbook proper ladies”. Some even say that it must have been Austen’s intention to make Mansfield Park an unlikeable book, as she is usually a master of creating heroines one identifies with easily. Thus, Nina Auerbach (1997: 49) states that: “When so knowing a charmer abrades her reader, her withdrawal from our pleasure must be deliberate.” This critic would quite possibly include making Fanny an unlikeable heroine.

Another reason that Fanny is so unpopular is, according to Tanner (1966: 8), the fact that “she is never ever wrong”. As readers, we are used to human beings making mistakes, judging incorrectly and often struggling to achieve their goals. Therefore, it seems that heroines like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse are more popular because they seem more human, it is easier to indentify with them because we all make mistakes. Not Fanny though, she “always thinks, feels, speaks and behaves exactly as she ought” (ebd.). Thus, a combination of the other Mansfield Park characters failing in one way or the other, and Fanny never doing anything wrong, is what makes her victorious in the end (even though this may not be to the reader’s liking). Even Edmund, with all his Christian earnestness is flawed compared to Fanny, as he falls for Mary Crawford because of her superficial attractiveness and does not recognise her faults until the adultery.

Jane Austen, on the contrary, points out fairly early in the novel that Mary, though an interesting character, is not at all perfect. Even though Miss Crawford is portrayed to be remarkably pretty (Austen, 1994: 41) and a much more interesting character than Fanny, who is weak, fragile and passive, Austen reminds us of her qualities. Thus, Mary “had none of Fanny's delicacy of taste, of mind, of feeling, she saw Nature, inanimate Nature, with little observation. Her attention was all for men and women, her talents for the light and lively.” (ebd: 82). In other words, Fanny Price does not come across as interesting as Mary but she possesses other qualities. It seems that by today’s standards, these may not be characteristics people aspire for (as few readers seem to identify with her). For the author, however, it seems clear who ‘the real heroine’ is.

Mary, on the other hand, although funny, modern and original, is also portrayed to be selfish and seems to be almost proud of it: “Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because, for sure there is no cure!” (Austen, 1994: 69). Thus, Tanner concludes that Mary is “superb in the world of ‘appearances’ but as a moral essence she does not exist. (Tanner, 1966: 20). Fanny, quite typically recognises immediately that she is “as careless as a woman and a friend” (ebd.) and as per usual, will be proven right in the end. Furthermore, Tanner justifies Fanny’s behaviour by stating that:

It is next to the ebullient Crawfords that we must try to appreciate Fanny’s stillness, quietness, weakness, and self-retraction. Her weakness, which is almost a sickness [...] we must attempt to understand by bearing in mind that [...] the traditional Christian heroine is often depicted as sickly, enfeebled, even dying [...] it is a way of showing that she is not quite at home in the world, that she cannot compete with its rampant appetitive energies” (Tanner, 1966:21).

Therefore, Fanny might have been a perfect heroine at the time and has later become more and more unpopular due to society changing its standards.

2.2 Typical character traits - Fanny’s refusal to take part in the theatricals

The scenes around the theatre play, which does not get staged in the end, are often cited in analyses because they show a very good example of Fanny’s character. Fanny refuses to act in the play, as acting goes against her and Edmund’s principles. However, Edmund is convinced by the enticing Miss Crawford, which shocks Fanny at first and then fills her with jealousy:

She could not feel that she had done wrong herself, but she was disquieted in every other way. Her heart and her judgement were equally against Edmund’s decision; she could not acquit his unsteadiness; and his happiness under it made her wretched. She was full of jealousy and agitation. [...] Everybody around her was gay and busy, prosperous and important [...]. She alone was sad and insignificant; she had no share in anything, she may go or stay (Austen, 1994: 162).

Fanny stays in the background but that does not mean that she steps away from the play. Quite the contrary, she is present at all rehearsals, she knows everybody’s roles and silently becomes aware of “each actor’s secret grievance” (Auerbach, 1997: 53). Thus, Fanny plays an ambiguous – if passive ‒ role in this play. That she “had no share in anything, she may go or stay” (Austen, 1994: 162) is therefore only partly true, or rather, only for the very beginning. Soon after the rehearsals begin, Fanny witnesses everything that happens around her quite sharply. She sees all the jealousy, suffering, unanswered love-attempts, complaints and distresses. Fanny becomes more and more important, as a courteous listener, as a prompter, as an audience.

Furthermore, when Fanny refuses to take on a role in the play, (Austen, 1994:149) she stands her ground and does not give in under her family’s pressure for the first time in the novel. It would have been much easier for her to simply give in and do what is asked of her, as she usually does. Nonetheless, Fanny, who according to Auerbach (1997: 51) “annoys above all by her shyness”, is so convinced that acting is (morally) wrong that she decides to stick to her principles and not give in. Here it can be seen that Fanny is not always being totally weak and inactive; at least not when it comes to her moral principles, which are very important to her. She may seem fragile, with no voice of her own, however she possesses an inner strength that emerges yet stronger at a later point in the novel, when she is refusing to marry Henry Crawford (ebd.:302, ff.).

In any case, Fanny does not have to do anything against the theatricals, as Sir Thomas returns from Antigua and immediately puts and end to the frowned upon play. Afterwards, Edmund is very regretful about how things had developed and does not hesitate to point out to Sir Thomas, that Fanny had been against the play from the beginning:

We have all been more or less to blame, every one of us excepting Fanny. Fanny is the only one who has judged rightly throughout; who has been consistent. Her feelings have been steadily against it from first to last. She never ceased to think of what was due to you. You will find Fanny everything you could wish” (ebd. :189)

As we can see, if no one else might have cared for Fanny’s silent protest against the theatricals, she seemed to have impressed Edmund with it at after all (Austen, 1994: 189).

3. Jane Eyre – the courageous rebellion

3.1 The heroine and her story

As opposed to Fanny Price, Jane Eyre is a real orphan. She is taken on by her uncle Reed, her mother’s brother, as an infant. This uncle dies before Jane can remember and on his deathbed made his wife promise that she will “rear and maintain her” her “as one of her own children” (Brontë, 1992: 11). Mrs. Reed, however, seems to hate her with all her heart. Brontë's heroine is constantly told: "You ought not to think yourself of equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed [...]. It is your place to be humble and to try to make yourself agreeable to them" (Brontë, 1992: 8). Jane receives physical as well as psychological beatings to the point where her aunt is happy have an excuse to send her to Lowood School at the age of ten. Nonetheless, Jane does not silently tolerate all the violence towards her, like one would expect of a young girl in the Victorian Age, who is furthermore supposed to be grateful to be living with her aunt’s family in the first place. On the contrary, in an outburst of anger and hatred after she has yet again been punished, she declares:

I am not deceitful: If I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar you may give to your girl Georgina, for it is she who tells lies, not I. [...] I will never call you aunt again, so long as I live. I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if anyone asks me how I liked you and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty’ (Brontë, 1992: 29).

After this scene, Jane for the first time, feels that she is the “winner of the field” (ebd.) as her aunt tells her that she will indeed be sent to school soon (which is what Jane hopes for ever since she heard of a place called ‘school’) and leaves the apartment. And even though she soon regrets her inappropriate behaviour, she has a feeling of victory and a taste of vengeance for the first time. Thus, through the constant humiliation and oppression, she seems to develop the strength and courage that will later be so characteristic for her. Therefore, although Jane spends a fairly short time at her aunt’s place, the experiences during this hard time have very much formed her character, and therewith, ultimately her life.

When Jane is brought to Lowood School, she is again the only girl who protests or rebels against being treated badly over and over again. She does not fear the punishment that usually awaits her when daring to stand up against the crude treatment in Lowood. Thus, talking to Helen about the strict Miss Scatcherd she voices: “And if I were in your place, I should dislike her; I should resist her. If she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand and; I should break it under her nose.” As opposed to Helen, Jane is clearly not prepared to “endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but herself” (Brontë, 1992: 46).

As opposed to Fanny, Jane actively influences the circumstances of her life. Even though she is guided by certain people in her childhood (such as Miss Temple), she acts completely independently as a young woman. Jane knows what to expects from life and fights to achieve her goals. Doing this, she relies on nobody but herself.

3.2 Typical character traits – Jane and her revolt against the role of women in society .

One thing Jane Eyre is often cited for, is that she stands up against the classical role of women in the Victorian Age. She critics on how life is diverted and she is desperate to break these boundaries. Jane shows clearly, that she does not agree with the role of women in society at the time:

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need to exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do. They suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation , precisely as man would suffer; and its narrow-minded that in their more privileged fellow creatures to say, that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them if they seek to do more or learn more than the custom has pronounced necessary for their sex (Brontë, 1992: 95).

Due to statements like this, Jane Eyre is frequently cited as the earliest major feminist novel (cf. Martin, 1966: 93). It is hard to say if feminism, as it developed much later, with all its political, legal and educational consequences can really be traced back to characters such as Jane Eyre. What is certain, however, is that Jane Eyre is an extraordinary tough and powerful young woman who often does not feel challenged enough, be it physically or mentally. Especially in the beginning of her time in Thornfield, this is the case. Before Mr. Rochester appears, life is slightly too quiet for Jane. She dislikes the dull, predictable life a lady usually had in those days and is seeking for adventure, saying that “storms of an uncertain struggling life, and to have been taught by rough and bitter experience” (ebd.: 101) would have done her good to appreciate the calm she now complains about. One could certainly assume that Jane had had more than enough “storms of an uncertain struggling” in her life, but he heroine seems to see this differently. It is possible that Jane is so used to uncertainty and struggle that she finds it hard to adapt to a calm and regular life made out of rather dull routines.

Here, quite a contrast can be seen to Fanny Price. Most of the time, she is too weak to take part in any activities or to work and although she is educated by Edmund, it seems very unlikely that Fanny would protest against her destined role in life. She hardly ever speaks up against anything, let alone structures of society. In addition, Fanny very much appreciates the calm and peace of Mansfield Park, which, for her, is a nice contrast to the hectic and dirty City of Ports-mouth. Interestingly, Charlotte Brontë once commented on Jane Austen being a limited novelist, stating that:

What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study; but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blush rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and the sentiment target of death, that Miss Austen ignores” (Jane Eyre, ed. Leavis: 10 as quoted in: Diedrick, 1993: 27)

This statement shows how different Fanny Price and Jane Eyre are, and more importantly, how different their authors intended them to be. Fanny rather represents the typical ‘Angel in the House’ of the 19th century, (cf. Nünning, 2004: 17), whilst Jane Eyre shows an unusual amount of passion and energy and goes through many dark phases in her life. It seems, Brontë explicitly wanted to show with the book that there are darker sides to life, however, that someone can still come out of dark phases, having become a good and strong person.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 19 Seiten


Fanny Price vs. Jane Eyre
A comparison of the two heroines and their respective popularity
Universität Duisburg-Essen  (Humanwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
The Country House Novel
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
485 KB
fanny, price, jane, eyre
Arbeit zitieren
Anja Schulte (Autor), 2012, Fanny Price vs. Jane Eyre, München, GRIN Verlag,


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