Fanny's Moral Limits

Abstract

Ever since the publication of Mansfield Park readers and critics have debated how to understand the novel and particularly its heroine Fanny Price. Some have disliked Fanny, have thought of her as prudish and priggish, and perhaps have preferred Mary Crawford and wished for a different ending to the story. Others have defended Fanny’s virtue, her judgment, and her mind, regarding them as quite superior to the virtue, judgment, and minds of all of the other women in the novel, and all the men too, excepting (perhaps) Edmund. The debate, quite clearly, is about what Jane Austen was up to in a novel with a heroine so different from those in her other novels. The question is unclear in part because the narrator’s voice in Mansfield Park is so much like Mary Crawford’s voice. In her article “Searching for Jane Austen in Mary Crawford,” Emily Auerbach offers us quotations from Mary Crawford and from Jane Austen’s own letters and challenges us to figure out which are which—and it is very difficult. Mary Crawford, like Jane Austen, is frequently sparkling and edgy while Fanny is not, yet Fanny is the star

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Theodore M. Benditt
University of Pittsburgh (PhD)

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