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A history of the Fanny wars.

THERE ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT SORTS OF HISTORY. One is full of the '"quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all"' (NA 108)--or, to put this in terms of literary criticism pertaining to Mansfield Park, the history of the Fanny wars can be the history of notable scholars marching onto the battlefield of discourse. In this view, D. W. Harding, Lionel Trilling, and Marilyn Butler fight over Fanny and her novel. Then there is the other kind of history, one following the movements of less-exalted troops and their lesser leaders, and it is difficult to find order amid the melee. As historians of the second type, we have combed books (paper and digital), newspapers (old and new), and the Internet for non-academic and journalistic commentary on Fanny Price in an attempt to chronicle a popular-reception history of Mansfield Park's heroine--the mixed reactions of the novel's first readers, the glowing admiration of Victorians, her decline at the end of the nineteenth century, and the resurgence of appreciation for her in recent times.

Let us, however, start this history with a glance at some popes and kings. In the middle of the twentieth century, although literary critics acknowledged the great artistry of the novel, they most definitely did not care for Fanny Price. In a famous 1940 essay for Scrutiny, D. W. Harding found that the novel and its heroine displayed a "distinct tendency to priggishness" ("Regulated Hatred" 351). In later years, he even declared that "Fanny is a dreary, debilitated, priggish, goody-goody" and "a central failure in a potentially very fine novel" ("MansfieldPark" 122). Harding was mystified that Austen would create someone like Fanny Price and position her as an ideal; after all, she had written that "pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked" (23-25 March 1817). C. S. Lewis, writing in 1954, was a bit kinder, but not by much. While refusing to agree with Harding that Fanny was a "prig," he conceded that she was not a "successful" heroine and that she failed through "insipidity" (366). And he recognized the problem created by such a protagonist: "One of the most dangerous of literary ventures is the little, shy, unimportant heroine whom none of the other characters value. The danger is that your readers may agree with the other characters" (366).

In the same year, Lionel Trilling opined, "Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park" (496), expecting no contradiction. Three years later, Kingsley Amis published a provoking essay in The Spectator, bringing the academic debate into the mainstream. In "What Became of Jane Austen?" Amis argued that the heroine of Mansfield Park "is a monster of complacency and pride who, under a cloak of cringing self-abasement, dominates and gives meaning to the novel. What became of that Jane Austen (if she ever existed) who set out bravely to correct conventional notions of the desirable and virtuous? From being their critic (if she ever was) she became their slave. That is another way of saying that her judgment and her moral sense were corrupted. Mansfield Park is the witness of that corruption" (27-28).

What was Austen trying to show us in Fanny Price? The answers from academics are contradictory. Fanny has been identified as a folkloric figure (Cinderella, Snow White, a foundling) but also as a literary type (the Christian martyr, the conduct-book exemplar, the sentimental heroine). Others read her through a political or sociological lens: an upholder of conservative values or a subverter of them, a transported commodity like one of Sir Thomas's slaves, or a domestic version of the colonial imperialist or improver. All these interpretations open up the text in interesting ways, but a majority of critics tend to agree on one thing--that Fanny is a failure, a disappointment as a character, "a poor sort of heroine" (9), as Tony Tanner writes, even if she inhabits what he regards as "one of the most profound novels of the nineteenth century" (8). Marilyn Butler speaks for many when she states, "Mansfield Park is at its best when [Fanny's] part is smallest" (248).

But what about the non-academic "common reader," the reader that Austen's beloved Dr. Samuel Johnson recognized also had something to say: "for by the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claim to poetical honors" (642). In much of the twentieth century, at least, common readers have been channeling the scholars. In an informal survey of favorite novels taken at the 1997 JASNA AGM, Mansfield Park came in dead last by a considerable margin. Ten years later, Jeanne Kiefer's Jane Austen Survey 2008 showed Mansfield Park tied with Northanger Abbey for the bottom slot in "choose your favorite" novel and Fanny voted "least favorite" heroine by 35 percent of respondents, beating Catherine Morland by a ten-point margin. Nor is the novel of particular interest to writers of sequels or fan fiction. At FanFiction (, self-styled as the "World's largest fanfiction archive," titles of works inspired by Pride and Prejudice fill 127 screens; those inspired by Mansfield Park fill two (for a ratio of 64:1). The most recently established site, Archive of our Own (, lists 1387 Pride and Prejudice-inspired stories to 50 Mansfield Park-inspired ones (28:1). The Derbyshire Writer's Guild (, devoted solely to Jane-Austen-themed fiction and the oldest of the three sites discussed here, has the best ratio: 2261 Pride and Prejudice-inspired stories to 109 Mansfield Park-inspired ones (21:1). (As consolation, at all three sites, Mansfield Park-themed works are not in last place; that honor goes to Northanger Abbey.) (1)

Film directors and screenwriters aiming at that common reader cannot imagine presenting the character Austen wrote; they must remake Fanny Price into someone else, someone like the lively girl in the Rice Portrait. (2) For example, Patricia Rozema's strikingly filmed adaption from 2000 with Frances O'Connor replaces Austen's "creepmouse" (MP 145) with an athletic, rebellious, young writer; Rozema herself admits that she found the original character in the book "annoying" (qtd. in Herlevi). The 2007 ITV adaptation by Maggie Wadey follows Rozema's lead: Billie Piper as Fanny, when not weepy and depressed, is running here and there, hair flying about and out of control, behaving more like a companion for Doctor Who than a wife to Edmund Bertram. Apparently, the Fanny wars are over in Hollywood, and Jane Austen lost. (3)

In the cybersphere, where the free expression of opinion is unbounded, the Fanny wars still rage. It is here you can still find defenders of Fanny, but they are in a minority. If you type "I hate Fanny Price" into Google, you get 478 hits. Compare that to "I hate Elizabeth Bennet," which draws only five. (4) In fact, the phrase Fanny wars originated with Austen-L, the first listserv devoted to the author. Launched in 1994 under the guidance of Professor Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, then at McGill University, Austen-L soon became a battleground. Comments about Lanny Price--both pro and con, all strongly stated--began to fly. When one battle subsided, it was not long before someone on the anti-Fanny side broke the cease-fire. As Henry Churchyard describes it, new members to the list had to be warned about "casually throwing around words such as the following in reference to Miss Price: 'insignificant,' 'moralizing prig,' 'feeble,' 'dull,' or 'nebbish'--not because these are necessarily objectively wrong, but because on AUSTEN-L they are what the U.S. Supreme Court has termed fighting words."

Usually, the Internet never forgets, but the current manager for Austen-L, Michael Walsh of McGill, revealed that the move from the old IBM mainframe to the current server wiped out all the archives before 1998, the first four years of the list's existence. While historians of the Internet may grieve, many Janeites may be breathing a sigh of relief. Things have since settled down. Current members of Austen-L and Yahoo's Janeites, another private list, tread carefully for fear of reigniting the wars. Discussion boards devoted to Mansfield Park at the Republic of Pemberley also conduct themselves with decorum. There are still pro- and anti-Fanny sentiments expressed, but the cease-fire seems to be holding.

Nevertheless, in other parts of the Internet, one can still find strongly stated opinions about Fanny Price. Here is a tiny selection of representative postings on the many public discussion boards and blogs devoted to maligning the character. From Quora's "Is Fanny Price the most universally disliked heroine of a Jane Austen novel? ':

Imagine you are at a dinner party. How much would you pay not to sit by Fanny? (Candance Dempsey)

From Cafe Blue's "Fanny Price--love her or loathe her?":

It's her lack of action that got to me. She's a very passive character, not like Elizabeth or Emma. She waits for things to happen to her, instead of going and getting what she wants or at least exerting herself to be noticed by the man she loves. I wanted to slap her silly when she just sat by and let Mary get to Edmund, doing nothing, saying nothing.... Shy and demure is one thing, but she takes it to a whole new level. (Allyria)

Finally, from "RivkaBelle's Top 5 Least Favorite Austen Characters" (Fanny Price at #l):

Sheesh, Fanny, you definitely take the cake when it comes to "heroines" who just lay down and play dead, responding to every beck and call and accepting whatever junk is dished out. And don't forget the whole "big cousin who ignores me, but I love him blindly because he took the time to mold me when I was little and is super patronizing and condescending when he remembers me--so gracious, I'm so blessed to have Edmund." Sorry, but Fanny really annoyed me. She gives me the shivers.

Fanny's passivity, her adoration of Edmund, and her marrying her own first cousin form the nucleus of most online complaints.

But not all public posts are so nasty. Many make valid points about why it is difficult to empathize with Fanny Price. To many modern readers, she is too moral and too perfect:

I don't like Fanny Price much, but not for the reasons most people seem to dislike her. I don't mind her shyness and timidity--I sort of find them endearing, in fact. What I do dislike is that Fanny is never wrong about anything. All her views and opinions turn out to be exactly right in the end. (5) She doesn't change in the slightest throughout the book. (Mitali)

Others take this view a bit further:

I agree with you that strong morals and true goodness are traits to be valued, but I would find Fanny more appealing if she had to struggle with staying true to them as the rest of us do. (Mehitable9)

While there are a number of positive personal-reaction comments, the negative have the upper hand. One sees why those battling for Fanny's honor feel they are fighting uphill. Was it ever thus? If not, how did the novel and its heroine come to be denigrated in the first place?

Actually, Mansfield Park and Fanny Price were highly valued in the nineteenth century--not by everyone but by a majority. The "Opinions of Mansfield Park" that Austen collected display a range of reactions. A few, like modern readers, preferred Pride and Prejudice, but those who preferred Mansfield Park considered themselves in a select and discerning group. Mrs. Carrick said, All who think deeply & feel much will give the Preference to Mansfield Park" (233). Lady Robert Kerr insisted the book is "Universally admired in Edinburgh, by all the wise ones" (232). Several readers singled out the Portsmouth scenes, Mr. Rushworth, and Mrs. Norris for praise. But what about Fanny? Was she admired or disliked by her first readers? That depends on whether you asked Jane Austen's mother--"thought Fanny insipid" (231)--or her brother Frank--"Fanny is a delightful Character!" (230). Niece Anna "could not bear Fanny" (230), but nephew Edward "admired Fanny" (230). Other members of the wider circle of family and friends variously were [highly pleased with Fanny Price" (231) or pleased "particularly with the character of Fanny, as being so very natural" (232). Mr. John Plumptre liked the novel but foresaw a problem in "the want of some character more striking & interesting to the generality of Readers, than Fanny was likely to be" (233). The novel's earliest readers anticipated the mixed comments made by readers almost two hundred years later.

In contrast, the reaction of early professional reviewers was typified by Sir Walter Scott in his review of Emma for the Quarterly Review--silence. Scott did not mention Mansfield Park at all, although he discussed Austen's other published novels. This exclusion annoyed Austen, who wrote to her publisher, "The Authoress of Emma has no reason I think to complain of her treatment in [the review]--except in the total omission of Mansfield Park.--I cannot but be sorry that so clever a Man as the Reveiwer of Emma, should consider it as unworthy of being noticed" (1 April 1816). There was one major exception to the public silence on Mansfield Park before 1850, and it comes in 1821, a few years after Austen's death. Richard Whately wrote a lengthy piece for the Quarterly Review, the first significant, published review of the novel. (6) Besides being the first to evoke the comparison between Austen and Shakespeare (98), Whately devoted five pages of his review to Mansfield Park--about 20 percent of what was technically a review of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Whately admires Fanny Price, though not in the way George Henry Lewes later loved Elizabeth Bennet: "one of the few heroines one would seriously like to marry" (151). No, Whately likes Fanny Price's status as a mixed character: "Miss Austen does not deal in fiends and angels" (100). He sees Fanny's passion and "the restlessness and jealousy with which it fills a mind naturally active, contented, and unsuspicious" (100), and he notes Fanny S "happiness ... in the midst of the misery of all her friends, when she finds that Edmund has decidedly broken with her rival; feelings ... which, under the influence of strong passion, must alloy the purest mind, but with which scarcely any authoress but Miss Austin would have ventured to temper the aetheriel materials of a heroine" (101). His Fanny Price is not a picture of moral perfection but a real woman. It is Austen's deft and complex portrayal of Fanny's "passion" that dazzles him.

Whately's positive comments set a trend. Later readers very much liked Mansfield Park and considered it a great novel. For example, in 1831, historian and statesman Thomas Babington Macaulay described the conversation at a political dinner: "I dined at Lansdowne House.... We chatted about novels. Everybody praised Miss Austen to the skies. [Sir James] Mackintosh said that the test of a true Austenian was Emma. 'Everybody likes Mansfield Park. But only the true believers--the select--appreciate Emma'" (qtd. in Halsey 148). Likewise, Arthur Hallam, in an 1833 letter to his fiancee, wrote of his current reading. Clearly, he had recently bought the Bentley Standard Novels set of Austen's work: "I have just got through another of Miss Austen's novels, Mansfield Park, which many people vote the best. However, although I like it much, and find the same delicacy of touch which delighted me in the others, yet is Emma my 1st. love and I intend to be constant" (qtd. in Halsey 147). So, in the early 1830s, Mansfield Park is widely considered the best of Austen's novels, greater even than Emma. On the other hand, the great English Shakespearean actor William Charles Macready noted in his diary in 1836, "Finished Mansfield Park, which hurried with a very inartificial and disagreeable rapidity to its conclusion, leaving some opportunities for most interesting and beautiful scenes particularly the detailed expression of the 'how and the when' [Edmund's] love was turned from Miss Crawford to Fanny Price" (119).

What did nineteenth-century readers generally admire in Austen? Her realism, morality, characterization, prose style, and delicate sarcasm. As an oft-reprinted review from 1832 observed, "She is a Fielding without his grossness. Her dialogues, in particular, are inimitable. In point of ease and perfect naturalness, we know of nothing equal to them. Madame D'Arblay is more pointed and sarcastic; Miss Edgeworth, more polished; Mrs. Inchbald, more dramatic; but, as regards strict, uniform adherence to truth, Miss Austen beats them all hollow (Rev. of Bentley). Mansfield Park's reputation remained strong mid-century, too. A piece in a London magazine in 1852 commented approvingly on all the novels and romantically on Fanny: "what a bewitching 'little body is Fanny Price--what finish in the portraits of Crawford and his sister--what Dutch-school accuracy of detail in the home-pictures at Portsmouth, and what fine truth in the moral of the tale" (Jacox 138). The next year, the American writer J. F. Kirk judged that "Mansfield Park has more variety of incident than any of her other works, and is, on this account perhaps, a more general favorite" (144), though the same author notes the better wit in Pride and Prejudice and plotting in Emma.

What is consistent in these remarks is that three Austen novels rule. In 1859, George Henry Lewes identified them as Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, in that order (151). Lewes advised the new reader to start with one of the first two: "if these do not captivate him, he may fairly leave the others unread (165). He liked this odd pair for different reasons: Pride and Prejudice has "the best story, and the greatest variety of character" (165), but Mansfield Park is also singularly fascinating, though the heroine is less of a favorite with us than Miss Austen's heroines usually are" (166). Aye, there's the rub. To Lewes, Fanny Price is not "bewitching." What does he like in the novel, then? Aunt Norris, Lady Bertram, the scenes at Portsmouth, the private theatricals. The visit to Sotherton is "a masterpiece of art" (166). But Fanny is "less of a favorite." Likewise in 1862, Julia Kavanagh commented extensively on Austen's novels, repeating the claim that Mansfield Park is, "in the opinion of many, most perfect" (187), but "gentle, timid little Fanny (191) gets less critical attention from Kavanagh than Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, Henry Crawford, or even the Hon. Mr. Yates. Perhaps that omission sparked the first spirited defense of Fanny Price in print. A reviewer for the Morning Post complained, "Miss Kavanagh says scarcely enough in favour of 'Mansfield Park. Fanny, the girlish heroine of that long history of patient affection, is not so insignificant as she thinks her. On the contrary, the beautiful delicacy, modesty, fortitude, and self-sacrifice of her character are among the most charming of Miss Austen's achievements" ("English Women"). The Fanny skirmishes have begun.

In the 1870s, the novels sold briskly, apparently after a slight lapse. The publication of the Austen-Leigh Memoir of dear Aunt Jane in December 1869 was definitely a factor, but the Athenaeum identified the recently published Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay as the cause for the spike in her popularity:

We are glad to hear that the many proofs of his admiration for Miss Austen's novels which are to be found in the letters of Lord Macaulay, have led to a renewed demand for her writings, and that Mr. Bentley has found the sale of his well printed and convenient edition of her novels considerably increased in consequence. There is some hope for English fiction if "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma, and "Mansfield Park" regain popularity. ("Literary Gossip," 21 Oct. 1876)

Notice that Mansfield Park is still among the top three novels. However, the Pall Mall Gazette thought there was a different reason for the spike in book sales:

the increased demand for Miss Austen's novels is, the Bombay Educational Record fears, due neither to the "Life of Lord Macaulay," nor to an improvement in public taste, but to the simple fact that the University of Bombay has put down Miss Austen's novels for certain examinations, and that large orders for them have consequently been sent to this country by students who have "to get them up" for examination. ("Occasional Notes," 19 Jan. 1877)

The Athenaeum quickly published a riposte:

The demand which sprung up soon after the publication of Lord Macaulay's Life has been ... chiefly for the most expensive and handsomest edition, that of Mr. Bentley. Young Bombay must be singularly virtuous if it does not do all its cramming as cheaply as possible. ("Literary Gossip," 27 Jan. 1877)

Macaulay may be responsible in either view. He was the one who introduced a British-style educational system to India, so it seems likely that someone in India reading the Life and Letters was inspired to add the quintessential^ English Austen to the university's curriculum. Austen has achieved canonical status when she becomes the subject of examinations in the far reaches of the British Empire. She is a marker of excellence in taste and necessary reading for the educated, both male and female, with Mansfield Park considered one of her three great works.

Even before the letters were published by Lord Brabourne in 1884, Austen's elevated status could be taken for granted. She had appeared in school texts such as Chambers's Cyclopedia of English Literature, and references to her most important novels started showing up in other novels. For example, in Elizabeth Eiloart's Was It Worth the Cost? (1883), the heroine's aunt buys the niece a copy of Mansfield Park at the railway station because Austen's books are "the right books to read" and "unexceptionable reading for a young lady" (1:24). Our heroine, Nellie, does not think much of it and confides her views to a stranger on the train: "It is treason to say so, but I don't care for Miss Austen. Life is dull enough, and commonplace enough too; one would like something besides it in books.... And there is such a thing ... as tragedy in human life ... ; but for Miss Austen it might never have existed at all. She is the very essence of respectability and mediocrity" (24-25). Nellie leaves her copy of Mansfield Park in the railway carriage. The novel's many attacks on Austen raised the hackles of the reviewer for the London Standard-. "If our opinion of 'Was it Worth the Cost' is not quite identical with that of the shallow and vulgar heroine's judgment on 'Jane Austen,' it is because the word essence' implies concentrated strength; and this novel is as weak as the thinnest vin ordinaire' ("New Novels").

That Unfortunate Marriage (1888) by Frances (Teman) Trollope features a heroine who has discernment. A young gentleman asks her,

"May I see what you have been reading?" She pushed the book towards him. "'Mansfield Park.' Whose is it?" "Good gracious! You don't mean to say that you don't know?" "I don't read novels," said Theodore, loftily, but not severely.

It was all very well for women to have that weakness.

"But this is an English classic! Mr. Rivers says so. You really ought to know who wrote 'Mansfield Park,' even if you have never read it. It is one of Jane Austen's works."

"Ah! Do you-do you like it?" said Theodore....

"Oh, yes! I like it, of course," answered May. "Not so much, perhaps, as 'Emma,' or 'Pride and Prejudice.' Mr. Rivers advised me to read it."...

"Rivers is a happy fellow! What would I give if you cared enough about me to follow my advice!"

"You have only to advise me to do something which I like as much as reading Jane Austen," replied May archly. (1:289-90) At the end of the novel, May marries the wise, discerning, Austen-novel-loving Mr. Rivers and lives happily ever after. As these two fictional uses of the novel show, an appreciation for Mansfield Park, then, is shorthand for literary taste and discernment, at least in certain circles. Our railway traveler and Theodore lack it; May and Mr. Rivers have it.

Both of these references to the novel are general; neither mentions the protagonist Fanny, as earlier references did. As the nineteenth century drew to a close, those who commented on Mansfield Park were more likely to overlook Fanny than grapple with her. C. S. Lewis was on the mark when he warned that a character not valued by others may end up not being valued by readers or critics. A grand exception was Hiram M. Stanley, librarian at Lake Forest College, Illinois, and exemplary Janeite. In Essays on Literary Art, published in London in 1897, he made up for any neglect Fanny had experienced in recent years:

   in Fanny Price we find no flaw of artistic presentment. Here comes
   before our eyes a real, a free, a complex human being, in whose
   veins, as Gautier remarks of Balzac's characters, "runs a true red
   blood, instead of ink, which common authors pour into their
   creations." ... [S]he is so completely, perfectly, deliciously
   feminine in instinct, feeling, manner, and intelligence, and in
   every way a most engaging revelation of a budding womanliness. This
   womanliness ... is, I think, the element in Miss Austen's work
   which chiefly attracts the masculine mind.... Jane Austen certainly
   accomplishes the delineation of the character of Fanny with a
   fascinating, unobtrusive fidelity to feminine nature, and with a
   clearness and wholeness in the creation, miniaturely Shakespearean.

Like other male Janeites at this time, Stanley merges Austen into her characters: he "cannot resist the impression that in Fanny Miss Austen has in large measure written down herself. Certain it is that both show the same gentle and true femininity, the same domestic kindliness, the same delicacy of perception, and the same sensitiveness" (49). For Stanley, Fanny and Austen are perfect, old fashioned, "deliciously feminine" ladies, and he loves them deeply.

A less-effusive comment from a woman in the same year, though admiring, found a weakness in Fanny-literally. Agnes Catherine Maitland, principal of Somerville College, one of the first colleges for women at Oxford, commented on Fanny in an interview. "The girl of to-day is much happier in every way than was her sister of other days," she claims. "Her health and spirits make her more energetic. It was thought of old time that refinement was incompatible with good health." Maitland offers Fanny Price as an example of this attitude: "She would be a most delightful heroine ... if only she were well." (7) Fanny's delicacy, hitherto admired, is now old-fashioned. To lack physical vigor, therefore, is to lack modernity, and this will be a recurrent problem for Austen's Fanny Price from now on.

The year after Stanley gushed over Austen and Maitland expressed dismay over Fanny's health, the London literary correspondent to the New Torh Times, William Alden, caused a brouhaha by remarking, in a piece on the newly "puttied up" memorial window in Winchester, that he "never knew of a person who tried to read [Austen's novels] and succeeded" and "never knew a person except Mark Twain who did not pretend to regard her works with reverend admiration." (8) Letters to the Times poured in from Janeites for several months; nevertheless, Alden continued his jibes against the author in his columns. (9) Later that year, American novelist Twain penned his infamous comment on Austen, that he wanted "to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone" (qtd. in Halsey 185). (10)

The rebellion then crossed the Atlantic eastward. In 1899, Stephen Gwynn, an Irish-born journalist and writer just starting on his literary career, published an essay called "The Decay of Sensibility" in the July issue of the Cornhill Magazine. Like Mark Twain, he aimed to provoke, and he succeeded. He opened the essay thus: "I only wish to say that I never want to meet Miss Austen in Paradise. She must have been a most unlovable woman.... Her admirable people are frankly detestable-a parcel of prigs.... As for her women, there is even less to be said for them" (18). Gwynn's target is not really Austen but the outdated concept of feminine sensibility. He believes that Austen, who, he concedes, did not admire sensibility (21), is nevertheless accurately depicting the women of her time, times that are fortunately gone. Gwynn writes in praise of the modern day, when sensibility is "nearly as extinct as the dodo":

   The modern young woman does not swoon promiscuously. If she falls
   off her bicycle she may get concussion of the brain just like her
   brother on the football field; if she gets an unusually severe blow
   on the nose with a hockey stick she may faint, as she might under a
   surgical operation; but she does not faint from sheer emotion. If
   either of the accidents to which I referred were to happen, the
   sufferer's companions would pick her up and staunch the bleeding
   nose with due promptitude, whereas in Miss Austen's day they would
   have swooned-it was expected of them. (19-20)

He offers up the scene of Louisa's fall from the Cobb as an illustration of female fragility in the Regency era. But if anything annoys Stephen Gwynn more than Regency swooning, it is Regency weeping. Here, Fanny Price sustains a direct attack:

   Tears [today] still flow freely, but women as a rule are not proud
   of them. On the contrary, a young lady, I believe, will generally
   apologise for "making such a fool of herself." It is no longer
   considered to be an attraction, or even an amiable weakness, to be
   so feminine as all that; and no modern novelist, man or woman,
   would produce for admiration a heroine like Fanny in "Mansfield
   Park.' Fanny is morally limp and physically a wet rag or sponge;
   tears exude from her whenever she is touched. She weeps when she
   mentions her brother who is at sea; and she weeps profusely when he
   returns to her. ... [I]t is plain that so eminently sensible a
   person as Miss Austen thought it very nice of Fanny to cry so much;
   she has more tenderness for Fanny than for any of her other
   brain-children. (23)

Gwynn sees Austen as a realist, not as a satirist or ironist: "caricature was not her method" ("Sensibility" 230)." He assumes that she is writing from life and that she approves of Fanny. But to Gwynn, a timid character like Fanny is "a sort of human sea anemone" ("Decay" 18), a type that has no place in the modern world:

   We have no longer any great tolerance for the sea anemone type of
   young woman, who is incapable of making a movement to help herself,
   but remains continually with feelers spread out anxious to clasp
   whatever comes near-Miss Crawford or another-simply because it
   happens to come near, and at the slightest shock shuts up into a
   pink, formless pulp. (23)

Poor Fanny. Maitland thinks Fanny suffered merely from ill health and, therefore, refinement; for Gwynn, she suffers from sensibility, which to him is even worse since it robs her of independence.

As with Alden's attack the previous year, Janeites charged to Austen's defense. In the Daily News, Scottish poet and journalist Andrew Lang suggested that "Mr. Gwynn ... try taking a header from the Cobb" himself to see if it knocked some sense into his brain. And he defended Fanny's lachrimosity, trying to make it compatible with modern womanhood:

   Plenty of girls cry as much as Fanny in "Mansfield Park." "Pity for
   a horse o'erdriven," or chagrin at a defeat at lawn tennis, or the
   loss of the salmon once hooked (which certainly is very trying)
   will bring tears down the cheek of beauty. Some of these Niobes are
   very nice: and nice, we doubt not, was Miss Fanny. Human nature
   does not really alter much.

Notice that he does not try to defend Fanny's physical weakness or sensibility. He argues instead that even the athletic, modern woman can burst into tears like Austen's protagonist.

Next, Arthur Bingham Walkley, a noted English drama critic, responded in the papers to Gwynn's claim about not wanting to meet Austen in heaven: "The bold, bad man! He must have said it for a wager. Many of us will retort that we don't want to go to Paradise if we are not to meet Miss Austen there" (107). He ends the essay by stating that Gwynn would be lucky to miss meeting Austen in Paradise since he would have to face her "quiet sarcasm" (112). However, unlike Lang, Walkley had nothing to say in defense of Fanny Price, letting the slighting comparison of her to an invertebrate go undefended.

In the August issue of the Cornhill Magazine, Gwynn retaliated against both Lang and Walkley with another article, "The Sensibility of the Critics," wherein he again insisted, "Sensibility has disappeared because it was an encumbrance, and woman has now learnt how to stand by herself and even to jump off the Cobb unaided" (231). Lang let loose a final volley in the September issue of Longmans Magazine-making no mention of Fanny Price-and the battle of four months finally subsided. British newspapers and magazines covered events closely, but so did American ones. The Baltimore Sun reported that "Literary London [was] in a constant state of warfare" ("Jane Austen Controversy"), and iconoclastic Alden defended Gwynn in his columns. Gwynn wrote him a letter of thanks, printed in the New York Times, which asserted his "impenitence" and plugged his forthcoming book, The Decay of Sensibility and Other Essays and Sketches.

The salient point about Stephen Gwynn's essays in the Cornhill Magazine was that his argument was a feminist one. The statement that "woman has now learnt how to stand by herself" invited a non-literal interpretation: it was not about women leaning on men for support but about women being independent. And his timing was impeccable. While the July issue of the Cornhill was on newsstands, British papers were repeatedly headlining the International Congress of Women, taking place in London just at that time. The large event showcased professional women speaking on a broad range of issues, and it attracted high-powered delegates, including the seventy-nine-year-old Susan B. Anthony. In a time when women's activism was front and center, as it was in the summer of 1899, Fanny Price was hard to defend-and neither Lang nor Walkley tried very hard to do so. Fanny may have been spiritually strong, immovable from the rock of her principles, but, in the eyes of many, she was too sensitive, too emotional, and too physically weak for the modern world.

A cultural move toward active and outspoken women did not help the reputation of the physically weakest and quietest of Austen's heroines. Fanny's delicacy and refinement were major factors in the novel's slide from its high status earlier in the century. Austen's defenders had to pick their battles, and Fanny's was not going to be one of them. When Walkley defended Austen's characters from Gwynn's attacks, he omitted Fanny Price from his discussion. He could not defend her without looking reactionary. Lang was reactionary, but he knew where to draw the line. The Battle of Fanny Price was part of a larger war, not about Jane Austen, but about the status of women in the modern era. As the ideal of womanhood changed, so did the image of Austen and the reception of her characters. While Austen had always been defensible in one way or another, in 1899 Fanny Price was not-unless one wanted to side with those who wanted women to be chaste, silent, and weepy. In a war, one must sometimes give ground to the enemy to preserve the main order of battle-and, at the turn of the century, that ground was Fanny Price.

Even those who admired Austen often ended up turning on Fanny in the twentieth century. In 1917, the year of the Austen centennial (and in the middle of a world war), Reginald Farrer, writer and botanist, allied Austen with the modern in a lead article in the Quarterly Review. To him, Austen's heroines were "infinitely nearer" to the "sane sensible young women of our own day" than to the "flopping vaporous fools" created by "Turkish-minded male novelists" of old (13)-except Fanny Price,

   the most terrible incarnation we have of the female prig-pharisee.
   Those who still survive of the Victorian school, which prized a
   woman in proportion as she was "little" and soft and silly, keep a
   special tenderness in their hearts for Fanny Price. Alas, poor
   let them only have married her! Gentle and timid and shrinking and
   ineffectual as she seems, fiction holds no heroine more repulsive
   in her cast-iron self-righteousness and steely rigidity of
   prejudice. (22)

Once regarded as one of the most loved and admired of Austen's heroines, Fanny Price was now seen as Austen's limpest literary creation. Admiring her was tantamount to endorsing behavior and sentiments seen as old fashioned and "Victorian." The Gwynn-Lang-Walkley War of 1899 and Farrer's anniversary essay of 1917 set the tone for the novel's second century, one rich in disdainful comments, like those by Harding, Amis, and Lewis, that eventually drowned out the voices of the Janeites.

However, at the start of the novel's third century, the battle is turning. Both professional critics and common readers have grown sympathetic toward Fanny Price as a character. Several articles have appeared in newspapers and journals defending the novel and its heroine. Online message boards and forums reveal increasingly positive comments about Fanny. A video appropriation of the novel that maintains more of Fanny's original personality is in production. Readers are recognizing and appreciating Fanny's constancy, her steady moral compass, and her ability to resist social pressure.

Mansfield Park's anniversary year opened with an essay on Austen by Devoney Looser in the Los Angeles Review of Books. "Poor Mansfield Park" she writes. "What are its chances at capturing the limelight, cast as it is in the shadows and on the heels of Pride and Prejudice?" She need not have worried. The popular press took a pro-Fanny line. In May, John Mullan wrote in The Guardian that Fanny is "as resourceful as any Bronte heroine" since she needs to be able to keep her head when all around her "are behaving very badly." In July, Tara Isabella Burton wrote a defense of the quiet Fanny Price for the Paris Reviews blog, reminding us of "the role that class and class privilege play in determining the popular qualities for a heroine's charm and wit-characteristics that depend on an ability to transgress without consequence." In August, Anna Keesey recounted in the Los Angeles Review of Books her journey from disliking Fanny, whom she once thought of as an "Anglican doormat," to her current view of her as "a hero on a winged horse." When "rough beasts are aslouch on the road to many Bethlehems," Fanny Price offers "the hope of an improbable, even impossible reversal of course.... In her stillness, she embodies civil disobedience, peaceful protest." Near the end of the year, Damon Young, in the Australian literary quarterly Island, wrote a touching essay declaring without apology that Fanny Price was "loveable" (21): "Her love of truth gives me joy: the vision of a psyche on the verge of harmony-and edging closer to full virtue as the story progresses" (24). In a modern world of economic, social, and moral upheaval, Fanny serves as an inspiration for readers.

After a century of hostility, Fanny Price, with her quiet virtue and reliable moral compass, is once again attractive and relevant, and it may be possible to adapt the novel for the screen without completely reworking its heroine. Foot in the Door, a theatre company in Winchester, England, has launched From Mansfield with Love, a web series in the style of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. The updated story concerns Frankie Price, who works at Mansfield Park, a country-house hotel owned by the Bertrams, and who, at the request of her brother in the navy, keeps a private vlog. Showrunner and head writer Kimberley James admits that the series had to "go down the normal screen adaptation route of filling out Fanny Price's character by giving her higher spirits and more energy," but it aims to keep "Fanny's main characteristics: her shyness, her deep feeling of obligation towards the Bertrams and her strong morals. James admits that Frankie is a "bit of a goody-two-shoes"-she does not drink or indulge in casual sex like the Crawfords-but hopes that Frankie will be sympathetic and "recognisably Fanny Price in her awkwardness, her bookishness and most importantly her steadfastness." The adapted Fanny Price sounds like one that may satisfy both the pro- and anti-Fanny factions.

Fanny Price's reputation has had its ups and downs. Although much admired in the Victorian era, she lost her high status at the end of the nineteenth century because her delicacy (or weakness) did not fit in with the fin de siecles new ideal of the physically active woman. Nor did matters improve in the next century. After two world wars, readers and literary critics shaped by an ironic vision had little use for a moralist (or prig). But times and attitudes change. To everyone's astonishment, the 2014 Montreal AGM sold out in twenty-four hours, a first in JASNA's history, which suggests that the novel and its heroine have once again struck a chord. Perhaps, for twenty-first-century readers who spend hours quietly sitting in front of computer screens that push a disruptive world at them, a steadfast heroine like Fanny, who can observe, evaluate, and resist, has increasing appeal. Like Fanny, we watch a world of morally questionable behavior and feel the pressure to condone and conform but also hope that, like Fanny, we can maintain our integrity. Trilling has been proven wrong: a great many of us have "found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Paik.


Alden, William L. "London Literary Letter." New Fork Times: Saturday Review of Book and Art 16 Apr. 1898: RBA 260.

Allyria. Public discussion-board comment posted 5 June 2010 at "Fanny Price-love her or loathe her?" Cafe Blue.

Amis, Kingsley. "What Became of Jane Austen?" Spectator 4 Oct. 1957: 27-28.

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--. Jane Austen's Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1997.

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Burton, Tara Isabella. "In Defense of Fanny Price." Paris Review: Blog. 10 July 2014.

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"A Day at Somerville College." Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury 6 Feb. 1897.

Dempsey, Candance. Public discussion-board comment posted 15 Jan. 2013 at "Is Fanny Price the most universally disliked heroine of a Jane Austen novel?" Quora.

Eiloart, [Elizabeth]. Was It Worth the Cost? 3 vols. London: White, 1883.

"English Women of Letters." Review of Kavanagh. Morning Post l Nov. 1862.

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Fergus, Jan. "Two Mansfield Parks: Purist and Postmodern." Jane Austen on Screen. Ed. Gina Macdonald and Andrew Macdonald. Cambridge: CUP, 2003. 69-89.

Gwynn, Stephen. "Stephen Gwynn and Miss Austen." Letter to the editor. New York Times: Saturday Review of Book and Art 30 Sept. 1899: BR 650.

--. "The Decay of Sensibility." Cornhill Magazine 7 (July 1899): 18-30.

--. "The Sensibility of the Critics." Cornhill Magazine l (Aug. 1899): 229-33.

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(1.) Numbers as of 28 Nov. 2014. Different search methods generate different counts, especially at Archive of our Own. We have aimed for the broadest categories (fan fiction inspired by "all media types," both Regency and non-Regency settings, both complete and incomplete stories). A compilation site, the Jane Austen Fan Fiction Index (, lists 102 A/P-inspired works and 2972 PP-Inspired ones (29:1), but it does not claim to be comprehensive or up to date.

(2.) As of July 2014, the debate about the Rice portrait has reignited. See articles and letters published in the Times Literary Supplement, conveniently gathered online at "The Rice portrait and the great Jane Austen debate."

(3.) Only the 1983 BBC serial, written by Ken Taylor and directed by David Giles, presents a heroine faithful to Austen's vision; however, modern viewers, especially younger ones, regard this version "unappealing, even soporific" (Fergus 88).

(4.) Numbers as of 28 Nov. 2014.

(5.) Tanner, among others, makes the same claim (8).

(6.) In 1831, Whately became the Church of Ireland's Archbishop of Dublin (and must have become acquainted with Tom Lefroy). His great-great-grandson Kevin Whately portrays Robert "Robbie" Lewis in the British detective drama serials Inspector Morse and Lewis.

(7.) The interview was published in the Feb. 1897 issue of the rare Toung Woman: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine and was excerpted in the papers; our source is "A Day at Somerville College."

(8.) Alden is referring to comments Twain made in Following the Equator (1897, in the UK titled More Tramps Abroad).

(9.) For more on Alden's comments, see Ray 49-50. Alden's column, "London Literary Letter," ran in the paper's Saturday Review of Book and Art (later to morph into the Sunday Book Review). Alden's father was president, and he himself a graduate, of Jefferson College, the forerunner of the Washington & Jefferson College, at which one of the authors of this article teaches.

(10.) This comment appears in a letter to Joseph Twichell dated 13 Sept. 1898.

(11.) American novelist William Dean Howells had written in the 1880s and 1890s about Austen's realism, so Gwynn's observation is typical of the time.


Linda Troost is professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, and Sayre Greenfield is professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. They edited Jane Austen in Hollywood (1998, 2001) and regularly lecture on Austen in both North America and Australia. In spring 2015, they were Chawton House Library Visiting Fellows.
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Title Annotation:AGM 2014: Montreal
Author:Troost, Linda; Greenfield, Sayre
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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Next Article:Textual controversies: editing Mansfield Park.

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