Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Editor's Note

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Editor's Note

Article excerpt

LOOKED AT FROM ONE PERSPECTIVE, Fanny Price is confined to a relatively static existence. Compared to a heroine like Elizabeth Bennet, who travels to London, to Kent, to Derbyshire, and later leaves her home in Hertfordshire for good, Fanny is restricted to a small ambit. Once she arrives at Mansfield Park, she is almost locked into the place. Fanny makes the excursion to Sotherton only as a consequence of Edmund's importunity. When later in the novel she journeys to Portsmouth, that trip is less exploration than exile. During Fanny's years in Northamptonshire, her movements are restricted. She takes short rides, attended by the old coachman; she walks to and from the White house at the behest of Mrs. Norris; she attends church to hear Dr. Grant's "'very good sermons.'" Except on the (probably infrequent) occasions when she accompanies Lady Bertram to dinner at the parsonage, not until Mrs. Grant is moved by the absence of Maria and Julia to invite Fanny to dinner does she dine out on her own. For most of the novel, we see her at Mansfield Park, and much of that time within one of a handful of rooms.

What could be read as limitation, however, can from another perspective be felt as focus, as concentration, as transcendence. Fanny remarks to Miss Crawford that "'especially when I am sitting out of doors, I am very apt to get into this sort of wondering strain'" (my italics). In the East room, in particular, through the aid of her books, her memory, her imagination, Fanny's mind wanders. It's always seemed to me significant that among the transparencies on the windows of the East Room is a representation of Tintern Abbey. Certainly, that ruin was a favorite spot for picturesque travelers, among them Gilpin, J. M. W. Turner, and of course William Wordsworth. Wordsworth's 1798 "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey" was the climactic poem of Lyrical Ballads (published in 1798, expanded to two volumes in 1800, and revised again in 1802). It's a poem about landscape and memory, about "what [we] half create, and what perceive," about loss and "abundant recompense," a poem in which the poet finds that compensation not only in nature, in feeling "a motion and a spirit" that "rolls through all things," but in his love for his sister, whom he guides. And it's tempting to imagine that Wordsworth's poem must certainly have been, as Edmund suggests of another text for another reader, "'a favourite'" with Fanny. …

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