Posts Tagged ‘Privilege’
July 10, 2014 | by Tara Isabella Burton
Mansfield Park at two hundred.
Poor Fanny Price. The unabashedly mousy, pathologically virtuous protagonist of Mansfield Park—which turns two hundred this year—is Jane Austen’s least popular heroine. She spends most of the novel creeping around the periphery of the titular park, taciturn and swallowing tears; she tires after the briefest of physical exertions; she looks down on her wealthier cousins for engaging in flirtatious amateur theatrics; and for most of the book’s five hundred pages, she refuses to voice her long-held love for her cousin Edmund.
Austen’s own mother reportedly found Fanny “insipid”; the critic Reginald Farrer described her as “repulsive in her cast-iron self-righteousness and steely rigidity of prejudice.” Even C. S. Lewis—in the voice of his demon Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters—let loose a vitriolic rant about Austen’s most priggish heroine, calling her “not only a Christian, but such a Christian—a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouselike, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss … A two-faced little cheat (I know the sort) who looks as if she’d faint at the sight of blood, and then dies with a smile … Filthy, insipid little prude!” Even if we are to separate Lewis from Screwtape, it’s difficult to see Fanny as anything but, to quote Nietzsche’s famous description, “a moralistic little female à la [George] Eliot.”
And indeed, those who defend Fanny tend to see her as a Christian heroine in the mold of a Dorothea Brooke. As the Austen biographer Claire Tomalin puts it, “it is in rejecting obedience in favor of the higher dictate of remaining true to her own conscience that Fanny rises to her moment of heroism.” But to read Mansfield Park as a kind of Middlemarch is to miss the far more complicated story Austen has told. Fanny Price’s story is less about her individual virtue, or her richer relatives’ lack thereof, but about class, about privilege in its most insidious form—before the term ever cropped up in contemporary social justice discourse. Fanny isn’t moral or upright because she wants to be, but because the role—along with a whole host of so-called middle-class values—is forced upon her. For all we know, she may well wish to be as carefree, as filled with dynamic sprezzatura, as Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s more fortunate heroines, but the social dynamic, and the circumstances of her birth, deny her the security necessary for such frivolity. Fanny has too much at stake to be easygoing. Read More »
October 27, 2011 | by Liz Brown
An early foray into fandom: I was eleven, maybe twelve, full of lust and greed. After school let out that day, my mother picked me up to go grocery shopping at Gemco, the massive warehouse supermarket that had recently opened on the outskirts of our Sacramento Valley town. Inside, while she got a cart and started making her rounds, I hung back at the newsstand, in my Catholic school uniform, and tore photos of boy heartthrobs from glossy teen magazines and then stuffed them into the waistband of my blue plaid skirt.
I didn’t consider it stealing. I wasn’t taking the whole magazine, just a few pages. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was defacing property. Nor did I contemplate simply asking my mother to buy me the magazines. I wasn’t going to put these photos up on my bedroom wall; they would go inside my closet. This was the early eighties, so I would’ve been obsessed with The Outsiders—Ponyboy, Johnny, Soda, all the rest. Into my skirt went Rob Lowe. Into my skirt went C. Thomas Howell