Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Committee Member

Erin Goss, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Kim Manganelli

Committee Member

David Coombs

Abstract

Mansfield Park’s Fanny is not the heroine most readers expect to encounter in a Jane Austen novel. Unlike the heroines of Pride and Prejudice, or Emma, for example, she does not have to undergo any period of being wrong, and she does not have to change in order for her position to be accepted. In the midst of conversations about Fanny as a model of perfect conduct book activity, exemplary Christian morals, or Regency era femininity, readers and scholars often focus on whether or not Fanny exists as a perfect and consistent heroine, providing very strong and polarizing opinions on either side. This thesis claims that whether or not Fanny is an interesting protagonist or a disappointing character, her consistency in perfectly acceptable actions and decision cannot be ignored.

Despite opinions and readings that suggest Fanny provides little to no value to the novel, as the protagonist, she drives the climactic action in the novel’s plot. This thesis considers the shift that occurs from Sir Thomas’s promise that Fanny would never be a Miss Bertram to his acceptance of her as his daughter-in-law and a Mrs. Bertram and aims to understand her role as a model of rational and consistent perceptivity. In contrast to the inconsistent and unobservant characters that surround her, Fanny’s consistent observations allow her to offer a new form of sensibility as a reactive, sensitive, and responsive heroine. Furthermore, this thesis reflects upon how readers and scholars respond to and understand Fanny in an attempt to show that Fanny can be an Austen heroine worthy of study when considered through a different lens by focusing on her ability to understand the actions and motives of those around her when no other character can.

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