had not affection or principle enough to make them merciful or just

Category: Education | Type: Discussion | Title: Mansfield Park (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Ch: Chapter XVII

How Fanny grew up to be a woman of deep affection and principle, given the disorder, we learn later, of her Portsmouth home, and given her treatment at Mansfield Park is only explainable as Edmund's affectionate concern and influence combining with the character of a young girl who, as the oldest girl, had had to assume the responsibilities neglected by her father and mother. (Yet, neither Maria nor Julia responds in that way, and so we must hold Mrs. Norris somewhat responsible for their mis-raising.)

There may be something more. First, her family's low station and poverty cannot spoil her. Second, she is effectively orphaned when Mansfield Park takes her in. Adversity, loneliness, and marginality may contribute to making Fanny more observant, sensitive, and sympathetic. Lacking power or station, her strength lies in a passive rectitude.

Fanny is an early representative of a type favored by Dickens, that of the negative, self-denying instead of the acquisitive will. In a society that seems to promote and respond favorably to the cravings and flexings of the will, passive characters such as Oliver Twist, Jo of Great Expectations, or a number of Dickens' heroines such as Florence in Dombey and Son and Agnes in David Copperfield, those not favored by birth and fortune are saved from contamination. Fanny develops into a woman of "affection and principle." But orphandom, literal or figurative, is no guarantee, for alternatively it can produce Vanity Fair's ruthless Becky Sharp or Heathcliff.

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