Austen is supposed to have said that in Emma Woodhouse she created a heroine whom nobody but herself would like much. She was wrong, at least as far as the 21st century is concerned – Emma is quite popular. But the one whom this statement would fit far more accurately is Fanny Price.
People today get Emma – bossy, outgoing, self-confident, and with only those faults which these (somewhat laudable) character traits predispose her to. But Fanny? Shy, quiet, “creepmouse” Fanny? Oh dear. Social Anxiety Disorder, definitely Generalized Anxiety Disorder; Chronic Low Self-Esteem; Strongly Perfectionistic Tendencies; probably Major Depression or at least Dysthymia. Possibly Codependence. Of course, with her history of childhood emotional abuse, it’s not a big surprise that her genetic tendency to neuroses burst into full bloom. It’s sad, but some people are just born with this warped personality which has them chronically and cripplingly hypersensitive and shy. Fortunately, that can be treated; an SSRI should take care of it. If only they had known that in Austen’s day, we wouldn’t have had to have a Fanny Price.
But we do have a Fanny Price. And Austen approves of her. You can put away your prescription for Prozac; Fanny doesn’t need fixing – she’s great the way she is. Even though nobody’s understood her well enough yet to make a decent movie of Mansfield Park – but that’s a topic for another post.