Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fanny Price the introvert; is she unfilmable?


I recently put the question out there on Twitter- Is Fanny Price unfilmable? By which I mean the REAL Fanny Price. In the latest two film adaptations of the novel Mansfield Park from 1999 and 2007 she is made very different from how she reads on the page in order to have the viewer sympathize more readily with the character of Fanny.


In the former, she gets a good dose of spunky Jane Austen, writing her cheeky, nutty juvenilia and in the latter she just gets a dose of crazy boisterousness.


I had a few people on Twitter and on my MP blog post point out that the 1983 BBC miniseries has a truer take on Fanny's introverted personality than the more recent versions. I am working my way through it on YouTube (link here). The characters of Fanny (Sylvestra Le Touzel) and Maria (Samantha Bond) are fairly well played but Lady Bertram is soooooooo awful, I mean so truly awful that you have to check it out. It is just unbelievable!

Sorry if you love this version but although Fanny is more introverted, the entire production is now dated and flawed by today's production standards. It is however worth viewing, if only to see a very young Jonny Lee Miller as Fanny's little brother Charles. His mop of hair is adorable!


But what is it about Fanny Price which makes her the least lovable of Jane Austen's heroines? Is it her introversion, which masks her massive teenage crush on Edmund and just makes her seem like a cold fish? Or is it the fact that she seems convinced she is always right, which makes her appear judgmental and sanctimonious, when in reality she is constantly doubting herself?


I think that a nice long miniseries adaptation of Mansfield Park (sympathetic to the character and personality of Fanny which Jane Austen intended) is truly called for!

And really, don't we introverted readers deserve a character we can relate to? I mean, I love Lizzy and Emma, but if I am honest with myself, I was much closer in disposition to Fanny when I was 18 years old.


There is also an argument for a longer version of Mansfield Park in that there are so many subplots and minor characters which deserve a truly wonderful film treatment. Both Susan and William Price deserve lots of screen time so that we can see how Fanny relates to her siblings. And the trip to Sotherton? It just has to be in there doesn't it? And Lover's Vows? I don't know about you, but I want to see a few scenes of that in rehearsal!

So let me know your thoughts on Mansfield Park in general, and Fanny Price in particular. And if anyone reading this has pull with BBC or ITV, please send them here!!!


Cheers!

N.B. A couple of astute readers have commented below that of course Anne Elliot from Persuasion is an introvert and yet is well loved by Austen fans. So it is not entirely her introversion. Rather the kind of introvert she is. I have run across a few internet sites recently where literary characters have been evaluated as to their Myers Briggs Personality Types (here is a link to Harry Potter Characters' Myers Briggs Types). Would readers like a blog post where I compare Anne and Fanny on the Myers Briggs scale? I think this would help explain the lack of love for Fanny!

32 comments:

  1. Anne Elliot is quite introvert and quiet, yet she is very likable and interesting character.

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    1. Hi Anon, Yes I think Anne is a very likable introvert. She comes off as warmer than poor Fanny. She is more secure in herself, possibly due to her more stable childhood? Thoughts?

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  2. I will be honest this is my least favorite of her novels, simply because I cannot get past the ick factor of being romantically involved with a first cousin. I get that this was not unusual for that time period, but honestly it sets my teeth on edge everytime!! So I cannot relate to her at all, but I agree with the above poster Anne Elliot is quite introverted, but we always root for her.

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    1. Hello Anon, You are certainly not alone in rating Mansfield Park at the bottom. For most of us it is certainly not just the cousin factor (however that doesn't help) and you are correct that it is not just her introversion. There are many different kinds of introverts. 8 different kinds if you go by the Myers Briggs scale. I am going to have to blog about Anne vs Fanny. The introvert smackdown! Would you like to see that?

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  4. Sorry, I deleted the above just to make a few spelling corrections.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. An accurate adaptation is needed, and a miniseries would do it justice. I see so much of my young self in Fanny Price and I think others do too.
    I think the lack of success of the previous adaptations is due to the fact that they alter Fanny's character and she becomes inconsistent. Jane Austen was a master at developing character and the movie needs to be made by people who understand and like Fanny Price instead of twisting the show to their own weird ends (Mirimax!).
    In short, stay true to her character as written. Perhaps it requires a director or producer who understands or was brought up in a more structured moral or religious environment to truly understand this novel.
    I have expressed this desire on my blog as well, and have a continued hope that someone will do it. I know it can be done. The Mirimax version had a few good points, but several major flaws. The newer version is so atrocious I believe it is the only Austen adaptation I refuse to own in my collection.

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    1. Hi Lynnae, I hope we will see a gorgeous and faithful miniseries for Mansfield Park soon. Fingers crossed!

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  5. I would love a miniseries where Fanny was as Jane Austen intended! And yes a larger work would be wonderful, wouldn't it? I don't know how screenwriters can fit Austen into 90 minutes!

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    1. Hi Meredith, I wonder who will be brave enough to do this, especially after ITV's 2007 MP offering.

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  6. Jenny, first off, I love your blog! I actually found my way here through your post about The Buccaneers, which I think is such an underrated period mini-series (it is one of my top 5 of all time).

    It's so funny that I ran across this post because I was just re-watching the 2007 Mansfield this past weekend on Netflix and thinking almost the EXACT same thing about Fanny. What IS it about her that makes her so difficult to portray on screen without trying to "alter" her character? I admit, I am not as horrified by the 1999 film as some people are (I love many of the actors and the cinematography, although the script certainly is flawed). I thought Billie Piper was horribly miscast in the 2007 adaptation, but some of the other portrayals in the film are great (I love Hayley Atwell as Mary, and James D'Arcy as Tom).

    I remember reading all the Austen novels and devouring them in high school; when I got to Mansfield, I almost gave up because I found Fanny to be so self-righteous and dull. It wasn't until I re-read the novel in my thirties that I came to appreciate her a bit more (although I still think she would be rather annoying company in real life)! I think that, on film, the contrast between her and Mary Crawford is tough to pull off without veering into stereotypes (the "good" girl vs. the "bad" girl). A longer version might be able to show the finer aspects of the novel and show them more as foils for each other rather than one-note caricatures.

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    1. Hi irulan, I am always glad to hear from a fan of The Buccaneers. I have also been liking Fanny more each time I read the novel. I also think the length and breadth of a miniseries will help tell her story. Thanks for commenting!

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  7. What I find interesting is that Mansfield Park is one of my favorites. I have read it more than once, and I love the character of Fanny. I like that she is kind and good compared to her awful relatives. And I like how it shows how money doesn't make anyone better, and how Fanny is so complete as a person and her cousins so shallow despite their having so many more opportunities. I do like the 1983 version, especially Lady Bertram and her indolence. But I tend to like this type of story. A childhood favorite was always Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Little Princess.

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    1. Hello Anon! You are in company with Cambridge Prof F.R. Leavis in listing Mansfield Park among your favourites. You have impeccable taste. There are some wonderful lessons for us all especially in present times among the many story threads of MP.

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    2. I very much agree with Anon (and F.R. Leavis). Mansfield Park is an incredible character study. And Fanny is good, and sensitive. How can we not pity a girl who was ripped from her family and sent to live as a lap dog for rich relatives? Less than a lap dog, actually. The way she is treated is mortifying, but in the end, she shows (and this is very Austen-like) that true character has nothing to do with the amount of fortune in our possession. She and Edmund emerge triumphant and happy. It is a high class soap opera and a complicated morality tale. Not an easy read, but worthwhile.

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  8. Hi Jenny, I have tried to read Mansfield Park twice but I have always found Fanny dull and pathetic, I'm afraid. For some reason I just can't warm up to any of the characters. As for the TV adaptations, I really dislike Billie Piper as Fanny and the 1999 version is rude and I found it difficult to follow. Maybe if it was made into a TV Series and had a good written screenplay then I might like Mansfield Park? xx

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    1. Hi Kate, my kindred spirit. Sorry I have been slow in responding lately. I need more quiet time!
      Let us hope that a proper adaptation of Mansfield Park will have you and many others going back and reading it. It really is a fine book, but it always helps to have watched a really great film adaptation first. Like Romola's Emma for instance. :)

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    2. Hi Jenny. Yes, you are right, I didn't read Emma until I saw the 2009 version so I hope I will enjoy reading MP if we get a good miniseries of it. :)

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  9. I like mansfield park. I've read the book twice. I enjoyed the 1999 film version, but not the awful 2007. A good example of how being faithful to a book does not trump having the right cast and a good script to work with.

    I think Fanny is a complex character. She is quiet and constantly manipulated by those around her, but has a real strength of character. She is also a shrewd observer of human nature who can see through everyone, and ultimately enable her own happiness, thereby avoiding both her mother and Maria's fate.

    I tried watching the earlier adaptation, but found it too difficult to watch, for many of the reasons cited by Jenny. Even the promise of catching a glimpse of Jonny Lee Miller wasn't worth it. Do you know the episode and scene in which he appears? Thanks again Jenny.

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    1. Hi Olga!
      Glad you liked the 1999 version as well. It gets some grief from Austen purists but it is the best so far. Shall we have a chat with Andrew Davies to plea for a really great, longer adaptation? Or would Sandy Welch be a better bet?
      Here is the link for Jonny at 16:20 so you don't have to watch the whole thing. I left a comment on YouTube so just look at the bottom for the scene with little Jonny. It is hilarious!
      http://youtu.be/RfuOEVrJQZo

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  10. Fanny is definitely not a character that is easy to get to know. I always sympathize with her when I'm reading MP, and then as soon as I'm done am happy to let the labels of priggish and sanctimonious be slapped back on.

    I did used to like the old BBC mini-series and thought it pretty well, though I have forgotten most of the minor character actors. I thought the movie Fanny fairly likeable, but that was probably the Jane Austen persona that I liked. The Billie Piper version was atrocious.

    I think Carey Mulligan might be able to portray an accurate and likeable Fanny Price. She can be a waif and she is pretty and she can show steel even when being demure, which is what Fanny is.

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    1. Hello Jane
      Fanny Price is a bit of a puzzle isn't she? Carey Mulligan has certainly done some amazing roles recently. Good thought!

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  11. First, we have to stop comparing Fanny to Lizzy Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. If we do that, we will forever dislike Fanny. Secondly, I agree with Jenny that I think many of us were more like Fanny at eighteen than any of the JA heroines.

    MP is certainly the darkest of the novels, I think that many people do not like Fanny because is incredibly stubborn, but she has a sense of self and backbone that many of the quieter heroines dont appear to have.

    While I dont like the 2007 MP (I agree that Billie Piper was very wrong for the part), the one advantage it has over the 1999 MP is that the actors, especially as the younger characters look like they are in their teens or early 20's.

    MP is the subject of the JASNA AGM next year in Montreal. It should be an interesting AGM.

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    1. Hello Anon! Lovely to hear from a fellow introvert who can relate to Fanny Price. I have a bit of a stubborn streak myself, so I can certainly verify that the two can often go together. Perhaps that is the main difference between Fanny and Anne Elliot. Although we may never know as Anne is never pushed to do what she thinks is actually wrong. Even at the end of Persuasion, she still believes that Lady Russell was only protecting her from possible disaster (much like that which befell Fanny's mother).
      It would seem that none of us are fully satisfied with any of the MP film versions so far. I will continue to advocate for a well done miniseries. Let us hope!
      See you in Montreal!

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  12. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for posting the time index of the JLM scene in MP '83! How are you enjoying Elementary? So far I love the off beat characters. Did you see the season premier with Rhus Ifans as his brother Mycroft? Perfect casting.

    And yes, a new adaptation of MP is imperative Maybe both those screen writers should collaborate!!! It seems like they have quite the challenge on their hands to make a "filmable" Fanny that will please everyone :)

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    1. Hi Olga
      I am loving Elementary so far. Another new episode tomorrow? And yes, Rhys Ifans is perfect as Mycroft.

      Thanks for your thoughts on MP. Perhaps I need to go to England and chat with a few film makers! :)

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    2. A trip to England is a good idea. I think you should go for it! I was in London for the first time this summer, and it was everything I expected. Just lovely. We were there for only 2 days but saw an impressive amount of sights. Next trip will defiantly be longer.

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  14. Oh! I always thought that Fanny was a wonderfully complex and subtle character and always loved Mansfield Park! Admittedly it was the last of Austen's books that I read (at the age of 17), and I had watched and rewatched and rewatched the 1999 version of the movie so many times before reading the book for the first time, that the first reading of the book left me disappointed! But I think it is a lovely example of Jane Austen's ability to write more serious characters, and you really have to go under the surface to understand Fanny. This is similar to other books of hers, for example, Emma, in which the clever wit and sarcasm of Austen is 9 times out of 10 not picked up by the reader, but the book is so jaunty on the surface that most people do not miss the subtext. I think the misunderstanding of Fanny is mostly due to ignorance on the part of most people to read and understand Austen (and other authors of that era) properly! But I definitely agree - we need a clever writer and director to portray Fanny properly!

    As an aside, I recently finished reading Fanny Burney's Cecilia - and my what a gloriously written story that was! And how sad I was not to be able to find a screen adaptation of any kind! It is a fantastic story, and Cecilia is a wonderful character, so I am surprised someone hasn't produced a screenplay for this! Something to hope for in the future!

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  16. Anne Elliot's childhood was probably more stable than Fanny Price's . . . but I suspect not that stable. Following her mother's death, she had to deal with an emotionally distant father and older sister, along with a grasping and self-involved younger sister. And she was still in her early teens around the time of Lady Elliot's death.

    I really don't see how a longer miniseries would make me like Fanny more. If this new production is willing to allow her to become aware of her own personality flaws - like other Austen heroines - then perhaps I would be willing to view her in a more positive light.

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  17. I am in love with Fanny Price . I think she did grow immensely and I am trying to do the same in my life. Don Bennett

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  18. I really disliked Mansfield Park, which came as a huge surprise to me because I absolutely adore Jane Austen's other books. And I have to say that Fanny was the reason I couldn't finish it.
    I feel that the way she 'thinks' and speaks about her position is putting herself down, by putting others down even more. This made it seem to me that she was just acting to be grateful because that was 'the right thing to do'. for instance 'I must be a brute, indeed, if I can be really ungrateful!' ... 'Heaven defend me from being ungrateful.' She just seems 'fake' to me.

    It's a shame too, the rest of the novel is stunning, I read 263/383 pages, and I hope to finish it sometime. But I can't stand Fanny Price's character.

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