Heroines, Heroes, and Orphans

 

The Influential, Inspirational Jane Austen StillWhile reading Mansfield Park this month, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Austen’s timid Fanny Price and Brontë’s brave and determined Jane Eyre. 

Although Jane’s parents are dead which makes her an official orphan, Fanny’s parents make no claim as to her existence after she leaves home to live with the Bertrams (unless Mrs. Norris snatched all letters of correspondence which I wouldn’t put past her).

 So in theory…Fanny is an orphan.  

Both girls are raised in environments that would make even the strongest of us lose hope, but somehow they rise above their circumstances with unscathed character.  

What is it about those books with the tragic orphan-like character that seems to stir my soul?  

I’m well aware that I am attracted to books with the struggling young underdog.  Come to think of it, almost  all of my favorite books feature some young unfortunate Oliver Twist-like character who has been dealt a bad hand in life.  

Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë’), Angela’s Ashes (by Frank McCourt), She’s Come Undone (by Wally Lamb), Summer (by Edith Wharton), White Oleander (by Janet Fitch), and of course Harry Potter (by J.K. Rowling).

I know there are more.  Those are just a few from my bookshelf. 

The one difference between these unfortunate characters and Fanny Price; the one difference that clearly stands out (in my opinion) is that although she is not blatantly abused or abandoned, she is ignored.  

Some would say that sort of abuse is more detrimental than physical abuse.  Maybe not.  But it’s certainly a form of abuse. 

That’s probably why my heart leaps when Fanny is finally noticed — as when Edmond finds her crying on the attic stairs.

“My dear little cousin,’ said he, with all the gentleness of an excellent nature, ‘what can be the matter?”  And sitting down by her; he was at great pains to overcome her shame in being so surprised, and persuade her to speak openly.  

Thank you Edmund!  

Another character, Mary Crawford  — who some believe is the real heroine of the book — I can’t help but love as she takes notice of Fanny.  When she casually opens up a dialog with Edmund as to Fanny’s situation, she shows true compassion and earns her heroine status.    

“I begin now to understand you all, except Miss Price,’ said Miss Crawford, as she was walking with the Mr. Bertrams.  “Pray, is she out, or is she not?  I am puzzled.  She dined at the Parsonage, with the rest of you, which seemed like being out; and yet she says so little, that I can hardly suppose she is.” 

Thank you Mary!  I love you!  

As I revisit the pages of Mansfield Park and have the urge to give Fanny Price a great big hug, her soft and at times “goodie-two-shoes” voice continues to whisper throughout the book to me like a neglected child…  

I am here, I am here, I am here!  

What are your thoughts about the idea of orphaned heroines and heroes? How do you feel about Fanny Price? 

 

*Photo: A better guide by shawnzrossi, obtained through Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • I adore Fanny Price! Perhaps, a bit more than Elizabeth Bennett(I know the horror).

    We like the underdog because so many of us feel like the whole world conspires against us, and we identify with the orphans because we feel like we don’t have anyone to speak for us either.

  • I do think that “plucky” is an overused character trait for heroines. Fanny is not plucky, and I like her better for it. She is what she is. Her lack of pluck doesn’t prevent her from being insightful or observant.

  • Jennie Fields

    Who could not love Fanny or Jane Eyre? Perhaps in our souls we all feel somehow orphaned and admire those who fight adversity with grace. I think that’s why I was so drawn to the real-life Anna Bahlmann (featured in my book The Age of Desire.) She was orphaned at the age of two, and found her way in the world with no financial support, merely living by her considerable wits. She must have been a truly remarkable woman.

  • MaryCMP

    Anna Bahlmann is a great example. I just finished The Age of Desire (highly recommended).

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