A sense of self is the way a person thinks about himself/herself and views his or her traits, beliefs. It encompasses a person’s self-esteem, self-worth, identity, and self-image. It is a combination of the way people see themselves, their experiences, and their environment and how they feel about themselves.
Fanny is shown as a passive girl in the beginning of the novel. The main plot revolves around the development of Fanny. It shows how fanny acquires a stronger sense of self. The main interest of the plot lies in the subtle interplay of three aspects of Fanny’s development.
These three aspects are
· Fanny’s relation and her deep love for Edmund Bertram.
· Her relation with Henry Crawford
· Her relation with Mansfield and the people who live there.
Coming to Mansfield from Portsmouth, Fanny is struck by the distance, psychological and otherwise, separating them, especially, the contrast between the affectionate concern of her family and the indifference of the people at Mansfield Park where nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort, and she is disheartened by ‘Lady Bertram’s silence, awed by Sir Thomas’ grave looks and quite overcome by Mrs. Norris’s admonitions’. Further her elder cousin mortified her by reflection on her size, and abashed her by noticing her shyness. Miss Lee wondered at her ignorance and the maidservants sneered at her clothes. This very experience at Mansfield Park weakened Fanny’s sense of self.
Further due to Fanny’s retiring nature she is completely misunderstood in her new house. The members of the Bertram family do not understand the predicament of the new arrival. Fanny is treated simply as a curiosity because of her silence or her ignorance. The narrative by this hints at the environmental factors and experiences which initially shapes young Fanny’s sense of self.
When Fanny speaks of her own foolishness and awkwardness she displays a very poor and negative sense of self.
“As to your foolishness and awkwardness, my dear Fanny, believe me, you never have a shadow of either. You have good sense, and a sweet temper, and I am sure you grateful heart, that could never receive kindness without wishing to return it “Through these words by Edmund narrative gives us the key to Fanny’s basic character.
Early on in the novel Fanny has difficulty with individual expression. Fanny’s Silence was caused by her reserved nature and lack of confidence in her observational skills. She established Edmund as her sole advocate and voice. By supplying Fanny with letter paper shortly after her arrival at Mansfield Park, Edmund metaphorically provides her with a voice within a home where she is silenced by her Aunt Norris’ comments such as, “I do beseech and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins”. Her position as an outsider at Mansfield Park causes Fanny to rely on Edmund to be her defender and confidante. This relationship is made clear when the narrator states, “Fanny would rather have had Edmund tell the story, but his determined silence obliged her to relate her brother’s situation”. Fanny freely shares her opinions with Edmund. This dynamic helps Fanny navigate a house in which she is constantly reminded of her inferior position. In several instances, such as the proposed trip to Sotherton, Edmund challenges Mrs. Norris or Lady Bertram’s unfair treatment of Fanny. Simply put, “Edmund had been her champion and her friend; – he had supported her cause or explained her meaning”. Here narrative shows that initially Edmund plays great role in shaping Fanny’s thoughts. When her own thoughts matched with those of Edmunds or when he approved of them Fanny felt assured. Though Fanny kept on observing and thinking all the time she depended on Edmund’s wisdom to be sure and confidant about her thoughts.
This relationship with Edmund provides Fanny with an outlet through which she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts, but this over-reliance on others to be her voice leads to conflict once Mary Crawford permanently alters the dynamic. While Fanny believes she and Edmund could never hold differing opinions, his inability to recognize Mary’s true character in the midst of his blinding infatuation forces Fanny to rely on her own opinions in a way she had not previously. Edmund’s blindness is evidenced by his defense of Mary Crawford even after she makes several improper statements. His remarks to Fanny that Mary “has great discernment” and that “she does not think evil, but she speaks it” illustrate the extent to which he has lost the ability to discern a person’s character, which he and Fanny once shared. By compromising Fanny’s surrogate voice and fellow rational observer, the narrative creates a shift that requires Fanny to reconsider her reliance on others to express her opinions.
Fanny was the only one of the party who found anything to dislike; but since the day at Souderton, she could never see Mr. Crawford with either sister without observation, and seldom without wonder or censure; had her confidence in her own judgment been equal to her exercise of it in every other respect, had she been sure that she was seeing clearly, and judging candidly, she would probably have made some important communications to her usual confidant.
The irony of this quote is that unlike the people who surround her Fanny clearly contains the observational skills and clear judgment but she doubts herself. In addition, it is suggested that even if Fanny trusted her intuition she still would have only confided in Edmund, further illustrating how Fanny passes on her communicative abilities and knowledge onto others rather than trusting her own voice. By hiding her suspicions concerning Maria and Henry, Fanny prevents anyone else from discovering the impropriety before it is too late.
It becomes clear that Fanny only speaks if she has to or to relieve awkwardness such as when Mary Crawford insults Edmund’s chosen profession. In these small instances of Fanny speaking out narrative illustrate a mastery of language which Mrs. Norris and Mary Crawford lack. While Mary and Mrs. Norris attempt to communicate with others to get what they desire, Fanny uses manipulative language as a last resort in order to resolve conflicts. For example, when placed in the awkward position of waiting for Mr. Rushworth after Maria and Henry have walked off, Fanny attempts to downplay their affront by suggesting that Mr. Rushworth pursue them. In these situations narrative emphasize Fanny’s avoidance of speaking to others and sharing her thoughts.
The narrative also presents the male gaze as a transformative factor. There are remarks and observation by Sir Thomas like “on perceiving her(Fanny), came forward with a kindness which astonished and penetrated her, calling her his dear Fanny, kissing her affectionately, and observing with decided pleasure how much she was grown!” by Edward like “Your uncle thinks you very pretty, dear Fanny ” , “Your complexion is so improved! – And you have gained so much countenance “and by Henry like “Absolutely pretty”, “indescribably improved”. This attention by men around boosted Fanny’s self esteem. The narrative also used male gaze to describe Fanny’s outer development from puny little girl to a well grown women.
A major turning point in the cultivation of Fanny’s voice is her refusal of Henry Crawford. This rejection is foreshadowed earlier in the novel when Fanny pointedly disagrees with his lamentation over Sir Thomas’s disruption of the play. “she had never spoken so much at once to him . . . and never so angrily to anyone; and when her speech was over, she trembled and blushed at her own daring”. Although in this scene Fanny is surprised by her ability to confront Henry Crawford, she shows more strength later on when she endures Sir Thomas’s anger over her rejection of the proposal. Even during his attack Fanny is still able to defend herself, realizing that “she had no one to take her part, to counsel, or to speak for her”. What is significant about Fanny breaking her silence and facing Sir Thomas is that she is acting upon her intuitive dislike and distrust of Henry Crawford. Fanny chooses to speak when she feels passionately or when she believes it is the right thing to do. In addition, in her refusal of Henry Crawford the narrative highlights her new ability to express her opinions without Edmund’s assistance and her developed self confidence on her own observation and belief.
When Sir Thomas and Edmund ask her to consider Henry’s proposal sympathetically she tells them bluntly that she just cannot think of marrying Henry. “She was feeling, thinking, trembling, about everything, agitated, happy miserable, infinitely obliged, absolutely angry. It was all beyond belief. He was inexcusable, incomprehensible”. This firmness in her negative attitude to Henry shows a remarkable firmness of character. She knows that she has to act firmly if she wants to have her say. Hence-forward Fanny’s free but indirect speech becomes the vehicle of the narrative, and this special quality of her mind colors the story. Fanny has now learnt how to face the dangers, which are wrought in complicated situations. When she finds that her individual freedom is in peril, she knows how to protect it and how to assert herself, no matter what the cost may be.
By having Fanny gain this voice the intuitiveness and virtuousness Fanny embodies is brought forefront. Upon her return to Mansfield Park from Portsmouth, Fanny’s presence is more fully appreciated as the characters that surround her become cognizant of the quiet intelligence and rational advice she brings to the household. What sets Fanny’s breaking of her silence apart from Mary Crawford’s talkativeness is her lack of what Edmund describes as Mary’s “faults of principle” and “corrupted, vitiated mind”. Fanny’s opinions were always based on rationality and observation, and never included the impropriety that plagued Mary’s comments. Through the narrator these virtuous thoughts were always made apparent to the reader, but Author carefully charts how Fanny gains confidence and accrues the ability to speak individually and not rely on Edmund to share her opinions. While through their speech some characters expose their selfishness and immorality, Fanny is able to reveal the virtuous, intuitive and intelligent nature that was always hidden below her reserved surface, therefore allowing her to develop a stronger sense of self within Mansfield Park and in her relationship with Edmund.