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In fact, I can think of but one instance in the entire novel where the timid, fearful, and nearly humorless Fanny Price is even tempted to laugh at a joke.
is the only one of the canon where we as readers can spend hours, days, or weeks hotly speculating alternate histories and defending our respective points of view: What if Fanny had said yes to Henry? Would he have resisted the impulse to soothe his vanity by flirting with Maria? She did, after all, write for her contemporaries, who could fill in the rest with their experiential knowledge of the period.
The more I thought about this troubled heroine, and the more I understood about The Play in its cultural and social context, the less I was able to dismiss Fanny as nothing more than a buzz-killing Miss Perfect.
After all, for much of the story, she is eaten up with jealousy as she watches Edmund fall for Mary, most especially during their interactions regarding said play—and who among us has not struggled with that singularly ugly emotion?
Most of all, she possesses a strength that few could rival.
She even has the courage to risk bringing up the slave trade as a topic of conversation with a family who likely benefits from that trade—and is answered with the resultant “dead silence.” She may not excel in the sort of sparkling social conversation that Mary has mastered, but in the final analysis, Fanny’s qualities count for a great deal more.
Yes, Edmund was kind to Fanny when she was a child. Slowly I began to understand that, in fact, the very act of juxtaposing such a pair with their amoral counterparts in the form of Mary Crawford and her brother Henry was a great part of its genius.