Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Am I a Jane Austen Heroine?

I had to write an essay on Northanger Abbey this weekend, and what better way to procrastinate than taking personality quizzes about 19th-century literature?

Which Classic Female Literary Character Are you?

You're Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen!
Take this quiz!

Love the cute line drawings that illustrate the results of this quiz. And I'm happy to get Elizabeth Bennet as a result--doesn't every girl want to be Lizzy?--though at the same time it's disappointing that this is the most common outcome, with 41% of users obtaining it. (And that's a little far-fetched--it's not like 41% of all the girls I know are Lizzies, but wouldn't it be nice if they were!) Also, if I'm honest with myself, the Austen heroine I most identify with is Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility: I'm not nearly vivacious and mischievous enough to be Lizzy. Elinor--responsible, principled, considerate, but hiding her deeper emotions--is much closer to the real me. But Elinor wasn't an option on this quiz, though several Austen heroines are, as well as other iconic ladies like Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara.

But in this Austen-only quiz I get to be Elinor! (She's the second-most-common result.)

Which Jane Austen heroine are you?

You are Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility! You are sensible and possess great strength of understanding and coolness of judgement. Your affectionate heart feels deeply, however, you guard your emotions carefully, so that others might be ignorant of your feelings towards them.

Take this quiz!

I read all of Austen's novels the summer I turned 18, which IMO is the perfect age to do it, since most of her heroines are 16 to 21. And though I felt the greatest kinship to Elinor, I also identified with different aspects of nearly every heroine. Sometimes I'm naively unsure of how to behave in social situations, like Catherine Morland; sometimes I'm confident to the point of arrogance, like Emma Woodhouse. When I was younger, I considered myself a hopeless romantic, like Marianne Dashwood; I can still remember how that felt, but now I'm more of a wry Elizabeth Bennet. And though I don't really identify with Persuasion's Anne Elliot (maybe because she's significantly older than the other heroines), I still found her story involving and moving.

That leaves only one Austen heroine to whom I absolutely cannot relate--Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. Even in the early 1800s, readers had trouble with this character: Jane Austen's own mother called Fanny "insipid." And because our own era is even less patient with passive female characters, Fanny becomes increasingly hard to like.

What's funny is that on the surface, Fanny seems similar to Elinor Dashwood. Both are "good girls" who love and suffer deeply, but do not let the world see this. Quiet and introverted, they possess a strong moral code. However, their personality differences make it reasonable to like Elinor and dislike Fanny. Elinor is just introverted, but Fanny is timid. In social situations, she wants only to fade into the woodwork, she is so afraid of inconveniencing others or coming off as frivolous. (To those who say that Fanny's timidity is just a natural reaction toward relatives that belittle her, I direct you to Jane Eyre. That book proves that a woman in 19th-century literature can grow up a despised "poor relation" but retain her fighting spirit.)

Elinor will never be the life of the party either, but she enjoys intelligent conversation and low-key social situations. Her father dies when she is about 19 and it is up to Elinor to take responsibility for her mother and younger sisters. Yes, she's repressed: she keeps her emotions bottled up and, if she cries, she'll do it alone, in secret. But I'd rather be like that than like Fanny Price, who seems liable to burst into tears at the dinner table. I also can't imagine Fanny taking charge of anything, since she has so little self-confidence.

In short, I'd like to befriend Elinor--though she'd be hard to get to know, she'd make an intelligent, loyal and kind companion. But I don't believe I could ever befriend Fanny Price. I'd constantly have to encourage her to be more confident, plus I'd feel like she was judging me all the time. Then again, Fanny wouldn't want to be my friend either, since I wish to devote my life to the theatre--something she considers highly immoral!

Still, maybe I'm "protesting too much," as though I were afraid of what it would mean to identify with the timid and moralizing Fanny. Especially because a friend of mine saw The Jane Austen Book Club and said I reminded her of the character of "Prudie" (Emily Blunt), because I have bobbed hair and am apt to talk pretentiously about literature and French. Evidently each of the women in The Jane Austen Book Club parallels an Austen heroine and Prudie's analogue is Fanny Price. Oh dear.

P.S. Need a refresher course on Austen's female characters and their personalities? Try this funny and perceptive blog post about what jobs Jane Austen's heroines should have if they lived in the 21st century!


pemberlolly said...

Many have found difficulty relating to Fanny Price's character. She has been called an insipid doormat by many. I often find myself yelling at her while reading out of sheer frusteration. I think Jane Austen was attempting to create a good, gentle kind soul, so pure and reserved as a ploy against the evil and corruption in her world by such characters as Henry & Mary Crawford, and the underlying slavery subtext. Many say that Mansfield Park is a morality novel, and that Austen was attempting to move in a more serious direction after a ten year holiday from writing. What every her reasons, I find it dark and serious and interspective which makes me the same. I must temper this with doses of frivality to stay balanced! Thanks for posting this. Laurel Ann wwww.austenprose. wordpres.com

Marissa said...

Thanks for commenting. I hadn't realized Austen wrote "Mansfield Park" a full 10 years after "P&P" and can definitely see the shift in her writing style. But I agree with you that a bit of Elizabeth Bennet's humor and frivolity is just as necessary as Fanny Price's goodness and morality!

Webster Twelb said...

i once took a "Which Jane Austen character are you?" quiz..I was Emma Woodhouse..the next was Elizabeth Bennet..

Nice post..this is better than my How do I love Jane post...it's just terrible that I didn't got to read this post before I wrote mine..

A True Janian Reply said...

I agree that Fanny was timid, but she was no weakling, because she would not have Mr. Crawford, no matter the consequences--just as Jane Eyre would not have Mr. Rochester, even if she did love him. Neither settled. Fanny rejected the worldly Henry Crawford, and married Edmund, a clergyman. Jane rejected the repressed clergyman St. John Rivers, and married the worldly (but reformed) Mr. Rochester. I admire them both.