Review on Lecture on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park by Dr. Amy Robinson at St. Petersburg Episcopal Cathedral at noon on Dec. 18, 2012

By Dr. Angela Baisley*

My husband and I walked downtown to the Cathedral and were joined by JASNA member Alicia Lopez for the noon lecture by Dr. Amy Robinson.

There was a good crowd (mostly seniors as it was a workday) but included some USF-St. Pete professors, peers of Amy. Amy had previously lectured there on Trollope (the subject of her dissertation). The Canon introduced her, and we discovered that she was also a graduate of Eckerd College.

In our discussion prior to her lecture, I told Amy that Fanny Price was my least favorite of Austen’s creations; I thought her sort of a wimp, very predictable and uninteresting.

To begin the lecture, as Amy showed some slides to illustrate what a “Ha-Ha” was in Jane Austen’s day. It was a sunken fence, necessary to keep the sheep out of the lawn but hidden from view so that it would not mar the spectacle of such grand estates as Mr. Rushmore’s Southerton. The lecturer allowed that we do not often have to “translate” Austen to the present, but sometimes it is necessary.

The subject of the lecture was how our heroine, Fanny Price, was often an observer rather than a participant in the goings-on at the Bertram estate and elsewhere. However, Amy was to present an additional view of Fanny, that she was also most courageous when the need for bravery arose.

The first example was Fanny at the visit to Mr. Rushmore’s estate. The second was on the occasion of the theatricals to be presented at Mansfield Park. Of course both involve the obvious flirtation of Mary Crawford with Edmund Bertram, and Maria Bertram’s ruse to get rid of Mr. Rushmore and be with Henry Crawford. In all, Fanny is an observer, always disapproving silently.

As to her courage, Fanny defies her most beloved uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram when he bids her to accept the marriage proposal of Henry Crawford. Fanny owed Sir Bertram a great deal, as he had treated her almost as a member of the family and had borne the expense of her upbringing. For her to tell him “NO” took much more courage than, for example, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice in her refusal to marry Mr. Collins. All of a sudden, I had a different opinion or Fanny.

Amy concluded with an indication of perhaps a weakness in the ending of Mansfield Park as compared with Pride and Prejudice.

Of course all ends happily for Fanny, but the last chapter is more of a summing up that does not involve any conversations between Fanny and Edmund, even as they are united, unlike Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy who do have such an opportunity and who do both increase in stature.

Fanny and Edmund do not have the opportunity to show that Edmund has truly “grown” and that they understand each other. Likewise, Maria and Aunt Norris are merely banished, but Julia is allowed to escape in more favorable circumstances. And we have Fanny’s sister, Susan, to come to replace Fanny in Lady Bertram’s need for a companion.

After a lively question-and-answer period, Amy was presented with a framed poster (quite handsome) announcing the lecture (which was also promoted that morning on WUSF-FM 89.7). And I concluded that Fanny did indeed have more spunk than I had granted her! My husband, Bob, resolved to read Mansfield Park again.

*I became a Jane Austen fan while in high school. A long, long time ago, since I just attended my 50th college reunion at Wake Forest University. I've been a member of JASNA quite a while, and I read about our group in a JASNA publication, around 2010 (it even had Terry's picture!) I was a member of the North Carolina chapter of JASNA while we lived in Asheville, NC, but since the meetings were all in Raleigh (a four-hour drive from Asheville), I was never able to attend. They do have a wonderful on-line newsletter, however. Here, I have enjoyed every meeting I've been able to attend (Sorry to have missed the October meeting, but we were out of the country). I am a retired educator (many years in the classroom and administration), and I facilitate video/discussion groups at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Eckerd. I'm also an alum of Duke U. and FSU (where I got my terminal degree, PhD.)