You all know those Jane Austen quizzes that pop up online: Which Austen Heroine Are You? Which Hero is Your True Love? Does anyone ever get Fanny Price? I’m serious here: I’ve scored as Anne Elliot, Emma, and Elizabeth Bennet (not at the same time), but never as Fanny Price. Poor Fanny. She is so hard for modern readers. Even we who like her sometimes want to slap a little backbone into her, want her to tell off Aunt Norris just once. So I was disturbed to find on the Austen-L mailing list page that Fanny Price and I have something in common: our Myer-Briggs type.
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 1996 11:07:22 -0500
The discussion about Fanny Price has been interesting, and leads me to offer my thoughts. My background is in psychology, and I couldn’t help but to try to identify what puts so many Austen fans off about this particular heroine.
I believe that in Fanny, Jane Austen has developed a perfect INFP personality type (in the Jungian or “Myers-Briggs” classification). INFP stands for Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling and Perceptive as dominant traits. In a word: an “Idealist”. Interestingly, only 1 percent of the population fits into this group.
Consider this brief portrait: INFPs—
- present a calm, pleasant face to the world.
- are seen as reticent and even shy.
- demonstrate cool reserve toward others, but inside are anything but distant.
- care deeply about a few special persons or causes.
- have a profound sense of honor derived from internal values. (This is not necessarily religious morality—they have their own sense of integrity and morality.)
- are willing to make unusual sacrifices for someone or something believed in.
- seek unity of body, mind, and soul.
- often have a tragic motif running through their lives, which others may not detect.
- show deep commitment to the ‘good’ and are always alert for the ‘bad’.
- are adaptable to new information and ideas.
- are well aware of people and their feelings and relate well to most people while keeping some psychological distance.
- prefer to live in harmony and will go to great lengths to avoid constant conflict.
- tend to be compliant, and may even prefer to have decisions made for them, until their value system is violated—then they will not budge from their ideals.
- will often be found in service careers— social work, ministry, teaching (or in Fanny’s case, serving as a companion to her aunt).
I think the only way she might have been persuaded to marry Henry Crawford was if he had had a profound reformation, so that she was able to believe that not only was his love true and deep, but her values of honesty (integrity) were shared. I believe she could accept less of a passionate love from Edmund Bertram because she believed him to share her same values.
I don’t have the psychological background to debate Theresa’s take on INFPs in general, (anyone? Bueller?) though I do think it’s a good portrait of Fanny. But do I share these characteristics that put “so many Austen fans off about this particular heroine”? I’m really finding it surprisingly discouraging that had I lived in Austenland I would only have had Edmund Bertram to look forward to!
Come to think of it, these characteristics describe Anne Elliot as well as they do Fanny Price. And yet Anne is not so annoying as Fanny, not so very self-effacing. So I think there is some hope for we INFPs after all. We just need to be born rich, rather than as a poor relation given away when we’re young!
Readers, what do you think? Would you be disturbed to be compared to Fanny Price? Do you think Anne Elliot is like Fanny, but born into better circumstances?
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Miss Susan D. asks: The Burning Question. Anyone who spent their formative years reading Georgette Heyer and rounding them off forever with Jane Austen understands that, the tyranny of patriarchy and primogeniture being what they are, it is the Male Heir who must inherit an entailed estate. Not only male himself, but male in his antecedents. Why then does the heir to Longbourn bear the name Collins? Clearly, he has some distaff in his Bennet family history, perhaps Mr. Bennet’s grandfather’s sister’s grandson. That being the case, why wouldn’t a son of one of the girls, a wee Wickham or a baby Bingley or darling Darcy, be prime heir material here? I’ve always wondered. Help me sleep at night, dear Mrs. Fitzpatrick.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick answers: Ooh, Miss Susan, that’s a tricky one! I used to feel superior to Mrs. Bennet when “Jane and Elizabeth attempted to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason . . .”, but having looked into the subject, I feel a new sympathy for her. Luckily, our friends on the Austen-L mailing list (hosted at The Republic of Pemberley) have delved into this question already. Briefly, you are right that if all the strict-male-line heirs have died out, precedence is given to the estate owner’s daughters—the Bennet sisters—rather than to the sons of his sisters, his cousins, or his aunts. (The sons of the Bennet girls aren’t relevant, though I must say my blood runs cold at the thought of a wee Wickham!) Therefore, Mr. Collins is not Mr. Bennet’s grandfather’s sister’s grandson.
So, the Austen-L’s conclude, either one of Mr. Bennet’s male ancestors or one of Mr. Collins’s male ancestors must have changed his name on receiving an inheritance. This was not so uncommon; it happened three times in Jane Austen’s immediate family. The very emphasis on “passing on the name” that entails emphasize meant that people would cheat by adopting a boy and having him change his name. Like Frank Churchill in Emma, whose father was Mr. Weston but who was adopted by the Churchills and became their heir. This leads me to wonder whether Frank would also inherit Mr. Weston’s property if the second Mrs. Weston had a son. Is Frank legally a Weston and a Churchill? Hmm . . .
Actually, I would guess that Jane Austen, having this option open to her, preferred not to have two characters named Mr. Bennet. So there you have it. Sleep well, Miss Susan!