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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Why The World Needs Another Fanny Price More Than It Needs Another Elizabeth Bennet — guest post from Jacqueline Firkins!

Jacqueline Firkins, Hearts Strings and Other Breakable Things, Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, Austen in August, jane austen adaptations, young adult books, ya books, the book rat, book rat misty,
Later today, you'll get a chance to get your hands on an early copy of Jacqueline Firkins' debut retelling of Mansfield Park, Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things, but this morning, Jacqueline has stopped by to give us a defense of everyone's favorite whipping-girl, Fanny Price.
Click through to check it out and leave Jacqueline some love. And make sure to stop back later to enter the giveaway! And keep your eyes peeled, because Jacqueline will be back later this month to tackle everyone's favorite Austen bad boy...

Why The World Needs Another Fanny Price
More Than It Needs Another Elizabeth Bennet

By Jacqueline Firkins, author of Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things (HMHTeen 12/17/19)

I just Googled Pride and Prejudice retellings. Most lists for 2019 have about 12 titles. I’ve read 2 new releases this summer that aren’t on these lists, so I’m guessing the total number of novels currently in the re-P&P canon is in the thousands by now. I love Pride and Prejudice. It’s the ultimate enemies-to-lovers romance. The heroine’s the girl we all want to be. She’s strong-willed and speaks up for what she wants. She’s not afraid of shunning society’s expectations, a battle most women I know are still fighting. She drops perfectly timed one-liners that shut down her harshest critics. She amasses admiration from her friends, her family, the world’s hardest to impress man, and one irresistibly charming rake. She’s slightly less beautiful than her elder sister, a trait that somehow makes her relatable when she’s otherwise kind of perfect. Sure, she leaps to a hasty conclusion here and there, but we need a few obstacles to keep the pages turning. The love interest is a jerk at the beginning but by the end, he’s turning his entire life upside down to help the heroine. He also happens to be the richest man around, which even Lizzie admits, has its allure. It’s a pretty great fantasy, that whole “you’re more important than anything else in my life” idea. We could all use a guy like that. Though frankly I’d be glad to meet one who doesn’t feel the need to critique my dating profile or give me advice on subjects in which I hold advanced degrees.

In contrast to our beloved P&P, I offer up Mansfield Park, Austen’s much less admired work. This time our heroine doesn’t speak up for what she wants. She’s quiet. She likes gardens. A lot. She pines in silence. Her love interest spends years thinking she’s awesome but he only realizes she’s worth his attention in the final few pages of the novel. He spends the rest of the book lusting after a girl who’s a lot more like Lizzy Bennet, though shallower and more self-serving. As it happens, he’s not even rich. In fact, he wants to live as a humble clergyman. At first glance, this fantasy is far less alluring. However, when I was in high school—bookish, socially awkward, repellent to boys, and way less attractive than my older sister—I related to Fanny Price much more than I related to Lizzy Bennet. I always had a crush on a boy who didn’t like me back. Okay, I always had a crush on, like, six boys who didn’t like me back. I was quiet at parties or I avoided them altogether. I tried hard to be liked but never quite got the hang of it. I even gravitated to backstage work in the theatre, as Fanny does when her friends and relatives put on a play within the novel. I liked putting myself in situations where I could observe rather than participate. I was as relieved to find Fanny Price as I was to find Jane Eyre. I loved them both as though they were my friends and confidantes. They got me.

The world of YA romance has changed since I was a teenager. In the 80s and 90s, girls in YA romances were almost universally beautiful. It didn’t matter if the plotlines were set in contemporary realism or in the sword-and-horses fantasies I devoured. The girls were nice to look at, even if they didn’t realize it until partway through the novel, usually when a guy pointed it out. Guys could be all kinds of things—smart, athletic, awkward, ambitious, verbose, geeky, pompous, fearful, bloodthirsty, cursed into being a hideous beast—but with few exceptions (at least in the hetero-normative stories I was exposed to) the male love interest fell for a girl because he liked looking at her. He was the subject. She was the object. Eventually people caught on. A backlash swept in. Girls needed more agency. We started seeing girls who were strong. They wielded weapons. They won contests and ruled realms. They made their own money, created their own destinies. They didn’t need saving. Sadly, they’re still almost universally beautiful. In the push to create strong role models for young women, we haven’t gone far in diversifying those roles. Instead, we’ve heightened the demands that girls now be strong and beautiful. Which leaves me to ask, why can’t a girl who’s shy, awkward, not defined by her beauty, and not always strong have a love story too? The stories are out there, but they’re few and far between compared to the stories about the beautiful, feisty girls.

I spent my adolescence thinking I didn’t deserve romantic love because I wasn’t conventionally attractive. I looked fine. I fit into a crowd. I spent most of my time trying to improve my drawing skills or kick my nemesis’ a** at calculus, not freaking out about my looks. But I cared about them. I hated my skin. I hid my body in baggy clothes. I avoided cameras. And all those stories I read added up to an underlying insecurity I’ve never shaken. I’m glad we have so many Lizzie Bennets to draw from now, emerging from different cultures, with distinctly different voices, settings, and goals. I enjoy every last one of them. But I think shy girls need to see themselves represented in love stories too. Girls who find reasons to skip parties. Girls who never tell their crushes how they feel. Girls who don’t walk into ballrooms while the crowd gasps in astonishment. Even girls who like gardens. A lot.

Just as the YA and romance communities are starting to see more diversity of representation in race and sexual orientation (though there’s a long way to go!) I’d like to see more heroines whose strength and beauty are understated or at least complicated. Girls who don’t wield weapons. Girls who think up the right thing to say 37 hours after the moment has passed, after they’ve considered dozens of other options that make them feel like a bonehead. Girls who eat ice cream with their dog on a Friday night while their classmates rock out at Karen’s awesome party. Let’s face it. Karen’s kind of a jerk anyway. And the girl with the ice cream and the dog and the picture of irises on her bedroom walls deserves love too. I can’t give that to her, but I can give her the fantasy I was missing when I was a teenager. The one that would’ve made me feel like I was worth loving, too.

My version of Fanny Price has a complicated relationship with her appearance, but it’s not what defines her. Her artistic talent, kindness, intelligence, and relationships are more important. The guy she’s in love with never says “You’re so beautiful” and suddenly her self worth changes. The kind of love she’s seeking doesn’t work like that, and she has to find her confidence on her own terms, as do we all.

So bring on the Lizzie Bennets. Bring the Emma Woodhouses and the Marianne Dashwoods, too. They’re all fabulous. But save room every once in a while for the Fanny Prices. You might not always notice these girls standing shyly in the corners, but they’re there. Just like I was. Just like I still am, looking for the perfect love story. At least now I know that if I don’t find it, I can write it.

about the author
Jacqueline's a writer, costume designer, and lover of beautiful things. She's on the fulltime faculty in the Department of Theatre & Film at the University of British Columbia where she also takes any writing class they’ll let her into. When not obsessing about where to put the buttons or the commas, she can be found running by the ocean, eating excessive amounts of gluten, listening to earnest love songs, and pretending her dog understands every word she says.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
Click here to return to the master list of Austen in August posts!


  1. You know, P&P will probably always been my favourite Austen novel, but you make some really good points here! I think many of us (myself included) can relate to some of Fanny's insecurities!

  2. haven't read Mansfield Park yet

  3. Excellent commentary. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I agree. As much as I love P&P and Elizabeth Bennet, I would love to see more books featuring other Austen heroines like Fanny Price.

  5. Wonderful post! I especially loved this line: "I’d like to see more heroines whose strength and beauty are understated or at least complicated." I'm excited to read your book. Congratulations on its release!

  6. Loved your thoughtful post, Jacqueline! You make an excellent argument for Fanny as a protagonist :). Congrats on your upcoming book -- it sounds wonderful!

  7. I love this and I think Fanny Price sounds amazing! :)
    Megan S.

  8. "Girls who think up the right thing to say 37 hours after the moment has passed, after they’ve considered dozens of other options that make them feel like a bonehead." >> Yes, this! I can totally relate :D I definitely agree that it would be great to see more introverted heroines in YA -- and ones where introversion is not seen as a quality of the protagonist that needs to be "overcome" in some way, where it ends with her "coming out of her shell" and being so much happier because of it. It sends the message that there's something wrong with introversion, or that it's inferior to extroversion, when there isn't and it's not.

  9. Well, now after reading this, I want to read this author's book even more. I loved reading about Fanny Brice for the very same reasons, I definitely identified with her. I'm all for heroines who are different, who aren't the obvious love interest choice just by looking at her, there are all kinds of women and girls in the world so there should be all kinds of them finding their happily ever afters in books, too.

  10. This post makes such great points. While Lizzy is my favourite Austen heroine, I have room in my heart for all of them. There are so many P&P-inspired books that it's refreshing to see the other books get some love, and I will definitely add this one to my wish list.


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