Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A third Jane Austen character speaks

Fanny Price, what think you of this shrubbery?

"This is pretty — very pretty," said Fanny, looking around her as they were thus sitting together one day: "Every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as any thing, or capable of becoming any thing; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps in another three years we may be forgetting — almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!" And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: "If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient — at others, so bewildered and so weak — and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond controul! — We are to be sure a miracle every way — but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out."

From Mansfield Park (1814)
Fanny's slight revision — "we may be forgetting — almost forgetting" — carries great poignance. Her past life with her immediate family is something she would never want to forget. Her inferior status among the members of her extended family is something she is never allowed to forget.

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