Characters You Love and Loathe by Allison Symes

Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. 

I loathe Fanny Price from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park -- always have done and always will. She is too insipid a character for my liking. 

It has struck me she is too reliant on rotten things happening to other characters rather than trying to make her own happiness. Yes, those other characters deserve their comeuppance but come on, Miss Price, do something positive for yourself, will you? 

I know I can’t judge by the standards of our time, right? Fanny Price reflects a different era, right?

Okay, but by contrast, I love Elizabeth Bennet, who knows her own mind, is flawed, and holds out for what she wants. Same author, same era, two well known creations, one of whom is significantly better than the other! I guess this proves no writer gets it right all the time. I take some comfort from that.

Characters for me make or break a story. I have to get behind them even if I don’t like them or want them to fail. I was torn with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It is the only occasion when I wouldn’t have worried much if the Sheriff of Nottingham had won though that had everything to do with the late, great Alan Rickman’s wonderful acting.

As a flash fiction writer, I invent characters all the time. I’ve always loved that aspect of story telling so this is win-win for me. I know I loathe insipid characters. I also know I’m going to do my level best not to write any!

So I like to get my characters doing things, making mistakes, upsetting the old apple cart for other characters and so on. My characters have to deserve their reward. This is where I am glad writers don’t meet their characters for real in an alternative universe or anything of that nature. I suspect I might be in for an ear bashing from mine.

I have a soft spot for the rough diamond character (think Del Boy/Derek Trotter from Only Fools and Horses), the well meaning one (Rodney Trotter!), and the lovable but dim one (Trigger -- come on, you knew I’d pick him for that category. He is a shoe-in for it!).

With all of these, I can see where the characters are coming from and to an extent why they are the way they are. I have to understand that in my characters. 

For me, that matters. If I can’t get inside their head, I’ve got no business writing their stories up. If they don’t grip me, why should anyone else be interested? I plan my “people” (not all are human incidentally) and by asking questions can get an outline together quickly. 

There is one positive to the characters you love to hate. Analyse what it is you dislike. You can take what you learn here and apply it to your own stories. I do know I loathe the Fanny Price type. I’ll leave her in the pages of Mansfield Park where she belongs. 


Sally Prue said…
I'm afraid I can't agree that Fanny Price is a failure. She works for me!
Peter Leyland said…
Ah poor Fanny - but then there's Mary Crawford, Elizabeth Bennet with a bit more edge...
Allison Symes said…
Many thanks, Sally and Peter.

I'm glad Fanny Price does work for you, Sally, but she has never gripped me but Elizabeth and Anne Elliott and Emma - oh yes, I love those.
Griselda Heppel said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Griselda Heppel said…
Oh dear poor Fanny Price. Once again I have to rush to her defence. She is not insipid. As a poor relation she has no status in the household, in contrast to Emma (handsome, clever and rich), and Elizabeth Bennett who, while not wealthy, is secure as her fathers favourite in the family. A challenge for Jane Austen to make a heroine out of someone traditionally downtrodden and you clearly feel she doesn’t succeed. But Fanny shows extraordinary courage in sticking to what she knows to be right when everyone else puts huge pressure on to her to give in to what they want to do.. When even Edmund, her one ally, disapproves of her stance, this is the worst thing of all, but still she holds fast. Standing on your own against public opinion takes a lot of guts!
Allison Symes said…
Many thanks, Griselda. You make very good points but I'm afraid Fanny as a character still doesn't work for me.

One of my favourite aspects to the Harry Potter series is when Dumbledore awards Neville points for standing up to his friends and that I thought was well done. I just wasn't convinced by Mansfield Park.
Griselda Heppel said…
Fair enough! And thank you for alluding to that wonderful moment at the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Totally agree that Rowling did that well. I can't help wondering if she had Fanny Price at the back of her mind, as it chimes with the toughest test for Fanny, when her dear cousin Edmund's disapproval cuts far deeper than the people she cares about less. Exactly Dumbledore's point.

Oh, and I love Neville Longbottom too.
I must admit that Mansfield Park is my least favourite of Jane Austen's novels, and I think it's because both the main characters are a bit disappointing compared to other JA creations. I suppose maybe a successful tv adaptation of it might make a difference, but that's often a matter of opinion too.
Peter Leyland said…
Be warned. If all this criticism of my favourite Jane Austen novel doesn't stop, I'm resigning my position as secretary of the Mary Crawford fan club...
I listened to the recent Mansfield Park on Radio 4 (having read it years ago and forgotten most of it). My additional thought to this discussion is, I rather think that as a poor relation back in the very early 1800s, Fanny was not able - both by conventions of the day and by lack of social training in 'holding her own' at home, to stand up to people and situations which ELizabeth Bennet etc would have been able to. She'd have a weight of expectation to simply be grateful for what her relatives had done for her, to have a nicer home, physically, than she would've done if let with her impecunious parents and many younger siblings. She's been saved from being Mother's 'drudge' in caring for the smaller ones and probably nursing Mother and Father through what they had of old age after that. So, she was entrusted with being careful, mouse-like, and biddable, before daring to even think what she herself wanted or who she 'was'. In creating a dramatised version in 2022, the adaptor(s) have to make the drama listenable/watchable, updating as far as they can towards how we think today. Getting that balance right isn't always done the best it could be as it involves one one hand how true should they be to the original for the story to work, and what in our time would still make it work but remove the historical constraints central to the characters' behaviours? Sometimes, I think that being closer to the historical conventions helps us understand more than the particular story - we can also see why in history certain things were done/allowed to happen, which we thoroughly disapprove of, and that helps us understand events back then. In Jane Austen's day, I hope Fanny made a few people think about how poor relations and especially kfemale ones lost out!
Peter Leyland said…
There is a memorable film directed by Patricia Rozema (1999) which alters some aspects of the novel and which I personally thought was outstanding

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