Around the first of the year, I at last read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Emma. Now, all I lack is Lady Susan, which I will hopefully get around to within the next year or so.
Up until this year, I had only ever seen the movie renditions of these two Austen works. I’m ashamed that I have gone so long without completing Austen’s works, while still claiming to be an avid fan. Overall, I’d say the Austen movies that I like fairly capture the stories and characters of Austen’s original works—that is, all except one. I love the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, but Fanny’s personality in the movie does not exactly reflect her character in the book. In the movie, Fanny Price is shown as opinionated, creative, strong-willed, and passionate about the social issues of the day. In the book, however, Fanny is an ordinary girl, observant and quiet, basically trying to get through day-to-day life. One thing that the two versions of this character have in common is that they know between good goings-on and bad, and they stick with the good. That being said, the book version of Fanny has more trouble getting her point across.
And then there’s Emma, whose title character is the absolute opposite of Fanny. In the book, Emma is outgoing, lively, and insists on getting her way—which often leads to trouble. It’s curious that I read Emma and Mansfield Park back-to-back. Doing so made me realize how different these characters really are from each other. They definitely would not have been friends. I mean, Emma is annoyed by Jane Fairfax’s reserved nature–imagine if she met Fanny!
Comparing the characters of Emma and Fanny inspired me to put together this little introvert/extrovert scale of all Jane Austen’s main heroines. Here’s what I came up with:
Some of these were a bit hard to place–should I swap Anne and Elinor or Catherine and Elizabeth? Maybe. But even the way it is, it’s curious to see how Jane Austen portrays the different personality types. But before heading into that, I’d like to briefly review the general connotations of introvert vs. extrovert. While creating the above Austen scale, I right clicked on the word “extrovert” in Microsoft Word to find listed among its synonyms the words “sociable,” “lively,” and “friendly.” On the other hand, the synonyms for “introvert” were “shy,” “withdrawn,” and “reclusive.” Quite a difference when considering how welcoming these definitions sound.
Now let’s see how Jane Austen portrays her characters. First of all, I’d like to point out that Austen writes equally about people across the scale. Fanny, Jane, Anne, and Elinor lean more to the introverted side of the scale. Through Austen’s descriptions, we see that these introverted characters are observant (hence the quote below from Mansfield Park), sensible, dependable, and keep their thoughts to themselves. Elizabeth, Catherine, Maryanne, and Emma lean toward the extroverted side of the scale. These characters are seen more in social settings, are lively, and state their thoughts and opinions openly.
All of Austen’s heroines are lovable in their own ways, but they all have their flaws. The most introverted character, for instance, is Fanny, who can be a pushover at times. Then there is the most extroverted, Emma, who often puts her foot in her mouth by saying things without thinking. No wonder people tend to like Elizabeth Bennett best of all. She is reasonably reserved, unlike her wild sister Lydia, but is easy in company and stands up for herself, though she does go a little overboard in her initial rejection of Mr. Darcy (but hey, he kind of deserved it, right?)
As an introvert myself, I’d like to say that it’s great to read an author who has written such beloved introverted characters. It’s clear that Austen values her characters’ sensible, observant natures. That being said, Austen’s extroverted characters are also lovable, full of vivacious wit. Instead of thinking of today’s usual connotations, it would be great if everyone could see the different personality types as they really are–both full of strengths and weaknesses.
And now only one question remains: where would Austen herself fall on the scale? I guess we’ll never know for sure…
This is the fifth part of my Jane Austen Series. Check out the rest of the series here!