Misguided Concealment

This is sixth in a series of guest posts written by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial.

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In many novels, much of the drama revolves around a concealment. These passages are especially irksome because great harm often comes from the concealment, and it would be so simple for the informed character to say something and avert the catastrophe.

Often these concealments arise from some romantic fancy. In Far From the Madding Crowd, Gabriel Oak conceals Sergeant Troy’s former relationship from Bathsheba out of a mistaken sense of obligation to Fanny Robin. In Bleak House, Lady Dedlock conceals her past from her husband, even though speaking out would completely disarm her enemy, because she fears losing her husband’s esteem. Other characters feel that it would be wrong to speak ill of someone, even when not speaking injures another person—a person who really has a right to know.

Whereas I have come to expect misguided concealments in novels such as those by Dickens and Hardy, I was surprised to meet one in Mansfield Park.1 Happily, it has no effect on the outcome of the story, but it is still there!

Fanny Price keeps important information from Edmund. As Edmund’s only confidant, she knows that, although he is deeply in love with Mary Crawford, several things would keep him from proposing to her: Mary’s love of money, love of prestige, and contempt for Edmund’s profession. In fact, these did at one point decide Edmund against marrying her. After his ordination, he purposely stayed away from Mansfield to avoid seeing Mary, intending to return only after she left.

Fanny is uncertain as to how much Mary’s fondness for Edmund may have overcome her worldly notions, and she must, in any case, leave Edmund to his own judgment. What good would it do to convey doubts and suspicions to a mind accustomed to excusing them? And what right had she to do so—would it not be only indulging her own envy?

But while in Portsmouth, Fanny receives confirmation of her fears in writing from Mary.2 There, in Mary’s own handwriting, is evidence that she loves money and position in society to the point of wishing Edmund’s brother dead, and looks forward to Edmund’s profession being concealed as a past disgrace!

Despite any attending awkwardness, I think Fanny should have forwarded Mary’s letter to Edmund. He had a right to know.

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1There is a misguided concealment in Emma, which is crucial to the plot, but Austen handles it much differently than the other authors mentioned. Also, in Pride and Prejudice, Jane and Elizabeth choose not to publish Wickham’s true character because he is leaving soon.

2“Poor young man! If he is to die, there will be two poor young men less in the world; and with a fearless face and bold voice would I say to any one, that wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving of them. It was a foolish precipitation last Christmas [Edmund’s ordination], but the evil of a few days may be blotted out in part. Varnish and gilding hide many stains. It will be but the loss of the Esquire after his name. With real affection, Fanny, like mine, more might be overlooked.”—Mansfield Park, Chapter XLV

If Only

This is fifth in a series of guest posts written by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial.

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37th copyMansfield Park is a tragedy. Its readers often exclaim, “If only!”

The “if only” usually refers to the marriages of Fanny & Henry, Mary & Edmund. What happiness for them all! What fun for the readers to enjoy Henry’s and Mary’s felicity, and to see Fanny and Edmund learn to laugh at themselves, as Mr. Darcy did in Pride and Prejudice.

But this is impossible. As Austen wrote the story, tragedy was inevitable. Although she convinces us that Fanny and Henry could be truly happy together, she states that Fanny would only have married Henry after “a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.”1 And, sadly, it seems that Edmund and Mary would not have been happy together.

In contrast to Henry, who, within a short time of falling in love with Fanny, began to change his actions2, Mary did not change for love of Edmund, although her affection continued for many months. In conversation, Henry moderated his tone and topics to Fanny, but Mary sharpened her tongue against Edmund. She ridiculed his principles rather than trying to understand them.

Also, Mary despised Edmund’s profession and would have been discontent with his income. Whereas marriage to Fanny would have been Henry’s moral salvation, marriage to Mary would have been Edmund’s moral condemnation. And Henry’s moral salvation—through Fanny, at least—could only happen by that sacrifice of Edmund.

And we all know what happens when neither of these couples marry. A tragedy.3

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1Chapter 48, Mansfield Park.

2I chose “actions” as distinct from “principles”. Henry did think about serious subjects more seriously while courting Fanny, but ultimately did not change his principles.

3Although Edmund did suffer deeply, this was a tragedy primarily for the Henry and Mary, as, ultimately, Fanny and Edmund lived happily ever after.

Fanny Was Right

This is third in a series of guest posts written by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial.

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“[Sir Thomas’s] displeasure against herself she trusted . . . would now be done away. She should be justified. Mr. Crawford would have fully acquitted her conduct in refusing him”1

To Sir Thomas, Henry’s and Maria’s elopement vindicated Fanny’s refusal. In this, Sir Thomas’s judgment was shallow. Fanny did not reject Henry because she foresaw scandal and disgrace. Henry did not need to be wicked enough to run off with someone else’s wife in order to be a bad choice for Fanny. Her refusal was formed on standards which Sir Thomas did not share and events of which he was not aware. These standards needed no later proof to validate them.

26th copyAt the time of Henry’s proposal, Fanny’s knowledge of him was overwhelmingly bad. At almost every meeting, Henry flirted and trifled with an engaged woman—a circumstance which Sir Thomas never learned of. Henry also spoke flippantly about matters which should have commanded his respect. When Fanny said, “I cannot approve his character. . . . I am persuaded that he does not think, as he ought, on serious subjects”2 she had every reason to think so. It would have been foolish to entrust herself, and any children she might have, to such a man, no matter how rich or charming he was.

There was also the fact that Fanny did not love Henry. Among the characters, Sir Thomas alone would disagree that it is wrong to marry someone you do not love. When Edmund tells Fanny, “You did not love him; nothing could have justified your accepting him”3, he is only saying what most people would believe. Even worldly-minded Mary and Henry censure any woman who, “would ever give her hand without her heart.”4 Marrying without love is a wrong not only against yourself, but also against the one you marry.5 To marry Henry when she was in love with another would have been doing him a double wrong.6

Not only did Fanny not love Henry, she did not even like him. His society was irksome to her—both as a suitor and as a friend.“His attentions were always—what I did not like”7 & “his spirits often oppress me”.8 This is the only reason for rejecting Henry that Fanny felt comfortable telling her uncle. But Sir Thomas did not understand the nature of liking: “There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach.”9,10

Fanny’s rejection of Henry is not evidence that she was a prig or a prophet. Rather, it shows that she had common sense and common justice. No matter how imperfect her knowledge of him was, or how he may have changed afterward, Fanny was right to refuse Henry.

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1Mansfield Park, ch. 47

2Ibid., ch. 35

3Ibid., ch. 35

4Ibid., ch. 5

5Austen censures Rushworth for marrying a woman who he knows doesn’t love him:

“[Maria] had despised him, and loved another; and he had been very much aware that it was so. The indignities of stupidity, and the disappointments of selfish passion, can excite little pity. His punishment followed his conduct,” ch. 48

6Austen’s characters do not marry out of a silly sense of duty, especially when their hearts are otherwise engaged (not like Laura Fairly in The Woman in White).

7Mansfield Park, ch. 32

8Ibid., ch. 35

9His speech continues, “Here is a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, with everything to recommend him: not merely situation in life, fortune, and character, but with more than common agreeableness, with address and conversation pleasing to everybody. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day; you have now known him some time.”, ch. 32

10I am reminded of Aunt Stanbury in He Knew He Was Right: “I never heard of such a thing in my life. Not love him! And why shouldn’t you love him? He’s a gentleman. Everybody respects him. He’ll have plenty to make you comfortable all your life!”

Well-Suited

Today is the last day of May, but it is not the end of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial year. This is a guest post by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter. She is writing several more guest posts in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial, which will be posted throughout June. Also check out other continuing celebrations.

Each time I read Mansfield Park, I am disappointed that Fanny and Henry do not marry. Henry is charming and lively, and becomes down-right attractive when he starts to take life seriously. Fanny and he really seem to make a good couple. Austen took care that her readers would feel this way.

22nd copyThe first glimpse of this is after the proposal, when the family is sitting in the drawing room after dinner. Henry reads aloud, and his reading is so compelling that all Fanny’s determination to ignore him fails her, and her eyes are fixed on him. “His acting had first taught Fanny the pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all his acting before her again . . . with greater enjoyment.”1 Considering that Fanny’s pleasures in life were few, shared literary taste was a strong tie.

Afterwards, when Fanny talks over Henry’s proposal with Edmund, he says, “[Henry] is lively, you are serious; but so much the better: his spirits will support yours.”2 Although the remark stems from Edmund’s infatuation with Mary, we at once see the justice of it. Fanny needs someone who can make her laugh and can help her stand up to the Aunt Norrises of the world. And Henry needs someone whose sobriety and stability could keep him from the errors of hasty action. Their temperaments complement each other.

In Portsmouth, Fanny discovers that Henry shares her love of nature: “They often stopt with the same sentiment and taste, . . . he was sufficiently open to the charms of nature, and very well able to express his admiration.”3 Fanny had often felt that others did not share her fascination, and that Edmund was her only companion in this, but in Henry she found another sympathizer.

While talking together, Henry points out to Fanny that they have a common interest in the poor. While her interest stems chiefly from compassion, his is steadied by a sense of justice and good management. “It was pleasing to hear him speak so properly; here he had been acting as he ought to do. To be the friend of the poor and the oppressed! Nothing could be more grateful to her . . .”4

Henry also shows during his visit to Portsmouth that he would work well with Fanny’s family. He respects them even when they are not respectable, and shows an instinctive delicacy towards Fanny’s feelings regarding them. When he is gone, Fanny reflects how much she would like to be able to invite her sister to live with her, and she “could fancy his entering into a plan of that sort most pleasantly.”5

Paradoxically, Austen takes as many pains before Henry’s proposal to prove that Fanny and Henry were ill-suited, as she takes afterward to prove them well-suited. And then she turns and destroys the castle in the air that she was building.

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1Chapter XXXIV

2Chapter XXX, I am not suggesting that spouses are morally responsible for the actions of each other, only that good couples are better together than apart. Good couples grow together in great part by helping each other grow.

3Chapter XLI

4Ibid.

5Chapter XLIV

Henry in Love

“Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter has agreed to write several guest posts for my blog in honor of Mansfield Park‘s bicentenary. They will be posted over the next month or so.

The 9th of May was the bicentennial of Mansfield Park’s publication. To celebrate, I walked up to the library to borrow the book for the first time with my own card, conscious that Fanny’s feelings were echoing in my own heart, “amazed at being anything in propria persona; . . . to be a renter, a chuser of books!”

This was not my first reading. I had read Mansfield Park at least twice since my graduation; but the complexity of the novel rewards revisiting.

Henry in Love

Reading through Mansfield Park this month, perhaps for the fourth time, I realized what it meant that Henry Crawford was in love with Fanny. I’m not sure what I thought before —perhaps that his love sprang only from vanity, lust, novelty, or the pleasure of discovery and pursuit. Now I think that I know.

Frontispiece copyHenry wanted to hold Fanny’s hand. He wanted her to lean on his arm while they talked of plans for their future. Hearing her opinions fascinated, excited, and engrossed him. Her conversation was intelligent and informed and eager to be more so. When they spoke together they were conversing, not flirting.

Henry trusted Fanny completely, and felt that with her he would have a family security which he had not known before, as he had been orphaned and raised by a dysfunctional couple. She made him feel like a man—that he needed to be responsible and mature in order to care for her and inspire her respect.

Fanny’s principles gave new life to Henry’s own good nature. Possessions and interests became duties through Fanny’s eyes. This perspective gave Henry new zeal when he visited his estate. Kindness and ability as a manager he already had, but Fanny’s vision gave him purpose.

While other women had flattered his vanity, Fanny animated his life. Not only were his eyes pleased with her beauty, but his mind and spirit were satisfied. It was easy to imagine her as his wife.

Mansfield Park is a tragedy—the tragedy of how Henry Crawford “lost the woman whom he had rationally, as well as passionately loved.”

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Using the word “spirit” in a non-religious sense feels awkward to me, but I think the use is appropriate. It means “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character”, which is exactly what I mean here.

Spring and Mansfield Park

“[T]he trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination” (Ch. 46)

Autumn 1Autumn is considered to be a theme in Jane Austen’s Persuasion — the last book she completed before her death. When its heroine Anne Elliot thinks she will have to leave for Bath in September, she grieves, thinking she will have “to forego all the influence so sweet and so sad of the autumnal months in the country” (ch. 5). Thankfully, she is called to stay with her sister Mary instead. Thus she is able to enjoy autumn in the country — and meet again Captain Wentworth, the man she had broken with eight years before, but still loves. She finds him still angry with her and courting another young woman. One day, walking out with them, her sister, and a few others, she thinks,

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. (Ch. 10)

Autumn 2Her meditations are suspended while listening to a conversation between Captain Wentworth and the other young woman. “The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.” Eventually, of course, misunderstandings are overcome and Anne finds that her enduring love for Captain Wentworth is reciprocated.

I find it appropriate that Mansfield Park was published in the spring, for, if Persuasion is Jane Austen’s autumnal novel, it is Mansfield Park that most reminds me of spring. Like autumn, spring is a poetic season, and Fanny Price is one of Jane Austen’s most romantic heroines, with her true love for poetry and nature. When she is sent to Portsmouth to visit her family, she realizes that she is sacrificing the delight of watching the advance of spring in the country.

Spring 1It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passing March and April in a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her. What animation, both of body and mind, she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods. To be losing such pleasures was no trifle; to be losing them, because she was in the midst of closeness and noise, to have confinement, bad air, bad smells, substituted for liberty, freshness, fragrance, and verdure, was infinitely worse (Ch. 45)

In May, she joyfully returns to Mansfield Park.

Fanny had been everywhere awake to the difference of the country since February; but when they entered the Park her perceptions and her pleasures were of the keenest sort. It was three months, full three months, since her quitting it, and the change was from winter to summer. Her eye fell everywhere on lawns and plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination. (Ch. 46)

Spring 2 Spring 3 Spring 4

Spring is a time of freshness and new beginnings, a time of beauty and of change. At Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford are offered a chance at a new life, the opportunity to change for the better. Mary falls in love with Edmund Bertram.

[W]ithout his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen, and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule: he talked no nonsense; he paid no compliments; his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself. (Ch. 7)

Spring 5When Miss Crawford returns to London, she tells Fanny, “You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large. You all give me a feeling of being able to trust and confide in you, which in common intercourse one knows nothing of.” (Ch. 36). Like her brother, Mary feels the attractiveness and security of virtue and goodness. Henry Crawford falls in love with Fanny Price.

Henry Crawford had too much sense not to feel the worth of good principles in a wife, though he was too little accustomed to serious reflection to know them by their proper name; but when he talked of her having such a steadiness and regularity of conduct, such a high notion of honour, and such an observance of decorum as might warrant any man in the fullest dependence on her faith and integrity, he expressed what was inspired by the knowledge of her being well principled and religious. (Ch. 30)

Spring 6While courting Fanny, Henry becomes more and more gentle, more considerate. Sadly, however, neither Henry nor Mary are ultimately willing to make the sacrifices needed to obtain this happiness. Mary alienates Edmund by her worldliness and inconsiderateness and Henry loses his chance to win Fanny by indulging his vanity in an attempt to win the smiles of another man’s wife, Maria Rushworth. He runs away with Maria, although they eventually separate. Both Henry and Mary long suffer regret, while Maria “must withdraw … to a retirement and reproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character.” (Ch. 48).

Fanny Price Quotations

Quotations from Fanny Price, the romantic, high-minded heroine of Mansfield Park:

%22Spring Flowers%22 by Claude Monet“Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’” (Ch. 6)

“I cannot rate so very highly the love or good-nature of a brother who will not give himself the trouble of writing anything worth reading to his sisters, when they are separated.” (Ch. 7)

“I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’” (Ch. 9)

“[T]o sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” (Ch. 9)

Fanny agreed to it, and had the pleasure of seeing him continue at the window with her, in spite of the expected glee; and of having his eyes soon turned, like hers, towards the scene without, where all that was solemn, and soothing, and lovely, appeared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. “Here’s harmony!” said she; “here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here’s what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.” (Ch. 11)

%22Young Woman Drawing%22 by Marie Denise Villers“How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind! … 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 control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.” (Ch. 22)

“The evergreen! How beautiful, how welcome, how wonderful the evergreen! When one thinks of it, how astonishing a variety of nature! In some countries we know the tree that sheds its leaf is the variety, but that does not make it less amazing that the same soil and the same sun should nurture plants differing in the first rule and law of their existence. You will think me rhapsodising; but when I am out of doors, especially when I am sitting out of doors, I am very apt to get into this sort of wondering strain. One cannot fix one’s eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy.” (Ch. 22)

“To me, the sound of Mr. Bertram is so cold and nothing-meaning, so entirely without warmth or character! It just stands for a gentleman, and that’s all. But there is nobleness in the name of Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown; of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections.” (Ch. 22)

“Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.” (Ch. 35)

“I was quiet, but I was not blind.” (Ch. 36)

“I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman’s feelings; and there may often be a great deal more suffered than a stander-by can judge of.” (Ch. 36)

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” (Ch. 42)

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Illustrations: “Spring Flowers” by Claude Monet and detail of “Young Woman Drawing” by Marie Denise Villers.