What Attracted Mary to Edmund?

“[H]e pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her;
it was enough.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter VII)

It is perhaps little wonder that Mary Crawford fell in love with Edmund Bertram. He was honest, kind, sincere, gentle, considerate, dependable, and firm (at least in his profession, which he never even considered changing because of Mary, though he fell in his principles in the case of acting in the play). He was reliable, a haven in Mary’s more “exciting”, worldly, glamorous world. He was, compared to the rest of her friends and life, restful, secure. He was principled, unlike her uncle, and even her aunt. Someone she knew would not fail her, she could depend on. Like her brother, though she did not know what to call them, his morals were reassuring to her.

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. XXX)

The same could be said of Edmund. He had a good, warm heart, a good temper, good taste, and good understanding. For the rest, he was handsome, intelligent, educated, thoughtful, &c. “You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large,” Mary tells Fanny. “You all give me a feeling of being able to trust and confide in you, which in common intercourse one knows nothing of.” (Ch. XXXVI) Edmund’s earnest, moral, kind, upright character drew Mary to him.

[T]o the credit of the lady it may be added that, without 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. She did not think very much about it, however: he pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her; it was enough. (Ch. VII)

Edmund didn’t trifle with people. Though Mary playfully censures her brother Henry’s flirtations, knowing that Edmund was not trifling must have been reassuring to her. She was used to matrimony being a “maneuvering business”, considering that “it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.” (Ch. V) Edmund was straightforward. As Mary herself says, “I have long thought Mr. [Edmund] Bertram one of the worst subjects to work on, in any little manoeuvre against common sense, that a woman could be plagued with.” (Ch. XXII)

Mary must have observed a great contrast between Edmund and her uncle, a contrast between him and the husbands of her friends, of her sister’s husband, &c. She had reason to admire Sir Thomas and Edmund—they presented such a different picture of domestic happiness than that which Mary was used to seeing. Edmund’s kindness to, and consideration and respect for, Fanny Price and others must have showed so differently to her uncle’s treatment of her aunt. Mary observed of Fanny, “Her cousin Edmund never forgets her.” (Ch. XXX) No doubt Mary didn’t want to be treated the way her uncle treated her aunt. She could depend on Edmund never to take a mistress, or give her other reason “to abhor [his] very name”, as her aunt had abhorred that of her husband (Ch. XXX).

Edmund had three blemishes in Mary’s eyes—he was a younger son, he was poor (at least compared to what she had expected be), and he wanted to be a clergyman—but, when he leaves to be ordained, Mary feels his absence to be “every way painful.”

She felt the want of his society every day, almost every hour, and was too much in want of it to derive anything but irritation from considering the object for which he went. He could not have devised anything more likely to raise his consequence than this week’s absence …. she could not help thinking of him continually when absent, dwelling on his merit and affection, and longing again for the almost daily meetings they lately had. (Ch. XXIX)

When he delays his return, Mary decides that she can “not live any longer in such solitary wretchedness” and makes her way to his home “through difficulties of walking which she had deemed unconquerable a week before” just “for the chance … of at least hearing his name.” (Ch. XXIX) “He is a very—a very pleasing young man himself,” she says to Fanny, “and I cannot help being rather concerned at not seeing him again before I go to London, as will now undoubtedly be the case.” (Ch. XXIX) Though before she came to Mansfield, Mary would have declared that she would never marry a younger son or a clergyman, after Edmund’s absence she finds that “Sir Thomas Bertram’s son is somebody” (Ch. XXIX) and that is almost enough for her now.

When Mary goes to her friends in London, she has more opportunities to compare Edmund with the husbands of her friends. “I do not think [Lord Stornaway] so very ill-looking as I did—at least, one sees many worse. He will not do by the side of your cousin Edmund”, Mary writes to Fanny. “Of the last-mentioned hero … I will say … that we have seen him two or three times, and that my friends here are very much struck with his gentlemanlike appearance. Mrs. Fraser (no bad judge) declares she knows but three men in town who have so good a person, height, and air; and I must confess, when he dined here the other day, there were none to compare with him” (Ch. XLIII).

Fanny believes that Mary would try “to be more ambitious than her heart would allow”, but that she “would yet prove herself in the end too much attached to him to give him up” (Ch. XLIII) Mary loved Edmund and, “considering the many counteractions of opposing habits, she had certainly been more attached to him than could have been expected, and for his sake been more near doing right.” (Ch. XLVII) Though their relationship ends in a permanent rupture, it is long before Mary can forget him.

“Mrs. Grant … had again a home to offer Mary; and Mary had had enough of her own friends, enough of vanity, ambition, love, and disappointment in the course of the last half-year, to be in need of the true kindness of her sister’s heart, and the rational tranquillity of her ways. They lived together; and when Dr. Grant had brought on apoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week, they still lived together; for Mary, though perfectly resolved against ever attaching herself to a younger brother again, was long in finding among the dashing representatives, or idle heir-apparents, who were at the command of her beauty, and her £20,000, any one who could satisfy the better taste she had acquired at Mansfield, whose character and manners could authorise a hope of the domestic happiness she had there learned to estimate, or put Edmund Bertram sufficiently out of her head.” (Ch. XLVIII)


Notes: The illustrations in this post are screen captures from the 1983 mini-series ‘Mansfield Park’. The picture are of Edmund Bertram (played by Nicholas Farrell) and Mary Crawford (played by Jackie Smith-Wood). All quotes in this post are from the novel Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

One comment on “What Attracted Mary to Edmund?

  1. “Edmund had three blemishes in Mary’s eyes—he was a younger son, he was poor (at least compared to what she had expected be), and he wanted to be a clergyman—but, when he leaves to be ordained, Mary feels his absence to be “every way painful.”

    But what about Edmund’s other blemishes? Did Mary sense them, as well? I wonder how she would have reacted if she had discovered his habit of talking with Fanny about her flaws . . . behind her back? Or his penchant for hypocritical behavior? Would she have been able to accept the fact that he is flawed, as Edmund eventually failed to do about her?

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