Mary Crawford is a careless and manipulative friend. She only takes Fanny as a friend when every one else is gone:
Fanny went to her every two or three days: it seemed a kind of fascination: she could not be easy without going, and yet it was without … any sense of obligation for being sought after now when nobody else was to be had … (Ch. XXII)
Mary tricks Fanny into accepting a gift, a necklace, from Mr. Crawford, something that at that time was inappropriate between men and women who were unengaged and unrelated.
It was impossible for her [Fanny] to be insensible of Mr. Crawford’s change of manners. … He evidently tried to please her … he was something like what he had been to her cousins: … and whether he might not have some concern in this necklace—she could not be convinced that he had not, for Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend. (Ch. XXVI).
And he did have some concern in the necklace —
“Do you mean, then, that your brother knew of the necklace beforehand? Oh! Miss Crawford, that was not fair.”
“Knew of it! It was his own doing entirely, his own thought. I am ashamed to say that it had never entered my head, but I was delighted to act on his proposal for both your sakes.”
“I will not say,” replied Fanny, “that I was not half afraid at the time of its being so, for there was something in your look that frightened me, but not at first; I was as unsuspicious of it at first–indeed, indeed I was. It is as true as that I sit here. And had I had an idea of it, nothing should have induced me to accept the necklace.” (Ch. XXXVI)
Edmund was right, “The evil lies . . . in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did.” (Ch. XLVII). Mary Crawford is also deceitful. In order to trick Fanny into receiving the necklace from her, she must convince Fanny that it did not come from Henry.
“My dear child,” said she, laughing, “what are you afraid of? Do you think Henry will claim the necklace as mine, and fancy you did not come honestly by it? or are you imagining he would be too much flattered by seeing round your lovely throat an ornament which his money purchased three years ago, before he knew there was such a throat in the world? or perhaps”—looking archly—”you suspect a confederacy between us, and that what I am now doing is with his knowledge and at his desire? ….”
Fanny dared not make any farther opposition; and with renewed but less happy thanks accepted the necklace again, for there was an expression in Miss Crawford’s eyes which she could not be satisfied with. (Ch. XXVI, emphasis mine)
Later, she obliges Fanny to endure the impropriety of receiving letters from Mr. Crawford. In her book Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye writes of the time period, “There was also an inflexible law which forbade correspondence between marriageable persons not engaged to be married. Elinor knows that Willoughby has been permitted to cut off a lock of Marianne’s hair, but it is not until she sees her sister writing to inform him of their arrival in London that she concludes they must be engaged, however secretly.” 1 Through Mary, Henry Crawford was able to bypass the protocol of the time. Mary also used Fanny as a way of corresponding with Edmund herself.
[Fanny] had reason to suppose herself not yet forgotten by Mr. Crawford. She had heard repeatedly from his sister within the three weeks which had passed since their leaving Mansfield, and in each letter there had been a few lines from himself, warm and determined like his speeches. It was a correspondence which Fanny found quite as unpleasant as she had feared. Miss Crawford’s style of writing, lively and affectionate, was itself an evil, independent of what she was thus forced into reading from the brother’s pen, for Edmund would never rest till she had read the chief of the letter to him; and then she had to listen to his admiration of her language, and the warmth of her attachments. There had, in fact, been so much of message, of allusion, of recollection, so much of Mansfield in every letter, that Fanny could not but suppose it meant for him to hear; and to find herself forced into a purpose of that kind, compelled into a correspondence which was bringing her the addresses of the man she did not love, and obliging her to administer to the adverse passion of the man she did, was cruelly mortifying. Here, too, her present removal [to Portsmouth] promised advantage. When no longer under the same roof with Edmund, she trusted that Miss Crawford would have no motive for writing strong enough to overcome the trouble, and that at Portsmouth their correspondence would dwindle into nothing. (Ch. XXXVIII).
And Fanny was right. As soon as she ceases to be of use to Mary, her correspondence slows down significantly. After Fanny leaves Mansfield and is away from Edmund, “Mary’s next letter was after a decidedly longer interval than the last” (Ch. XL). Again, “It was so long since Fanny had had any letter from [Miss Crawford], that she had some reason to think lightly of the friendship which had been so dwelt on.” (Ch. XLV).
Even Mary’s affection for her brother, and his for her, is turned bad when they join together to hurt others. They work together for good (as when Henry helps Mary by turning the attention of the “theatrical board” from Fanny in chapter XV), but they are equally intent on furthering each other’s ends when the object is wrong — as when Mary helps turn off Mr. Rushworth’s jealousy so her brother can flirt with Maria, and when she helps him woo Fanny, so he can steal Fanny’s heart, knowing that he does not intend to marry her.
When Mary first learns that her brother intends to make “a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart” (Ch. XXIV), she asks that he not “plunge her deep” but thinks that “a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good”.
“It can be but for a fortnight,” said Henry; “and if a fortnight can kill her, she must have a constitution which nothing could save. No, I will not do her any harm, dear little soul! only want her to look kindly on me, to give me smiles as well as blushes, to keep a chair for me by herself wherever we are, and be all animation when I take it and talk to her; to think as I think, be interested in all my possessions and pleasures, try to keep me longer at Mansfield, and feel when I go away that she shall be never happy again. I want nothing more.”
“Moderation itself!” said Mary. “I can have no scruples now. Well, you will have opportunities enough of endeavouring to recommend yourself, for we are a great deal together.”
And without attempting any farther remonstrance, she left Fanny to her fate … (Ch. XXIV)
Mary was not innocent in the matter of the private theatricals at Mansfield. She and her brother knew that their performing a play would displease the master of the house, yet they did it anyway, making themselves culpable with Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia, though to a lesser extent. (They owed no duty to Sir Thomas, and therefore, unlike his children, could transgress none, but it was his house, and they had no right to use it for anything they knew he would disapprove.) That they knew that Sir Thomas would disapprove is shown by their reaction to his sudden arrival home.
… the other three [Mr. and Miss Crawford, and Mr. Yates], no longer under any restraint, were giving vent to their feelings of vexation, lamenting over such an unlooked-for premature arrival as a most untoward event, and without mercy wishing poor Sir Thomas had been twice as long on his passage, or were still in Antigua.
The Crawfords were more warm on the subject [of Sir Thomas’s early return, which prevented the rehearsal of the play] than Mr. Yates, from better understanding the family, and judging more clearly of the mischief that must ensue. The ruin of the play was to them a certainty: they felt the total destruction of the scheme to be inevitably at hand; while Mr. Yates considered it only as a temporary interruption, a disaster for the evening, and could even suggest the possibility of the rehearsal being renewed after tea, when the bustle of receiving Sir Thomas were over, and he might be at leisure to be amused by it. The Crawfords laughed at the idea … (Ch. XIX).
Mary also understood the excessive intimacy, the familiarity, that would arise from acting together. She takes the part of Amelia in the play in order to flirt with Edmund (“Miss Crawford accepted the part very readily”; — “I should not particularly dislike the part of Amelia if well supported” — Ch. XV). She is relieved that Mr. Rushworth does not take the part of Anhalt (“You chose very wisely, I am sure,” replied Miss Crawford, with a brightened look; “Anhalt is a heavy part.” — Ch. XV), and is disappointed when Edmund doesn’t. That she understood the intimacy that acting together would give is shown by her reaction at finding out who would be (or, at least, who she thought would be) acting Anhalt. “I can tell Mr. Maddox that I shall shorten some of his speeches, and a great many of my own, before we rehearse together. It will be very disagreeable, and by no means what I expected.” (Ch. XV, emphasis mine).
Mary is an opportunist, even using the fact that Edmund is to be a clergyman to try to tempt him to join the play—though she spends a great deal of time in the book trying to prevent him from becoming a clergyman.
“If any part could tempt you to act, I suppose it would be Anhalt,” observed the lady archly [to Edmund], after a short pause; “for he is a clergyman, you know.”
“That circumstance would by no means tempt me,” he replied, “for I should be sorry to make the character ridiculous by bad acting. It must be very difficult to keep Anhalt from appearing a formal, solemn lecturer; and the man who chuses the profession itself is, perhaps, one of the last who would wish to represent it on the stage.”
Miss Crawford was silenced, and with some feelings of resentment and mortification, moved her chair considerably nearer the tea-table, and gave all her attention to Mrs. Norris, who was presiding there. (Ch. XV)
She rejoices in Edmund’s moral fall when he chooses to join in the play which he believed to be wrong.
“If I had the power of recalling any one week of my existence, it should be that week—that acting week. Say what you would, Fanny, it should be that; for I never knew such exquisite happiness in any other. [Edmund’s] sturdy spirit to bend as it did! Oh! it was sweet beyond expression.” (Ch. XXXVI)
Perhaps one of the most shocking things Miss Crawford does is to wish that Edmund’s elder brother, Tom Bertram, would die.
“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, 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. Write to me by return of post, judge of my anxiety, and do not trifle with it. Tell me the real truth, as you have it from the fountainhead. And now, do not trouble yourself to be ashamed of either my feelings or your own. Believe me, they are not only natural, they are philanthropic and virtuous. I put it to your conscience, whether ‘Sir Edmund’ would not do more good with all the Bertram property than any other possible ‘Sir.’ ” (Ch. XLV)
Philanthropic and virtuous indeed! To use Miss Crawford’s words, I can have no scruples now! Earlier, she had been planning on marrying this same Tom Bertram. “She had felt an early presentiment that she should like the eldest best. She knew it was her way.” (Ch. V).
Tom Bertram … had easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance, and a great deal to say; and the reversion of Mansfield Park, and a baronetcy, did no harm to all this. Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do. She looked about her with due consideration, and found almost everything in his favour: a park, a real park, five miles round, a spacious modern-built house, so well placed and well screened as to deserve to be in any collection of engravings of gentlemen’s seats in the kingdom, and wanting only to be completely new furnished …. It might do very well; she believed she should accept him … (Ch. V)
Finally, she treats sin as little more than an indiscretion, and that only because of the unnecessary exposure. It is this that finally opens Edmund’s eyes to her true character.
“‘I heard you were in town,’ said she [Miss Crawford]; ‘I wanted to see you. Let us talk over this sad business [of Henry and Maria running away together]. What can equal the folly of our two relations?’ I [Edmund] could not answer, but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved. Sometimes how quick to feel! With a graver look and voice she then added, ‘I do not mean to defend Henry at your sister’s expense.’ So she began …. I cannot recall all her words. … Their substance was great anger at the folly of each. She reprobated her brother’s folly in being drawn on by a woman whom he had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; but still more the folly of poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom—no harsher name than folly given! So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! No reluctance, no horror, no feminine, shall I say, no modest loathings? This is what the world does. For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had so richly endowed? Spoilt, spoilt!” ….
She saw it only as folly, and that folly stamped only by exposure. The want of common discretion, of caution: his going down to Richmond for the whole time of her being at Twickenham; her putting herself in the power of a servant; it was the detection, in short … not the offence, which she reprobated. It was the imprudence which had brought things to extremity, and obliged her brother to give up every dearer plan in order to fly with her.” (Ch. XLVII)
Mary’s attitude towards the adultery of her brother and Maria Rushworth comes as no surprise to Fanny.
[Fanny] could not doubt, she dared not indulge a hope, of the paragraph [in the newspaper] being false. Miss Crawford’s letter, which she had read so often as to make every line her own, was in frightful conformity with it. Her eager defence of her brother, her hope of its being hushed up, her evident agitation, were all of a piece with something very bad; and if there was a woman of character in existence, who could treat as a trifle this sin of the first magnitude, who would try to gloss it over, and desire to have it unpunished, she could believe Miss Crawford to be the woman! Now she could see her own mistake as to who were gone, or said to be gone. It was not Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth; it was Mrs. Rushworth and Mr. Crawford. (Ch. XLVI)
Edmund sums Mary up toward the end of the novel.
“Cruel!” said Fanny, “quite cruel. At such a moment to give way to gaiety, to speak with lightness, and to you! Absolute cruelty.”
“Cruelty, do you call it? [said Edmund] We differ there. No, hers is not a cruel nature. I do not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings. The evil lies yet deeper: in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did. She was speaking only as she had been used to hear others speak, as she imagined everybody else would speak. Hers are not faults of temper. She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would— Hers are faults of principle, Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind. Perhaps it is best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret. Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do.” (Ch. XLVII).
This post is part of a series on the character Mary Crawford from Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. The first post, ‘Sometimes How Quick to Feel!’, is about the good side of Mary’s character. The second two, ‘The Case Against Mary Crawford’, Part I and Part II, discuss Mary’s faults. The last post, ‘This Is What the World Does’, briefly considers how she became the woman that she was.
1 Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002), p. 114.