“If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.” (Chapter XXV)
It is, perhaps, not to be wondered at that Miss Crawford possesses these flaws. Her impropriety in speaking ill of her uncle, can, as Fanny observed, be seen as “a reflection itself upon Mrs. Crawford, as her niece has been entirely brought up by her”. Edmund agrees, “That is a fair remark. Yes, we must suppose the faults of the niece to have been those of the aunt; and it makes one more sensible of the disadvantages she has been under.” (Ch. VII). Later Edmund speaks of Miss Crawford,
“There goes good-humour, I am sure,” said he presently. “There goes a temper which would never give pain! How well she walks! and how readily she falls in with the inclination of others! joining them the moment she is asked. What a pity,” he added, after an instant’s reflection, “that she should have been in such hands!” (Ch. XI)
Mary’s uncle and aunt had an unhappy marriage. “Admiral and Mrs. Crawford, though agreeing in nothing else, were united in affection for these children, or, at least, were no farther adverse in their feelings than that each had their favourite, to whom they showed the greatest fondness of the two. The Admiral delighted in the boy, Mrs. Crawford doted on the girl” (Ch. IV).
When Miss Crawford speaks of her “late dear aunt”, Mrs. Crawford, she speaks of her as a woman “whose knowledge of the world made her judgment very generally and deservedly looked up to by all the young people of her acquaintance” (Ch. XXXVI) — though, in the situation she was speaking of, Mrs. Crawford had advised a young woman to accept a marriage proposal that afterwards led to her being very unhappy. Miss Crawford says, “My poor aunt had certainly little cause to love the state [of matrimony]; but, however, speaking from my own observation, it is a manoeuvring business. I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connexion, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse. What is this but a take in?” (Ch. V). Her aunt seems to have been an unhappy, worldly-wise woman. Being “doted on” (Ch. IV) by such a woman must have had something of the same effect on Miss Crawford that being the darling of Mrs. Norris had on Maria Bertram.1
Mary’s uncle, Admiral Crawford, must also have been a bad influence on Miss Crawford, even apart from the example the strife in his marriage must have been, for “Admiral Crawford was a man of vicious conduct, who chose, instead of retaining his niece, to bring his mistress under his own roof” (Ch. IV). After Miss Crawford speaks ill of her uncle in public, Edmund and Fanny discuss her behaviour,
“It was very wrong; very indecorous.” [said Edmund]
“And very ungrateful, I think.”
“Ungrateful is a strong word. I do not know that her uncle has any claim to her gratitude; his wife certainly had; and it is the warmth of her respect for her aunt’s memory which misleads her here. She is awkwardly circumstanced. With such warm feelings and lively spirits it must be difficult to do justice to her affection for Mrs. Crawford, without throwing a shade on the Admiral. I do not pretend to know which was most to blame in their disagreements, though the Admiral’s present conduct might incline one to the side of his wife; but it is natural and amiable that Miss Crawford should acquit her aunt entirely. I do not censure her opinions; but there certainly is impropriety in making them public.” (Ch. VII)
Her aunt and uncle are the primary, but not the only, bad influences in Miss Crawford’s life. She has bad friends, and “Be not deceived: evil communications2 corrupt good manners.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Edmund tells Fanny his opinion of one of Miss Crawford’s “particular” and “intimate” friends (Ch. XXXVI):
I do not like Mrs. Fraser. She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirely from convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage, places her disappointment not to faults of judgment, or temper, or disproportion of age, but to her being, after all, less affluent than many of her acquaintance, especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway, and is the determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious, provided it be only mercenary and ambitious enough. I look upon [Miss Crawford’s] intimacy with those two sisters as the greatest misfortune of her life and mine. They have been leading her astray for years. Could she be detached from them! — and sometimes I do not despair of it, for the affection appears to me principally on their side. They are very fond of her; but I am sure she does not love them as she loves you. (Ch. XLIV)
Fanny’s opinion on the subject is, “Her friends leading her astray for years! She is quite as likely to have led them astray. They have all, perhaps, been corrupting one another; but if they are so much fonder of her than she is of them, she is the less likely to have been hurt, except by their flattery.” — which is true (Ch. XLIV).
Fanny is disposed to look on London itself as a bad influence.
It astonished her that Tom’s sisters could be satisfied with remaining in London at such a time, through an illness which had now, under different degrees of danger, lasted several weeks. They might return to Mansfield when they chose; travelling could be no difficulty to them, and she could not comprehend how both could still keep away. If Mrs. Rushworth could imagine any interfering obligations, Julia was certainly able to quit London whenever she chose. It appeared from one of her aunt’s letters that Julia had offered to return if wanted, but this was all. It was evident that she would rather remain where she was.
Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at war with all respectable attachments. She saw the proof of it in Miss Crawford, as well as in her cousins; her attachment to Edmund had been respectable, the most respectable part of her character; her friendship for herself had at least been blameless. Where was either sentiment now? It was so long since Fanny had had any letter from her, that she had some reason to think lightly of the friendship which had been so dwelt on. (Ch. XLV)
In some ways, Mary Crawford is one of the most tragic characters in Jane Austen’s canon. She comes close to changing, to choosing good over evil. In Edmund’s words, “I imagined I saw a mixture of many feelings: a great, though short struggle; half a wish of yielding to truths, half a sense of shame, but habit, habit carried it.” (Ch. XLVII). There was hope for her.
In their [Fanny and Miss Crawford’s] very last conversation, Miss Crawford, in spite of some amiable sensations, and much personal kindness [to Fanny], had still been Miss Crawford; still shewn a mind led astray and bewildered, and without any suspicion of being so; darkened, yet fancying itself light. She might love, but she did not deserve Edmund by any other sentiment. Fanny believed there was scarcely a second feeling in common between them; and she may be forgiven by older sages for looking on the chance of Miss Crawford’s future improvement as nearly desperate, for thinking that if Edmund’s influence in this season of love had already done so little in clearing her judgment, and regulating her notions, his worth would be finally wasted on her even in years of matrimony.
Experience might have hoped more for any young people so circumstanced, and impartiality would not have denied to Miss Crawford’s nature that participation of the general nature of women which would lead her to adopt the opinions of the man she loved and respected as her own. But as such were Fanny’s persuasions, she suffered very much from them, and could never speak of Miss Crawford without pain. (Ch. XXXVII)
Mary had felt the attractiveness of virtue, of goodness.
“Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving: my excellent sister, yourself, and the Bertrams in general. 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. XXXVI)
She was becoming more disinterested. She was not unwilling for her brother to marry beneath him — a definite change from her previous attitude of “cold-hearted ambition” (Ch. XLV).
The conviction of his [Henry’s] determination [to marry Fanny Price] once admitted, it was not unwelcome. There was even pleasure with the surprise. Mary was in a state of mind to rejoice in a connexion with the Bertram family, and to be not displeased with her brother’s marrying a little beneath him. (Ch. XXX)
Mary’s love for Edmund was overcoming her ambition.
… the more [Fanny] recollected and observed, the more deeply was she convinced that everything was now in a fairer train for Miss Crawford’s marrying Edmund than it had ever been before. On his side the inclination was stronger, on hers less equivocal. His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away, nobody could tell how; and the doubts and hesitations of her ambition were equally got over—and equally without apparent reason. It could only be imputed to increasing attachment. His good and her bad feelings yielded to love, and such love must unite them. (Ch. XXXVII)
She has many good qualities. But, in the end, she is unable to understand Edmund’s moral standards, his principles, his character — him. It is Edmund’s ability to make clear judgments that make him so dependable — a “rock” in Mary’s turbulent world. Mary wanted that rock, but she could not understand the discipline behind it — that the same principles that led Edmund to be a clergyman, to condemn his sister and her brother, &c. were what gave him so much more “heart” than the world in general.
In one scene in Mansfield Park, several of the characters are playing speculation together.
“I have two or three ideas also,” said Edmund, “and one of them is, that very little of your [Henry Crawford’s] plan for Thornton Lacey will ever be put in practice. I must be satisfied with rather less ornament and beauty. I think the house and premises may be made comfortable, and given the air of a gentleman’s residence, without any very heavy expense, and that must suffice me; and, I hope, may suffice all who care about me.”
Miss Crawford, a little suspicious and resentful of a certain tone of voice, and a certain half-look attending the last expression of his hope, made a hasty finish of her dealings with William Price; and securing his knave at an exorbitant rate, exclaimed, “There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.”
The game was hers, and only did not pay her for what she had given to secure it. (Ch. XXV)
In the end of the book, however, Mary Crawford does not emerge victorious. She loses her “game”. In the end, Edmund’s eyes are opened to Mary’s true character, and she loses him. He leaves her, telling her, “Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do.” (Ch. XLVII).
Mrs. Grant [after leaving Mansfield] … 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. (XLVIII)
Mary Crawford is a charming character, but in the end it is her own choices that cause her downfall (her downfall in terms of the story, that is). She was still a young woman, however. Hope for her amendment is not gone and, though she “was long in finding … 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”, Jane Austen leaves open the possibility that she did.
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.
Screencaps of the 2007 ITV production of ‘Mansfield Park’ with Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford from angelfish_icons. I used screencaps from this adaptation not because I like this version (I don’t), but because I enjoyed Hayley Atwell’s depiction of Mary Crawford and the pictures are pretty.
1 “Too late he [Sir Thomas] became aware how unfavourable to the character of any young people must be the totally opposite treatment which Maria and Julia had been always experiencing at home, where the excessive indulgence and flattery of their aunt had been continually contrasted with his own severity. He saw how ill he had judged, in expecting to counteract what was wrong in Mrs. Norris by its reverse in himself; clearly saw that he had but increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him, and sending them for all their indulgences to a person who had been able to attach them only by the blindness of her affection, and the excess of her praise. …
“That Julia escaped better than Maria was owing, in some measure, to a favourable difference of disposition and circumstance, but in a greater to her having been less the darling of that very aunt, less flattered and less spoilt. Her beauty and acquirements had held but a second place. She had been always used to think herself a little inferior to Maria. Her temper was naturally the easiest of the two; her feelings, though quick, were more controllable, and education had not given her so very hurtful a degree of self-consequence.” (Ch. XLVIII)
2 The word “communications” here is translated from the Greek word “homilia”, meaning, according to Strong’s Greek Bible Dictionary (Number 3657), ‘companionship (“homily”), i.e. (by implication) intercourse’. Communication in this sense is “the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings”, “social contact” (from Dictionary, Version 1.0.2, Apple Computer, Inc., 2005).