A Gratifying Proposal: Mr. Darcy vs. Mr. Crawford

In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennet’s youngest sister, Lydia, runs away with the unscrupulous George Wickham, disgracing her family. Unknown to Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy tracks down Wickham and bribes him to marry Lydia, a proceeding which causes Darcy a great deal of mortification, as he detests Wickham, and money — possibly an entire year’s income. He does this because he feels responsible for not having exposed Wickham’s true character before, and to make Elizabeth happy. He did not, however, intend for Elizabeth to know of his role in bringing the marriage about, lest it cause her uneasiness. (Elizabeth discovers it through her aunt.) Shortly afterwards, Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth and is accepted.

In Mansfield Park, Henry Crawford also does something that makes the woman he loves grateful to him by helping someone in her family. He introduces Fanny Price’s beloved brother William, a midshipman, to his uncle, Admiral Crawford. Henry tells Fanny, “My uncle … has exerted himself, as I knew he would, after seeing your brother.” Admiral Crawford uses his influence to get William made a lieutenant. Fanny is overjoyed. Unlike Mr. Darcy, however, Henry Crawford does this to excite Fanny’s gratitude. He tells Fanny what he has done, and attempts to use her gratitude to secure her acceptance to his marriage proposal.

Mr. Darcy is an upright, honourable, generous man, while Mr. Crawford is devious and manipulative. Still, for different reasons, the proposals of either man could be considered flattering. Mr. Darcy is described as “so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour” (Ch. 5). On the occasion on which the Bennets first meet him, “Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year” (Ch. 3). After she refuses Mr. Darcy’s first proposal, Elizabeth feels that,

In spite of her deeply-rooted dislike, she could not be insensible to the compliment of such a man’s affection …. That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! That he should have been … [s]o much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections which had made him prevent his friend’s marrying her sister, and which must appear at least with equal force in his own case—was almost incredible! It was gratifying to have inspired unconsciously so strong an affection. (P&P, Ch. 34)

Sir Thomas is disagreeably surprised when he finds that his niece Fanny intends to refuse Henry Crawford. He tells Fanny,

“Here is a young man … 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 …. a young man of sense, of character, of temper, of manners, and of fortune, exceedingly attached to you, and seeking your hand in the most handsome and disinterested way; and let me tell you, Fanny, that you may live eighteen years longer in the world without being addressed by a man of half Mr. Crawford’s estate, or a tenth part of his merits.” (MP, Ch. XXXII).

Crawford’s sister, Mary, thinks that Fanny should be flattered by her brother’s proposal for another reason.

“Ah! I cannot deny …. [h]e has now and then been a sad flirt, and cared very little for the havoc he might be making in young ladies’ affections. I have often scolded him for it, but it is his only fault; and there is this to be said, that very few young ladies have any affections worth caring for. And then, Fanny, the glory of fixing one who has been shot at by so many; of having it in one’s power to pay off the debts of one’s sex! Oh! I am sure it is not in woman’s nature to refuse such a triumph.” (MP, Ch. XXXVI)

Fanny disagrees. She tells Mary, “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. XXXVI).

Elizabeth and Fanny both refuse these “great catches”, for about the same reasons — they do not love them and do not think well of their characters. Fanny, of course, has the additional reason that she is in love with someone else (a much more principled man than Mr. Crawford), and Elizabeth, in due course, finds that her opinion of Mr. Darcy was unjust, falls in love with him, and accepts his second proposal.



Illustrations by C. E. Brock (1870 – 1938).

9 comments on “A Gratifying Proposal: Mr. Darcy vs. Mr. Crawford

  1. Caroline says:

    i love your blog! I am not an Austenite (I’m a Bronte fan) but I enjoyed Mansfield Park tremendously, far more than the other Austen novels. I think it is her masterpiece. Pity it’s underrated. Are you into the Bronte sisters or Fanny Burney?

    • Miss Sneyd says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you like Mansfield Park. It is great! I prefer Austen’s works, but very much enjoy most of the Brontë books as well, especially the two novels by Anne. I have written a little bit about Jane Eyre on my other blog, The East Room. I have never read anything by Fanny Burney.

      • Randy says:

        I just re-read MP for the first time in some years, and this time it reminded me of Jane Eyre. So I re-read JE for the first time in decades. There are many fun and interesting similarities in the books and in the authors’ lives. The saddest similarity is that they both died before reaching middle age and after enjoying only six years of success from publication.

      • Miss Sneyd says:

        Thanks for stopping by! I too find the similarities between Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park interesting. Both Jane and Fanny are brought up on other people’s charity, both are treated as lesser by those around them and grow up in that atmosphere, and both stick to their principles and end up happy.

  2. Greetings Miss Sneyd,

    With all due respect, you may want to dig even deeper into why Jane Austen would go to the trouble of writing two such strikingly parallel passages as the following:

    Pride & Prejudice, Ch. 58: ” “If you will thank me,” he replied, “let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I THOUGHT ONLY OF YOU.” Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word…..”

    [And then Darcy promptly proposes to Elizabeth]

    Mansfield Park, Ch. 31: “Fanny could not speak, but he did not want her to speak. To see the
    expression of her eyes, the change of her complexion, the progress of her feelings, their doubt, confusion, and felicity, was enough. She took the letters as he gave them…..”I will not talk of my own happiness,” said he, “great as it is, for I THINK ONLY OF YOURS. Compared with you, who has a right to be happy?… ” ”

    [And then Crawford promptly proposes to Fanny]

    I suggest to you that there’s more going on in both Pride & Prejudice and Mansfield Park than has met even your astute eye, that make Mr. Darcy and Mr. Crawford even more similar to each other than you are currently prepared to acknowledge…… ;)

    @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

    P.S.: Check out this post at my blog that suggests other resonance between Darcy and Crawford:


    • Miss Sneyd says:

      Thank you for your compliments and thanks for pointing out those parallel passages! I had not noticed them before. I’m not sure, however, what further similarity (that I may not be “prepared to acknowledge”) between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Crawford they show.

      Darcy sincerely did not want Elizabeth to know of his involvement in helping her sister. When Elizabeth tells him that she knows, his response is:

      “I am sorry, exceedingly sorry,” replied Darcy, in a tone of surprise and emotion, “that you have ever been informed of what may, in a mistaken light, have given you uneasiness. I did not think Mrs. Gardiner was so little to be trusted.” (Ch. 58)

      Darcy had intended to propose to Elizabeth anyway. Elizabeth observes to him after she has accepted him,

      “My resolution of thanking you for your kindness to Lydia had certainly great effect. Too much, I am afraid; for what becomes of the moral, if our comfort springs from a breach of promise? for I ought not to have mentioned the subject. This will never do.”

      “You need not distress yourself. The moral will be perfectly fair. Lady Catherine’s unjustifiable endeavours to separate us were the means of removing all my doubts. I am not indebted for my present happiness to your eager desire of expressing your gratitude. I was not in a humour to wait for any opening of yours. My aunt’s intelligence had given me hope, and I was determined at once to know every thing.” (Ch. 60)

      In other words, he was about to propose to her believing that she did not know about his assistance to Lydia. Crawford told Fanny of his assistance to her brother himself — and then proposed to her as he had planned.

      Both Darcy and Crawford did what they did to make the woman they loved happy. The difference is that Crawford intended to make Fanny grateful to him, while Darcy had hoped to hide his involvement from Elizabeth. Both men were genuinely in love with the woman they were proposing to. Crawford, however, was willing to use underhand means to gain what he wanted (as in the case of the necklace that he, through his sister, tricked Fanny into accepting). Darcy, on the other hand, first assumed that Elizabeth wanted him to propose to her (“What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses.” — Ch. 58), is rejected, and then, when he meets her again:

      “My object then,” replied Darcy, “was to show you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you.” (Ch. 58)

      There is an interesting parallelism between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Crawford, as well as a definite contrast. I’m sure that “there’s more going on in both Pride & Prejudice and Mansfield Park” than has met my eye! That is one of the things I like so much about Jane Austen’s writings — there is always something new to discover!

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