“Yes, Vanity Is a Weakness Indeed”

I wrote in another post (“A Gratifying Proposal”) about a couple of similarities between Mr. Darcy (of Pride and Prejudice) and Mr. Crawford (of Mansfield Park). Both men are considered (and have vanity enough to consider themselves) great catches. Both perform a great service for the woman they love. (Darcy saves Lizzy’s sister Lydia’s character and Crawford helps William, Fanny’s brother, on in his profession.) Lately I have been thinking about further similarities between the two men.

Both believe that the woman they love must want to marry them. Mr. Darcy later tells Elizabeth, “What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses.” (P&P, Ch. 58). Even when Fanny refuses Mr. Crawford, he perseveres: “He had vanity, which strongly inclined him in the first place to think she did love him, though she might not know it herself” (MP, Ch. XXXIII).

It is also interesting that both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Crawford change because of the woman they love. Mr. Darcy becomes more polite, humble. Mr. Crawford becomes more gentle and serious — less flippant. Still, there is a difference. Darcy’s change is, we are led to believe, permanent. He makes an effort to show Elizabeth, “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,” he adds (P&P, Ch. 58). Elizabeth observes the change in Darcy.

“[S]he heard an accent so removed from hauteur or disdain of his companions, as convinced her that the improvement of manners which she had yesterday witnessed however temporary its existence might prove, had at least outlived one day. When she saw him thus seeking the acquaintance and courting the good opinion of people with whom any intercourse a few months ago would have been a disgrace … the difference, the change was so great, and struck so forcibly on her mind, that she could hardly restrain her astonishment from being visible. Never … had she seen him so desirous to please, so free from self-consequence or unbending reserve, as now” (P&P, Ch. 44)

Mr. Darcy himself admits that he has changed, and, what is more, that he needed to change.

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. … I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves … allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such … I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.” (P&P, Ch. 58)

Mr. Darcy was always a good man, as Elizabeth tells him.

“Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence? …. The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you.” (P&P, Ch. 60)

Because of his good principles, Darcy’s improvement has a better chance of lasting, and we have no reason to think that it does not — though his transformation is not complete, for, as Lizzy observes, “he had yet to learn to be laughed at” (P&P, Ch. 58).

Crawford’s reformation, on the other hand, does not endure. His temporary change was apparent. Fanny observes it. “[H]is continued attentions—continued, but not obtrusive, and adapting themselves more and more to the gentleness and delicacy of her character—obliged her very soon to dislike him less than formerly. She had by no means forgotten the past, and she thought as ill of him as ever; but she felt his powers: he was entertaining; and his manners were so improved, so polite, so seriously and blamelessly polite” (MP, Ch. XXIV). She continues to notice improvement in Mr. Crawford. When she sees him in Portsmouth, “she thought him altogether improved since she had seen him; he was much more gentle, obliging, and attentive to other people’s feelings than he had ever been at Mansfield; she had never seen him so agreeable—so near being agreeable; his behaviour to her father could not offend, and there was something particularly kind and proper in the notice he took of Susan. He was decidedly improved.” (MP, Ch. XLI).

If he had persevered uprightly, the change may have become genuine (instead of assumed), but his habit of doing whatever he felt like doing was too strong, and he fell, running away with another man’s wife. He lacked the good principles that Darcy had. “[R]uined by early independence and bad domestic example, [Crawford] indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long.” When invited to meet Mrs. Rushworth again, “Curiosity and vanity were both engaged, and the temptation of immediate pleasure was too strong for a mind unused to make any sacrifice to right” (MP, Ch. XLVIII).

In the end, Mr. Darcy overcomes his pride and vanity, while Mr. Crawford “was entangled by his own vanity” (MP, Ch. XLVIII).

 

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