“Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter has agreed to write several guest posts for my blog in honor of Mansfield Park‘s bicentenary. They will be posted over the next month or so.
The 9th of May was the bicentennial of Mansfield Park’s publication. To celebrate, I walked up to the library to borrow the book for the first time with my own card, conscious that Fanny’s feelings were echoing in my own heart, “amazed at being anything in propria persona; . . . to be a renter, a chuser of books!”
This was not my first reading. I had read Mansfield Park at least twice since my graduation; but the complexity of the novel rewards revisiting.
Henry in Love
Reading through Mansfield Park this month, perhaps for the fourth time, I realized what it meant that Henry Crawford was in love with Fanny. I’m not sure what I thought before —perhaps that his love sprang only from vanity, lust, novelty, or the pleasure of discovery and pursuit. Now I think that I know.
Henry wanted to hold Fanny’s hand. He wanted her to lean on his arm while they talked of plans for their future. Hearing her opinions fascinated, excited, and engrossed him. Her conversation was intelligent and informed and eager to be more so. When they spoke together they were conversing, not flirting.
Henry trusted Fanny completely, and felt that with her he would have a family security which he had not known before, as he had been orphaned and raised by a dysfunctional couple. She made him feel like a man—that he needed to be responsible and mature in order to care for her and inspire her respect.
Fanny’s principles gave new life to Henry’s own good nature. Possessions and interests became duties through Fanny’s eyes. This perspective gave Henry new zeal when he visited his estate. Kindness and ability as a manager he already had, but Fanny’s vision gave him purpose.
While other women had flattered his vanity, Fanny animated his life. Not only were his eyes pleased with her beauty, but his mind and spirit were satisfied. It was easy to imagine her as his wife.
Mansfield Park is a tragedy—the tragedy of how Henry Crawford “lost the woman whom he had rationally, as well as passionately loved.”
Using the word “spirit” in a non-religious sense feels awkward to me, but I think the use is appropriate. It means “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character”, which is exactly what I mean here.