Quiet Kindness

“[T]here is nobleness in the name of Edmund. It is a name of heroism and renown; of kings, princes, and knights; and seems to breathe the spirit of chivalry and warm affections.” — Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, chapter 22.

Edmund Bertram is intelligent, generous, principled, and affectionate. He is not afraid to take the initiative in doing what he thinks is right. He has many good qualities and, of course, some faults. Of these characteristics, I think one of those which most defines him — the quality which most sets him apart from others and earns him the status of hero — is his quiet, unobtrusive kindness, especially in all the small (and sometimes not-so-small) ways he silently cares for the heroine, Fanny Price.

When, as a sixteen-year old young man, Edmund finds his newly-installed little cousin Fanny crying on the attic stairs, he speaks to her “with all the gentleness of an excellent nature” (ch. 2), calming her feelings of embarrassment at being so discovered and persuading her to confide her sorrows. Finding that she is, naturally, missing her family, he helps her write a letter to her brother William. He finds her an undisturbed place in which to write, procures her writing materials, rules her paper for her, sharpens her pen, helps her with her spelling, and delights her by adding a note of his own for William and sending him half a guinea under the seal. This is only the beginning of Edmund’s kindnesses to Fanny:

Without any display of doing more than the rest, or any fear of doing too much, he was always true to her interests, and considerate of her feelings, trying to make her good qualities understood, and to conquer the diffidence which prevented their being more apparent; giving her advice, consolation, and encouragement.” — Chapter 2, italics mine.

Time and again, he protects her, serves her, and makes sacrifices for her. When the pony Fanny rode for her health dies during her uncle’s absence in Antigua, Edmund insists, “Fanny must have a horse.” (Ch. 4.)1 Although he could not help paying heed to his aunt’s caution against increasing his father’s stable expenses,2 he “could not bear [Fanny] should be without” this means of exercise, so he determines to give up one of his own horses (no small gift) that it may be exchanged for a mare for her especial use. Fanny is delighted with the mare, finding, to her surprise, even greater pleasure in riding it than she had had with the pony.

Learning that newcomer Mary Crawford wishes to learn to ride, Edmund asks Fanny’s leave to use the new mare. When Mary desires to use the mare for a whole morning, Edmund tells Fanny, “[A]ny morning will do for this. … She rides only for pleasure, you for health.” (Ch. 7.) Despite his caution, however, more and more riding parties are planned, with Miss Crawford borrowing the mare. Then, one day, Edmund finds Fanny with a headache from walking in the sun at her aunt’s behest. Realizing that she has been without choice of exercise or excuse for avoiding her unreasonable aunt’s requests, he is immediately angry with himself and resolves that “however unwilling he must be to check a pleasure of Miss Crawford’s [with whom Edmund “was beginning … to be a great deal in love”] that it should never happen again.” (Italics mine.) The next chapter begins: “Fanny’s rides recommenced the very next day …” (ch. 8).

Caught up in ideas for improving Sotherton, the young people, under the management of Mrs. Norris, plan an outing there. The latter arranges who will go in the carriage, who on horseback, and who — namely Fanny — will stay at home with Lady Bertram. Everyone concurs except Edmund who “heard it all and said nothing” (ch. 6). He says nothing, but quietly makes arrangements to stay at home himself so that Fanny, whom he knows to have “a great desire to see Sotherton” (ch. 8), may go instead. In the end, Mrs. Grant offers to spend the day with Lady Bertram so that Edmund and Fanny may both go — earning the gratitude of each as Fanny, though grateful for Edmund’s kindness, was pained “that he should forgo any enjoyment on her own account” and felt that she wouldn’t enjoying seeing Sotherton without him, and Edmund “was very thankful for an arrangement which restored him to his share of the party”.

Edmund does his best to overcome his family’s habit of using Fanny to run errands.3 Although not completely successful in stopping this practice, Edmund quietly steps in to curtail it when he can. On one occasion, when Lady Bertram, from her sofa, tells Fanny to “ring the bell; I must have my dinner”, Edmund simply and unostentatiously comes forward and does it himself, “preventing Fanny”4 (ch. 15).

After Sir Thomas’s return and the subsequent end of the play-acting project, Edmund makes sure to do Fanny justice. He tells his father that Fanny was in no way to blame. “Fanny … judged rightly throughout …. She never ceased to think of what was due to you. You will find Fanny everything you could wish” (ch. 20). If Edmund hadn’t taken the trouble to exonerate Fanny, Sir Thomas might have confounded her in the general blame. Fanny was too afraid of her uncle to have defended herself to him, and none of the others who were involved cared enough. Edmund, on the other hand, automatically takes it upon himself to help and champion Fanny.

Edmund takes the trouble to find out what Fanny wants. When Dr. and Mrs. Grant invite Edmund and Fanny to dine with them, it is a completely new attention to the latter. She is flurried by the unexpected application and unsure whether it is in her power to accept. Edmund, “delighted with her having such an happiness offered,” and first “ascertaining with half a look, and half a sentence” (ch. 22) that her only objection is on her aunt’s account, encourages her to accept. He explains the matter to his father who, of course, thinks it only right that Fanny should go. She is glad, for, to her, the engagement had “novelty and importance”. On another occasion of them dining at the Parsonage, Edmund begins to “quietly” fetch Fanny’s shawl “to bring and put round her shoulders” (ch. 25) in preparation for her departure. Though he never makes a show of it, his kindness to Fanny is constant.

Fanny’s brother William gives her a “very pretty amber cross” (ch. 26). Unfortunately, although he wanted to also purchase a gold chain for her to wear it on, he could not afford one, so she wears it on “a bit of ribbon”. Edmund takes note of this and decides to get her a chain himself. Presenting it to her, he explains, “I hope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavoured to consult the simplicity of your taste, but at any rate I know you will be kind to my intentions, and consider it, as it really is, a token of the love of one of your oldest friends.” (Ch. 27.) That he has paid attention to her tastes is obvious, for the chain is precisely what Fanny wished for. His kind action is accompanied by kind words, as well, as he assures her that he has “no pleasure in the world superior to that of contributing to yours. … no pleasure so complete, so unalloyed. It is without drawback.”

When Fanny rejects Henry Crawford’s proposal of marriage, Edmund attempts to show her “his participation in all that interested her” (ch. 34). When he sees her embarrassment, however, he endeavours to “scrupulously guard against exciting it a second time, by any word, or look, or movement.” Eventually, he thinks she must need at least the “comfort of communication” (ch. 35). He assures her that she has done exactly as she ought. Even though mistaken about Fanny’s thoughts and sentiments about Henry, he is observant of her feelings. Seeing “weariness and distress in her face”, he immediately resolves to “forbear all farther discussion; and not even to mention the name of Crawford again.” When other topics of conversation leave her still “oppressed and wearied”, he no longer tries to talk it away, but leads “her directly with the kind authority of a privileged guardian into the house” to rest.

Noah Webster, in his 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language, defined “Kind” as “Disposed to do good to others, and to make them happy by granting their requests, supplying their wants or assisting them in distress; having tenderness or goodness of nature; benevolent; benignant.” Again and again, Edmund demonstrates this trait. Jane Austen’s heroes portray a variety of admirable qualities. Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon are both loyal and steadfast, Mr. Darcy is generous, Mr. Knightley is discerning, Henry Tilney is cheerful, Captain Wentworth is brave and industrious. I think, however, that Edmund Bertram’s trademark characteristic must be his unceasing, unassuming kindness.

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Illustration: “The kind pains you took to persuade me out of my fears” (Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, chapter 3) by C. E. Brock.

1. Not a strong girl, Fanny’s health did suffer from the loss of this regular, but not too strenuous, exercise: “Edmund was absent at this time, or the evil would have been earlier remedied.” (Chapter 4, italics mine.)

2. “Before the railroad, the horse was the way you got somewhere if you weren’t going on foot …. Horses were expensive both to buy and maintain …. In the 1820s, a good carriage horse or hunter could run £100 and even an ordinary hack could cost £25 to £40. Plus horses, unlike cars, had to be fed, sheltered, and cared for daily, which meant that if you got a horse you were also entering into a subsidy of the horse transportation business. You were buying the services of a corn dealer (fast horses ate 72 pounds of straw, 56 pounds of hay, 2 bushels of oats, and 2 bushels of chaff a week), a blacksmith, a saddler, a coachmaker (if you had a carriage), a harness maker, and — if you were fancy — a coachman and a groom as well.” — Daniel Pool, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), pp. 142-143.

3. “Fanny was up in a moment, expecting some errand, for the habit of employing her in that way was not yet overcome, in spite of all that Edmund could do.” (Chapter 15, italics mine.)

4. According to Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), the word “Prevent” has the meanings both of “To go before” and “To anticipate” (“Anticipate”: “To take or act, before another, so as to prevent him”).

Happily Ever After

This is seventh in a series of guest posts written by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial.

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Squashed into the epilogue of ‘Mansfield Park’ is the marriage of Edmund and Fanny. Although Fanny’s and Edmund’s romance is quite bland in comparison with the excitement in the rest of the novel, I think the couple had an excellent chance of achieving a “happily ever after”. They shared an attitude and philosophy of life as well as interests and pastimes. This, combined with mutual trust, could create a solid base for their life together.

Happily Ever AfterBeyond this, their marriage could strengthen both Edmund and Fanny individually. Because Fanny fully supported Edmund’s career, Edmund could gain confidence in his work. As Fanny was not accustomed to expensive gaieties and luxuries she would not weigh him down with discontent.

For Fanny, marriage to Edmund meant taking on a high position in a new community. As  the wife of a clergyman, her duties of hospitality and charity could help her develop confidence and authority, especially practiced among strangers.

I imagine Fanny and Edmund star-gazing, reading, visiting the poor, and raising children together. What reasons do you think would make them a happy couple?

True Love?

This is fourth in a series of guest posts written by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial.

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Did Mary Crawford truly love Edmund Bertram? Put another way, this question could read, “Did Rosamund Vincy truly love Tertius Lydgate?” Or, does a woman truly love a man devoted to his profession, if she despises his profession? According to Tertius, the answer is “no”.

“Do you know, Tertius, I often wish you had not been a medical man.”

“Nay, Rosy, don’t say that,” said Lydgate, drawing her closer to him. “That is like saying you wish you had married another man.”

“Not at all; you are clever enough for anything: you might easily have been something else. . . . I do not think it is a nice profession, dear.” We know that she had much quiet perseverance in her opinion.

“It is the grandest profession in the world, Rosamond,” said Lydgate, gravely. “And to say that you love me without loving the medical man in me, is the same sort of thing as to say that you like eating a peach but don’t like its flavor. Don’t say that again, dear, it pains me.”1

Hugh Thomson illustration with captionIn a strikingly similar conversation, this question first occurs to Edmund and Mary:

“But why are you to be a clergyman? I thought that was always the lot of the youngest, where there were many to chuse before him.”

“Do you think the church itself never chosen, then?”

“Never is a black word. But yes, in the never of conversation, which means not very often, I do think it. For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.”

“The nothing of conversation has its gradations, I hope, as well as the never. A clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must not head mobs, or set the ton in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.” . . .

“I am just as much surprised now as I was at first that you should intend to take orders. You really are fit for something better. Come, do change your mind. It is not too late. Go into the law.”2

Although Mary is more intelligent and kind than Rosamund, the two share values in marriage: money and position. Mary is aware of the discrepancies between Edmund and her ideals, but Rosamund thinks she has found them in Tertius. When she learns that she is mistaken, she attempts to conform Tertius to her ideals, ultimately ruining him and their marriage. Tertius is at first filled with ambition to do good through his work, but Rosamund’s behavior causes him to lose his respect for himself, and with it a greater part of his ability to do good.

Could a similar future have awaited Edmund and Mary? Tertius and Edmund were similar men—both gentle, serious, and dedicated to their vocations. Attraction to Mary had already lead Edmund to act against his conscience during the play, and Fanny fears that Edmund would do more of the same if he married Mary: “God grant that her influence do [sic] not make him cease to be respectable!”3

The nature of true love is not to ruin and destroy. It is to adhere, to respect, to support.

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1Middlemarch, by George Eliot, Book V, ch. XLV

2Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, ch. IX

3Ibid., ch. XLIV

Brother and Sister

“You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.”

“Brother and sister! no, indeed.”

— from Emma, by Jane Austen, Volume III, Chapter II.

When Mrs. Norris comes up with the idea to take her niece, young Fanny Price, in, Sir Thomas debates and hesitates. “He thought of his own four children, of his two sons, of cousins in love, etc.;—but no sooner had he deliberately begun to state his objections, than Mrs. Norris interrupted him with a reply to them all” (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter I).

“You are thinking of your sons—but do not you know that, of all things upon earth, that is the least likely to happen, brought up as they would be, always together like brothers and sisters? It is morally impossible. I never knew an instance of it. It is, in fact, the only sure way of providing against the connexion. Suppose her a pretty girl, and seen by Tom or Edmund for the first time seven years hence, and I dare say there would be mischief. The very idea of her having been suffered to grow up at a distance from us all in poverty and neglect, would be enough to make either of the dear, sweet-tempered boys in love with her. But breed her up with them from this time, and suppose her even to have the beauty of an angel, and she will never be more to either than a sister.” (Ch. I)

Sir Thomas agrees to the plan, stressing, however, that it ought not to be “lightly engaged in”. When Fanny arrives, Mrs. Norris undertakes “to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram” and that “they cannot be equals”. So well does she accomplish this, that very few in the family ever forget that Fanny is the poor relation — including Fanny herself. “There was no positive ill-nature in Maria or Julia; and though Fanny was often mortified by their treatment of her, she thought too lowly of her own claims to feel injured by it.” (Ch. II).

She is obviously considered a dependent. Mrs. Norris says of her publicly, “I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her—very ungrateful, indeed, considering who and what she is.” (Ch. XV). On another occasion, Mrs. Norris tells Fanny, “The nonsense and folly of people’s stepping out of their rank and trying to appear above themselves, makes me think it right to give you a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us; and I do beseech and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins—as if you were dear Mrs. Rushworth or Julia. That will never do, believe me. Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last” (Ch. XXIII). That even strangers see that she is not considered one of the family, is shown by what Mr. Crawford says of her, “Now she is dependent, helpless, friendless, neglected, forgotten.” (Ch. XXX).

As Fanny is not brought up as a sister to her cousins, all of Mrs. Norris’s assurances come to naught. Fanny’s having been suffered to grow up under mistreatment and neglect within his own family, was enough to make at least one of the “dear, sweet-tempered boys” care for her. In the end, Sir Thomas’s son Edmund falls in love with her.

“With such a regard for her, indeed, as his had long been, a regard founded on the most endearing claims of innocence and helplessness, and completed by every recommendation of growing worth, what could be more natural than the change? Loving, guiding, protecting her, as he had been doing ever since her being ten years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness, an object to him of such close and peculiar interest, dearer by all his own importance with her than any one else at Mansfield, what was there now to add, but that he should learn to prefer soft light eyes to sparkling dark ones.” (Ch. XLVIII)

By this time, however, Sir Thomas is “sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper, and chiefly anxious to bind by the strongest securities all that remained to him of domestic felicity” (Ch. XLVIII). He joyfully consents to the marriage of his son and Fanny.

“With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune and friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be. Equally formed for domestic life, and attached to country pleasures, their home was the home of affection and comfort” (Ch. XLVIII).

Star-gazing: A Quotation

“Miss Crawford was standing at an open window with Edmund and Fanny looking out on a twilight scene …. when, being earnestly invited by the Miss Bertrams to join in a glee, she tripped off to the instrument ….

“Fanny … had the pleasure of seeing [Edmund] continue at the window with her, in spite of the expected glee; and of having his eyes soon turned, like hers, towards the scene without, where all that was solemn, and soothing, and lovely, appeared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. ‘Here’s harmony!’ said she; ‘here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe! Here’s what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.’

“‘I like to hear your enthusiasm, Fanny. It is a lovely night, and they are much to be pitied who have not been taught to feel, in some degree, as you do; who have not, at least, been given a taste for Nature in early life. They lose a great deal.’

“‘You taught me to think and feel on the subject, cousin.’

“‘I had a very apt scholar. There’s Arcturus looking very bright.’

“‘Yes, and the Bear. I wish I could see Cassiopeia.’

“‘We must go out on the lawn for that. Should you be afraid?’

“‘Not in the least. It is a great while since we have had any star-gazing.’

“‘Yes; I do not know how it has happened.’ The glee began. ‘We will stay till this is finished, Fanny,’ said he, turning his back on the window; and as it advanced, she had the mortification of seeing him advance too, moving forward by gentle degrees towards the instrument, and when it ceased, he was close by the singers, among the most urgent in requesting to hear the glee again.

“Fanny sighed alone at the window till scolded away by Mrs. Norris’s threats of catching cold.”

(Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Chapter XI)

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Painting: ‘Portrait of a Young Girl’ by Sophie Gengembre Anderson.

What Attracted Mary to Edmund?

“[H]e pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her;
it was enough.” (Mansfield Park, Chapter VII)

It is perhaps little wonder that Mary Crawford fell in love with Edmund Bertram. He was honest, kind, sincere, gentle, considerate, dependable, and firm (at least in his profession, which he never even considered changing because of Mary, though he fell in his principles in the case of acting in the play). He was reliable, a haven in Mary’s more “exciting”, worldly, glamorous world. He was, compared to the rest of her friends and life, restful, secure. He was principled, unlike her uncle, and even her aunt. Someone she knew would not fail her, she could depend on. Like her brother, though she did not know what to call them, his morals were reassuring to her.

Henry Crawford had too much sense not to feel the worth of good principles in a wife, though he was too little accustomed to serious reflection to know them by their proper name; but when he talked of her having such a steadiness and regularity of conduct, such a high notion of honour, and such an observance of decorum as might warrant any man in the fullest dependence on her faith and integrity, he expressed what was inspired by the knowledge of her being well principled and religious. (Ch. XXX)

The same could be said of Edmund. He had a good, warm heart, a good temper, good taste, and good understanding. For the rest, he was handsome, intelligent, educated, thoughtful, &c. “You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large,” Mary tells Fanny. “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) Edmund’s earnest, moral, kind, upright character drew Mary to him.

[T]o the credit of the lady it may be added that, without his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen, and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule: he talked no nonsense; he paid no compliments; his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself. She did not think very much about it, however: he pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her; it was enough. (Ch. VII)

Edmund didn’t trifle with people. Though Mary playfully censures her brother Henry’s flirtations, knowing that Edmund was not trifling must have been reassuring to her. She was used to matrimony being a “maneuvering business”, considering that “it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.” (Ch. V) Edmund was straightforward. As Mary herself says, “I have long thought Mr. [Edmund] Bertram one of the worst subjects to work on, in any little manoeuvre against common sense, that a woman could be plagued with.” (Ch. XXII)

Mary must have observed a great contrast between Edmund and her uncle, a contrast between him and the husbands of her friends, of her sister’s husband, &c. She had reason to admire Sir Thomas and Edmund—they presented such a different picture of domestic happiness than that which Mary was used to seeing. Edmund’s kindness to, and consideration and respect for, Fanny Price and others must have showed so differently to her uncle’s treatment of her aunt. Mary observed of Fanny, “Her cousin Edmund never forgets her.” (Ch. XXX) No doubt Mary didn’t want to be treated the way her uncle treated her aunt. She could depend on Edmund never to take a mistress, or give her other reason “to abhor [his] very name”, as her aunt had abhorred that of her husband (Ch. XXX).

Edmund had three blemishes in Mary’s eyes—he was a younger son, he was poor (at least compared to what she had expected be), and he wanted to be a clergyman—but, when he leaves to be ordained, Mary feels his absence to be “every way painful.”

She felt the want of his society every day, almost every hour, and was too much in want of it to derive anything but irritation from considering the object for which he went. He could not have devised anything more likely to raise his consequence than this week’s absence …. she could not help thinking of him continually when absent, dwelling on his merit and affection, and longing again for the almost daily meetings they lately had. (Ch. XXIX)

When he delays his return, Mary decides that she can “not live any longer in such solitary wretchedness” and makes her way to his home “through difficulties of walking which she had deemed unconquerable a week before” just “for the chance … of at least hearing his name.” (Ch. XXIX) “He is a very—a very pleasing young man himself,” she says to Fanny, “and I cannot help being rather concerned at not seeing him again before I go to London, as will now undoubtedly be the case.” (Ch. XXIX) Though before she came to Mansfield, Mary would have declared that she would never marry a younger son or a clergyman, after Edmund’s absence she finds that “Sir Thomas Bertram’s son is somebody” (Ch. XXIX) and that is almost enough for her now.

When Mary goes to her friends in London, she has more opportunities to compare Edmund with the husbands of her friends. “I do not think [Lord Stornaway] so very ill-looking as I did—at least, one sees many worse. He will not do by the side of your cousin Edmund”, Mary writes to Fanny. “Of the last-mentioned hero … I will say … that we have seen him two or three times, and that my friends here are very much struck with his gentlemanlike appearance. Mrs. Fraser (no bad judge) declares she knows but three men in town who have so good a person, height, and air; and I must confess, when he dined here the other day, there were none to compare with him” (Ch. XLIII).

Fanny believes that Mary would try “to be more ambitious than her heart would allow”, but that she “would yet prove herself in the end too much attached to him to give him up” (Ch. XLIII) Mary loved Edmund and, “considering the many counteractions of opposing habits, she had certainly been more attached to him than could have been expected, and for his sake been more near doing right.” (Ch. XLVII) Though their relationship ends in a permanent rupture, it is long before Mary can forget him.

“Mrs. Grant … 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.” (Ch. XLVIII)

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Notes: The illustrations in this post are screen captures from the 1983 mini-series ‘Mansfield Park’. The picture are of Edmund Bertram (played by Nicholas Farrell) and Mary Crawford (played by Jackie Smith-Wood). All quotes in this post are from the novel Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Why Did Fanny Reject Mr. Crawford?

“Am I to understand … that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?”

(Mansfield Park, Chapter XXXII)

Why did Fanny Price refuse Mr. Crawford’s proposal of marriage? Was it because she disapproved of him? Or was it because she loved Edmund? I believe that it is a combination of both reasons—“love of another and disesteem of him” (Ch. XXIV). The degree to which she was influenced by either consideration must be a matter of speculation.

To begin with, Fanny never gives a reason for her refusal of Mr. Crawford, except a simple dislike of him, and the conviction of their incompatibility. She never says that she is rejecting Henry because of his morals, although that is one of her reasons. Nor does she admit to refusing him because she is in love with somebody else.

“Am I to understand,” said Sir Thomas, after a few moments’ silence, “that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Refuse him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Refuse Mr. Crawford! Upon what plea? For what reason?”

“I—I cannot like him, sir, well enough to marry him.”

“This is very strange!” said Sir Thomas, in a voice of calm displeasure. “There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach. Here is a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, 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. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day; you have now known him some time. His sister, moreover, is your intimate friend, and he has been doing that for your brother, which I should suppose would have been almost sufficient recommendation to you, had there been no other. It is very uncertain when my interest might have got William on. He has done it already.”

“Yes,” said Fanny, in a faint voice, and looking down with fresh shame; and she did feel almost ashamed of herself, after such a picture as her uncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford. (Ch. XXXII)

“We are so totally unlike,” said Fanny, avoiding a direct answer [to a question of Edmund’s], “we are so very, very different in all our inclinations and ways, that I consider it as quite impossible we should ever be tolerably happy together, even if I could like him. There never were two people more dissimilar. We have not one taste in common. We should be miserable.” (Ch. XXXV)

When explaining to her uncle why she is refusing Mr. Crawford, Fanny must hide her two real reasons: her love for Edmund (“His niece was deep in thought likewise, trying to harden and prepare herself against farther questioning. She would rather die than own the truth; and she hoped, by a little reflection, to fortify herself beyond betraying it.”—Ch. XXXII), and her reasons for thinking ill of Mr. Crawford’s principles. Sir Thomas asks Fanny, “Have you any reason, child, to think ill of Mr. Crawford’s temper?”

“No, sir.”

She longed to add, “But of his principles I have”; but her heart sunk under the appalling prospect of discussion, explanation, and probably non-conviction. Her ill opinion of him was founded chiefly on observations, which, for her cousins’ sake, she could scarcely dare mention to their father. Maria and Julia, and especially Maria, were so closely implicated in Mr. Crawford’s misconduct, that she could not give his character, such as she believed it, without betraying them. (Ch. XXXII)

Fanny would not have married Mr. Crawford—even had he been upright, like Edmund—if she had a hope of marrying Edmund, because she loved Edmund. But, had Edmund been out of the picture, she probably would have fallen for Mr. Crawford, even though she knew him to be unprincipled. Whether Mr. Crawford would have wanted to marry her had she not initially resisted him (which she did because of her love for Edmund, as well as her ill opinion of Crawford’s character), is another question. In all likelihood, he would have dumped her like he did Maria and Julia Bertram—and doubtless others. Fanny’s love for Edmund protected her from Crawford.

And without attempting any farther remonstrance [to her brother], she [Miss Crawford] left Fanny to her fate [of Mr. Crawford attempting to make a “small hole” in her heart], a fate which, had not Fanny’s heart been guarded in a way unsuspected by Miss Crawford, might have been a little harder than she deserved; for although there doubtless are such unconquerable young ladies of eighteen (or one should not read about them) as are never to be persuaded into love against their judgment by all that talent, manner, attention, and flattery can do, I have no inclination to believe Fanny one of them, or to think that with so much tenderness of disposition, and so much taste as belonged to her, she could have escaped heart-whole from the courtship (though the courtship only of a fortnight) of such a man as Crawford, in spite of there being some previous ill opinion of him to be overcome, had not her affection been engaged elsewhere. With all the security which love of another and disesteem of him could give to the peace of mind he was attacking, his 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, that it was impossible not to be civil to him in return. (Ch. XXIV)

Later in the novel, Fanny is shown wavering in her feelings for Mr. Crawford—like the time she fancies, if they were married, how good-naturedly he would likely agree to take in her sister Susan (see the last paragraph of Ch. XLIII). The author’s conclusion is that Fanny probably would have eventually accepted Mr. Crawford if he had not run off with Mrs. Rushworth—but only after Edmund had married and if Henry had continued on the ‘strait and narrow’.

Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example, indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long. Once it had, by an opening undesigned and unmerited, led him into the way of happiness. Could he have been satisfied with the conquest of one amiable woman’s affections, could he have found sufficient exultation in overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him. His affection had already done something. Her influence over him had already given him some influence over her. Would he have deserved more, there can be no doubt that more would have been obtained, especially when that marriage had taken place, which would have given him the assistance of her conscience in subduing her first inclination, and brought them very often together. Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed, within a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary. (Ch. XLVIII)

If it were not for her affection for Edmund, Fanny could not have “have escaped heart-whole from the courtship … of such a man as Crawford, in spite of there being some previous ill opinion of him to be overcome”. She is not one of those “unconquerable young ladies of eighteen … as are never to be persuaded into love against their judgment by all that talent, manner, attention, and flattery can do”. However, her refusal of his proposal of marriage has as much to do with her disapproval of his morals as her love for Edmund.

Her love for Edmund keeps Fanny from becoming too attracted to Mr. Crawford, but that does not mean that she thought well, or would have thought well, of him, had Edmund been out of the picture. She might not have escaped heart-whole, but that does not mean that she would have married him (although, I suppose, she might have). Her love for Edmund protects her heart; her firmness in her own principles protects her from accepting Mr. Crawford’s proposal of marriage. It is not until some time after his proposal that Fanny begins to waver in her opinion of Mr. Crawford. It would have taken time for Fanny to be ready to marry him, and he would have had to continue living uprightly. Her wavering comes from the changes he makes in his life—”she was quite persuaded of his being astonishingly more gentle and regardful of others than formerly. And, if in little things, must it not be so in great?” (Ch. XLII)

In closing, I will recount a short scene from the book. Edmund is talking to Fanny about her refusal of Mr. Crawford, wishing that she could love him, and regretting that Crawford had been so precipitate: “Between us, I think we should have won you. My theoretical and his practical knowledge together could not have failed.” (Ch. XXXV). That line always makes me smile. Had Edmund been trying to win Fanny, no Mr. Crawford would have been necessary!

Illustration Credits: All pictures are from the 1983 version of Mansfield Park. In the pictures, Fanny Price is represented by Sylvestra Le Touzel, Henry Crawford by Robert Burbage, Maria Bertram by Samantha Bond, Mary Crawford by Jackie Smith-Wood, and Edmund Bertram by Nicholas Farrell.