“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).


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).