“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.

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Illustrations:

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

Sometimes How Quick to Feel!

Mary Crawford is a controversial figure in Mansfield Park. Many have compared her to Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. The two characters are similar in their liveliness, their wit, and their playfulness — all in contrast to the heroine of Mansfield Park, who is quiet, reserved, and even solemn. Why, some have asked, is Mary condemned for possessing the same qualities as Elizabeth?

The answer is, she isn’t. Mary isn’t judged for her liveliness, her wit, her playfulness, or her charm — she is judged for her moral failings, for her “faults of principle”, her “blunted delicacy” and her “corrupted, vitiated mind” (Ch. XLVII).

Elizabeth Bennet, when she sought to clear Mr. Wickham from the charges Mr. Darcy made against him, was unable to.

His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in the possession of every virtue. She tried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him from the attacks of Mr. Darcy; or at least, by the predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors under which she would endeavour to class what Mr. Darcy had described as the idleness and vice of many years’ continuance. But no such recollection befriended her. She could see him instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but she could remember no more substantial good than the general approbation of the neighbourhood, and the regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 36)

Those who read Mansfield Park, however, can find not only Mary Crawford’s charm, but also “some instance of goodness”, for Mary is not all bad. Her liveliness and wit are not always directed towards people or subjects which ought to be respected. Edmund’s exclamation about Miss Crawford describes her well: “Sometimes how quick to feel!” (Ch. XLVII).

She is sorry for Fanny Price, and often kind to her and considerate of her.

“I am afraid you are very tired, Fanny,” said Edmund, observing her; “why would not you speak sooner? This will be a bad day’s amusement for you if you are to be knocked up. Every sort of exercise fatigues her so soon, Miss Crawford, except riding.”

“How abominable in you, then, to let me engross her horse as I did all last week! I am ashamed of you and of myself, but it shall never happen again.” (Ch. IX)

When Mrs. Norris berates Fanny for not taking part in the play — “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) — Miss Crawford,

looking for a moment with astonished eyes at Mrs. Norris, and then at Fanny, whose tears were beginning to shew themselves, immediately said, with some keenness, “I do not like my situation: this place is too hot for me,” and moved away her chair to the opposite side of the table, close to Fanny, saying to her, in a kind, low whisper, as she placed herself, “Never mind, my dear Miss Price, this is a cross evening: everybody is cross and teasing, but do not let us mind them”; and with pointed attention continued to talk to her and endeavour to raise her spirits, in spite of being out of spirits herself. By a look at her brother she prevented any farther entreaty from the theatrical board, and the really good feelings by which she was almost purely governed were rapidly restoring her to all the little she had lost in Edmund’s favour. (Ch. XV)

This action of Miss Crawford’s leads Edmund to say to Fanny, “She never appeared more amiable than in her behaviour to you last night. It gave her a very strong claim on my goodwill.” (Ch. XVI). Many readers — including myself — feel the same.

When Dr. Grant invites Fanny into his house out of the rain, Miss Crawford finds that Fanny has never heard her play the harp.

It was beginning to look brighter, when Fanny, observing a harp in the room, asked some questions about it, which soon led to an acknowledgment of her wishing very much to hear it, and a confession, which could hardly be believed, of her having never yet heard it since its being in Mansfield. To Fanny herself it appeared a very simple and natural circumstance. She had scarcely ever been at the Parsonage since the instrument’s arrival, there had been no reason that she should; but Miss Crawford, calling to mind an early expressed wish on the subject, was concerned at her own neglect; and “Shall I play to you now?” and “What will you have?” were questions immediately following with the readiest good-humour.  (Chapter XXII)

She loves music, as she acknowledges to Edmund and Fanny. “I shall be most happy to play to you both,” said Miss Crawford; “at least as long as you can like to listen: probably much longer, for I dearly love music myself, and where the natural taste is equal the player must always be best off, for she is gratified in more ways than one.” (Ch. VI).

Mary is lively, good-humoured, entertaining, and feminine.

“Well, Fanny, and how do you like Miss Crawford now?” said Edmund the next day, after thinking some time on the subject himself. “How did you like her yesterday?”

“Very well—very much. I like to hear her talk. She entertains me; and she is so extremely pretty, that I have great pleasure in looking at her. … [But] what right had she to suppose that you would not write long letters when you were absent?”

“The right of a lively mind, Fanny, seizing whatever may contribute to its own amusement or that of others; perfectly allowable, when untinctured by ill-humour or roughness; and there is not a shadow of either in the countenance or manner of Miss Crawford: nothing sharp, or loud, or coarse. She is perfectly feminine, except in the instances we have been speaking of.” (Ch. VII)

She can be obliging. On one occasion, she is talking with Edmund and Fanny

when, being earnestly invited by the Miss Bertrams to join in a glee, she tripped off to the instrument, leaving Edmund looking after her in an ecstasy of admiration of all her many virtues, from her obliging manners down to her light and graceful tread.

“There goes good-humour, I am sure,” said he presently. “There goes a temper which would never give pain! How well she walks! and how readily she falls in with the inclination of others! joining them the moment she is asked.” (Ch. XI)

On another occasion,

Henry Crawford entered the room, fresh from the Parsonage, calling out, “No want of hands in our theatre, Miss Bertram. No want of understrappers: my sister desires her love, and hopes to be admitted into the company, and will be happy to take the part of any old duenna or tame confidante, that you may not like to do yourselves.”

Maria gave Edmund a glance, which meant, “What say you now? Can we be wrong if Mary Crawford feels the same?” And Edmund, silenced, was obliged to acknowledge that the charm of acting might well carry fascination to the mind of genius; and with the ingenuity of love, to dwell more on the obliging, accommodating purport of the message than on anything else. (Ch. XIII)

She is fond of her brother. “She speaks of her brother with a very pleasing affection” (Ch. VII), says Edmund, reflecting on some of Miss Crawford’s earlier conversation (Ch. VI). When she undertakes comforting Fanny after Mrs. Norris angrily scolds her for not obliging her cousins by acting in their play, Mary, by “a look at her brother … prevented any farther entreaty from the theatrical board” — showing their amiable relationship, and dependence on each other’s good-will and willingness to help each other.

She is capable of being tender.

“Yet, Fanny, do not imagine I would now speak disrespectfully of Sir Thomas, though I certainly did hate him for many a week. No, I do him justice now. He is just what the head of such a family should be. Nay, in sober sadness, I believe I now love you all.” And having said so, with a degree of tenderness and consciousness which Fanny had never seen in her before, and now thought only too becoming, she turned away for a moment to recover herself. “I have had a little fit since I came into this room, as you may perceive,” said she presently, with a playful smile, “but it is over now; so let us sit down and be comfortable; for as to scolding you, Fanny, which I came fully intending to do, I have not the heart for it when it comes to the point.” And embracing her very affectionately, “Good, gentle Fanny! when I think of this being the last time of seeing you for I do not know how long, I feel it quite impossible to do anything but love you.”

Fanny was affected. She had not foreseen anything of this, and her feelings could seldom withstand the melancholy influence of the word “last.” She cried as if she had loved Miss Crawford more than she possibly could; and Miss Crawford, yet farther softened by the sight of such emotion, hung about her with fondness, and said, “I hate to leave you. I shall see no one half so amiable where I am going. Who says we shall not be sisters? I know we shall. I feel that we are born to be connected; and those tears convince me that you feel it too, dear Fanny.” (Ch. XXXVI)

Her playfulness is disarming and charming.

“My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself—I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” (Ch. VII)

“No part of it fatigues me but getting off this horse, I assure you,” said she, as she sprang down with [Edmund’s] help; “I am very strong. Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like. Miss Price, I give way to you with a very bad grace; but I sincerely hope you will have a pleasant ride, and that I may have nothing but good to hear of this dear, delightful, beautiful animal.” (Ch. VII)

“Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” ….

[Edmund] still reasoned with her, but in vain. She would not calculate, she would not compare. She would only smile and assert. The greatest degree of rational consistency could not have been more engaging, and they talked with mutual satisfaction. (Ch. IX)

She is energetic and spirited. ‘After sitting a little while Miss Crawford was up again. “I must move,” said she; “resting fatigues me.”’ (Ch. IX) The old coachman commented on Miss Crawford’s “great cleverness as a horse-woman”: “It is a pleasure to see a lady with such a good heart for riding!” said he. “I never see one sit a horse better. She did not seem to have a thought of fear.” (Ch. VII)

In the drawing-room Miss Crawford was also celebrated. Her merit in being gifted by Nature with strength and courage was fully appreciated by the Miss Bertrams; her delight in riding was like their own; her early excellence in it was like their own, and they had great pleasure in praising it. (Ch. VII)

And then, there is her affection for Edmund.

Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love; and to 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)

Fanny admits that Miss Crawford’s “attachment to Edmund had been respectable, the most respectable part of her character” (Ch. XLV).

Mary is shown to be both charming and amiable. What, then, are her faults?

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Notes:

This post is part of a series on the character Mary Crawford from Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. The first post, ‘Sometimes How Quick to Feel!’, is about the good side of Mary’s character. The second two, ‘The Case Against Mary Crawford’, Part I and Part II, discuss Mary’s faults. The last post, ‘This Is What the World Does’, briefly considers how she became the woman that she was.

woman that she was.

Screencaps of the 2007 ITV production of ‘Mansfield Park’ with Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford from angelfish_icons.

Purpose and Manner

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on March 3, 2010, 3:48 PM

Fanny Price and Elizabeth Bennet are very different heroines, yet they have some similarities. Both of them have a sweet manner, which on occasion causes those around them to react to them differently than they expected. While Elizabeth is staying with her sister Jane at Netherfield Park, Mr. Darcy asks her if she would like to dance a reel. She replies that she does not wish to dance dance a reel at all and dares him to despise her for it. “Indeed I do not dare,” he declares.

“Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter X)

When Fanny is sent to Sir Thomas’s room to personally refuse Mr. Crawford’s proposal of marriage, the “conference was neither so short nor so conclusive as the lady had designed”—for reasons similar to those that explain Elizabeth’s failure to affront Mr. Darcy.

“Fanny knew her own meaning, but was no judge of her own manner. Her manner was incurably gentle; and she was not aware how much it concealed the sternness of her purpose. Her diffidence, gratitude, and softness made every expression of indifference seem almost an effort of self-denial; seem, at least, to be giving nearly as much pain to herself as to him.” (Mansfield ParkChapter XXXIII)

A similarity of feeling between Fanny and Elizabeth is commented on by Richard Jenkyns in A Fine Brush on Ivory: “We catch Fanny hoping that Henry will not be put off by the vulgarity of her family (Lizzy Bennet had similar feelings).” 1

“It was soon pain upon pain, confusion upon confusion; for they were hardly in the High Street before they met her father, whose appearance was not the better from its being Saturday. He stopt; and, ungentlemanlike as he looked, Fanny was obliged to introduce him to Mr. Crawford. She could not have a doubt of the manner in which Mr. Crawford must be struck. He must be ashamed and disgusted altogether. He must soon give her up, and cease to have the smallest inclination for the match; and yet, though she had been so much wanting his affection to be cured, this was a sort of cure that would be almost as bad as the complaint; and I believe there is scarcely a young lady in the United Kingdoms who would not rather put up with the misfortune of being sought by a clever, agreeable man, than have him driven away by the vulgarity of her nearest relations.” (Mansfield ParkChapter XLI)

Elizabeth often is embarrassed by her family’s “total want of propriety” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXV). When she meets Mr. Darcy at Pemberley and introduces her uncle and aunt to him, her feelings are described.

“Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph. It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush. She listened most attentively to all that passed between them, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of her uncle, which marked his intelligence, his taste, or his good manners.” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XLIII)

Here are some more passages describing Elizabeth’s shame at her family’s “impropriety of conduct”:

“There were some very strong objections against the lady,” were Colonel Fitzwilliam’s words; and those strong objections probably were, her having one uncle who was a country attorney, and another who was in business in London.

“To Jane herself,” she exclaimed, “there could be no possibility of objection; all loveliness and goodness as she is!—her understanding excellent, her mind improved, and her manners captivating. Neither could anything be urged against my father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain, and respectability which he will probably never reach.” When she thought of her mother, her confidence gave way a little; but she would not allow that any objections there had material weight with Mr. Darcy, whose pride, she was convinced, would receive a deeper wound from the want of importance in his friend’s connections, than from their want of sense; and she was quite decided, at last, that he had been partly governed by this worst kind of pride, and partly by the wish of retaining Mr. Bingley for his sister. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXIII)

The compliment to herself and her sister was not unfelt. It soothed, but it could not console her for the contempt which had thus been self-attracted by the rest of her family; and as she considered that Jane’s disappointment had in fact been the work of her nearest relations, and reflected how materially the credit of both must be hurt by such impropriety of conduct, she felt depressed beyond anything she had ever known before. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XXXVI)

Such were the kind of lamentations resounding perpetually through Longbourn House. Elizabeth tried to be diverted by them; but all sense of pleasure was lost in shame. She felt anew the justice of Mr. Darcy’s objections; and never had she been so much disposed to pardon his interference in the views of his friend. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter XLI)

Elizabeth’s misery increased, at such unnecessary, such officious attention! Were the same fair prospect to arise at present as had flattered them a year ago, every thing, she was persuaded, would be hastening to the same vexatious conclusion. At that instant, she felt that years of happiness could not make Jane or herself amends for moments of such painful confusion. (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter LIII)

And another instance of Fanny’s comparable feelings:

Before they [Mr. Crawford and Fanny Price] parted, she had to thank him for another pleasure, and one of no trivial kind. Her father asked him to do them the honour of taking his mutton with them, and Fanny had time for only one thrill of horror, before he declared himself prevented by a prior engagement. He was engaged to dinner already both for that day and the next; he had met with some acquaintance at the Crown who would not be denied; he should have the honour, however, of waiting on them again on the morrow, etc., and so they parted—Fanny in a state of actual felicity from escaping so horrible an evil!

To have had him join their family dinner-party, and see all their deficiencies, would have been dreadful! Rebecca’s cookery and Rebecca’s waiting, and Betsey’s eating at table without restraint, and pulling everything about as she chose, were what Fanny herself was not yet enough inured to for her often to make a tolerable meal. She was nice only from natural delicacy, but he had been brought up in a school of luxury and epicurism. (Mansfield ParkChapter XLI)

Despite their great differences, both Fanny and Elizabeth possess “that sweetness which makes so essential a part of every woman’s worth in the judgment of man, that though he sometimes loves where it is not, he can never believe it absent” (Mansfield Park, Chapter XXX).

Notes:

1A Fine Brush on Ivory, by Richard Jenkyns; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; Chap. 4, p. 138.

2 Images from sns_red_curtain.

My Favorite Novel

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 10, 2009, 12:12 PM

YES, I’m in love, I feel it now,
And Cælia has undone me;
And yet I’ll swear I can’t tell how
The pleasing plague stole on me.
1

Why is Mansfield Park my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels? To quote from the book: “Nothing could be more impossible than to answer such a question, though nothing could be more agreeable than to have it asked.” 2 How “the pleasing plague stole on me” I could not say. 3 However, I will attempt to list a few reasons.

It is possibly the most profound and complex of Jane Austen’s writings. Of all her novels, I have found it to be the one with the most doubtful ending. In the words of Mr. J. Plumptre, “I never read a novel which interested me so very much throughout, the characters are all so remarkably well kept up & so well drawn, & the plot is so well contrived that I had not an idea till the end which of the two would marry Fanny, H. C[rawford] or Edmund.” 4 Jane Austen wrote of her brother Henry’s opinion of her book, “Henry has this moment said that he likes my M. P. better & better ; he is in the 3d* volume. I beleive now he has changed his mind as to foreseeing the end; he said yesterday at least, that he defied anybody to say whether H. C. would be reformed, or would forget Fanny in a fortnight.” 5 While, as far back as I can remember, I have always known how the book ended, it still interests me every time I read it to think how it could have ended. As far as I can recall, it is the only novel in which Jane Austen tells us how it would have ended had something else happened. I find the possible alternative ending intriguing.

The characters in Mansfield Park are intricate, and, as Lizzy Bennet tells us, “intricate characters are the most amusing.  They have at least that advantage.” 6Their intricacy builds the complexity of the book, the doubtfulness of the ending. How will such a character act under these circumstances? Sir Thomas is upright and generous, yet he fails to bring up his daughters well. Miss Crawford is charming, yet she is morally corrupt. Mr. Crawford is unscrupulous, yet he almost reforms. Mrs. Norris is detestable in her cruelty, yet she “would have been a more respectable mother of nine children on a small income” 7 than Fanny’s mother is. These are not flat characters.

And there are the amusing characters: the buffoonish Mr. Rushworth, the gourmand, Dr. Grant, who “brought on apoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week” 8, and even Mrs. Norris, who “consoled herself for the loss of her husband by considering that she could do very well without him.” 9 Mansfield Park is, perhaps, one of the least comic of her novels, but Jane Austen seems to never have ceased viewing life with a sense of humor and irony.

Fanny Price herself is wonderful to study. Her patience under mistreatment, her timidity, diffidence, discernment, tenderheartedness, gentleness, loyalty, fortitude, and vulnerability, all unite to give her a depth and complexity that has the capability of delighting anyone who, like Elizabeth Bennet, is “a studier of character.” 10 Richard Jenkyns, in his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, comments, “Most of those who know Jane Austen best appear to regard Mansfield Park as a masterpiece, a deep book.” 11 He declares that it “is not far from being a perfect novel” 12 and that “the treatment of the heroine is masterly and profound.” 13

Fanny is much abused, not only by characters in the book, but also by critics. Perhaps I enjoy going against a popular opinion. There is a certain pleasure in defending someone. Not that Fanny doesn’t have her following of admirers, but of all of Jane Austen’s heroines, she is said to be the least liked. (Not necessarily a very low position, given the popularity of Jane Austen’s novels!)

Of course, I find all of Jane Austen’s novels delightful and fascinating, but these are a few of the reasons that Mansfield Park has come to be my favorite of her works.

References:

1. First verse of The Je Ne Scai Quoi by William Whitehead (1715-1785).

2. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter XXX.

3. Ibid.

4. From Jane Austen’s collected Opinions of “Mansfield Park” (These can be accessed at: http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/opmansfp.html)

5. Ibid.

6. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Chapter 9.

7. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter XXXIX.

8. Ibid. Chapter XLVIII

9. Ibid. Chapter III.

10. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Chapter 9.

11. A Fine Brush on Ivory, by Richard Jenkyns; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; Chapter 4, pages 93-94.

12. Ibid. Chapter 4, page 94.

13. Ibid.