Misguided Concealment

This is sixth 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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In many novels, much of the drama revolves around a concealment. These passages are especially irksome because great harm often comes from the concealment, and it would be so simple for the informed character to say something and avert the catastrophe.

Often these concealments arise from some romantic fancy. In Far From the Madding Crowd, Gabriel Oak conceals Sergeant Troy’s former relationship from Bathsheba out of a mistaken sense of obligation to Fanny Robin. In Bleak House, Lady Dedlock conceals her past from her husband, even though speaking out would completely disarm her enemy, because she fears losing her husband’s esteem. Other characters feel that it would be wrong to speak ill of someone, even when not speaking injures another person—a person who really has a right to know.

Whereas I have come to expect misguided concealments in novels such as those by Dickens and Hardy, I was surprised to meet one in Mansfield Park.1 Happily, it has no effect on the outcome of the story, but it is still there!

Fanny Price keeps important information from Edmund. As Edmund’s only confidant, she knows that, although he is deeply in love with Mary Crawford, several things would keep him from proposing to her: Mary’s love of money, love of prestige, and contempt for Edmund’s profession. In fact, these did at one point decide Edmund against marrying her. After his ordination, he purposely stayed away from Mansfield to avoid seeing Mary, intending to return only after she left.

Fanny is uncertain as to how much Mary’s fondness for Edmund may have overcome her worldly notions, and she must, in any case, leave Edmund to his own judgment. What good would it do to convey doubts and suspicions to a mind accustomed to excusing them? And what right had she to do so—would it not be only indulging her own envy?

But while in Portsmouth, Fanny receives confirmation of her fears in writing from Mary.2 There, in Mary’s own handwriting, is evidence that she loves money and position in society to the point of wishing Edmund’s brother dead, and looks forward to Edmund’s profession being concealed as a past disgrace!

Despite any attending awkwardness, I think Fanny should have forwarded Mary’s letter to Edmund. He had a right to know.

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1There is a misguided concealment in Emma, which is crucial to the plot, but Austen handles it much differently than the other authors mentioned. Also, in Pride and Prejudice, Jane and Elizabeth choose not to publish Wickham’s true character because he is leaving soon.

2“Poor young man! If he is to die, there will be two poor young men less in the world; and with a fearless face and bold voice would I say to any one, that wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving of them. It was a foolish precipitation last Christmas [Edmund’s ordination], but the evil of a few days may be blotted out in part. Varnish and gilding hide many stains. It will be but the loss of the Esquire after his name. With real affection, Fanny, like mine, more might be overlooked.”—Mansfield Park, Chapter XLV

If Only

This is fifth 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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37th copyMansfield Park is a tragedy. Its readers often exclaim, “If only!”

The “if only” usually refers to the marriages of Fanny & Henry, Mary & Edmund. What happiness for them all! What fun for the readers to enjoy Henry’s and Mary’s felicity, and to see Fanny and Edmund learn to laugh at themselves, as Mr. Darcy did in Pride and Prejudice.

But this is impossible. As Austen wrote the story, tragedy was inevitable. Although she convinces us that Fanny and Henry could be truly happy together, she states that Fanny would only have married Henry after “a reasonable period from Edmund’s marrying Mary.”1 And, sadly, it seems that Edmund and Mary would not have been happy together.

In contrast to Henry, who, within a short time of falling in love with Fanny, began to change his actions2, Mary did not change for love of Edmund, although her affection continued for many months. In conversation, Henry moderated his tone and topics to Fanny, but Mary sharpened her tongue against Edmund. She ridiculed his principles rather than trying to understand them.

Also, Mary despised Edmund’s profession and would have been discontent with his income. Whereas marriage to Fanny would have been Henry’s moral salvation, marriage to Mary would have been Edmund’s moral condemnation. And Henry’s moral salvation—through Fanny, at least—could only happen by that sacrifice of Edmund.

And we all know what happens when neither of these couples marry. A tragedy.3

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1Chapter 48, Mansfield Park.

2I chose “actions” as distinct from “principles”. Henry did think about serious subjects more seriously while courting Fanny, but ultimately did not change his principles.

3Although Edmund did suffer deeply, this was a tragedy primarily for the Henry and Mary, as, ultimately, Fanny and Edmund lived happily ever after.

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

Mary Crawford Quotations

Quotations from the antiheroine of Mansfield Park, the lively, worldly, and entertaining Mary Crawford:

1814 Ackermann's fashion plate - Walking Dress“I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage.” (Ch. 4)

“Oh dear! let him stand his chance and be taken in. It will do just as well. Everybody is taken in at some period or other. … In marriage especially. With all due respect to such of the present company as chance to be married, my dear Mrs. Grant, there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves. … speaking from my own observation, it is a manoeuvring business. I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connexion, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse. What is this but a take in?” (Ch. 5)

Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do. She looked about her with due consideration, and found almost everything in his favour: a park, a real park, five miles round, a spacious modern-built house, so well placed and well screened as to deserve to be in any collection of engravings of gentlemen’s seats in the kingdom, and wanting only to be completely new furnished—pleasant sisters, a quiet mother, and an agreeable man himself—with the advantage of being tied up from much gaming at present by a promise to his father, and of being Sir Thomas hereafter. It might do very well; she believed she should accept him … (Ch. 5)

“Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle, bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in; and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it being excessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved” (Ch. 6)

“Mr. Bertram,” said she, “I have tidings of my harp at last. I am assured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it has probably been these ten days, in spite of the solemn assurances we have so often received to the contrary.” Edmund expressed his pleasure and surprise. “The truth is, that our inquiries were too direct; we sent a servant, we went ourselves: this will not do seventy miles from London; but this morning we heard of it in the right way. It was seen by some farmer, and he told the miller, and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher’s son-in-law left word at the shop.” (Ch. 6)

“What strange creatures brothers are! You would not write to each other but upon the most urgent necessity in the world; and when obliged to take up the pen to say that such a horse is ill, or such a relation dead, it is done in the fewest possible words. You have but one style among you. I know it perfectly. Henry, who is in every other respect exactly what a brother should be, who loves me, consults me, confides in me, and will talk to me by the hour together, has never yet turned the page in a letter; and very often it is nothing more than — ‘Dear Mary, I am just arrived. Bath seems full, and everything as usual. Yours sincerely.’ That is the true manly style; that is a complete brother’s letter.” (Ch. 6)

%22The Marchioness of Northampton Playing a Harp%22 by Sir Henry Raeburn“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. 7)

“Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.” (Ch. 7)

“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.” (Ch. 9)

“I must move,” said she; “resting fatigues me.” (Ch. 9)

“I often think of Mr. Rushworth’s property and independence, and wish them in other hands; but I never think of him.” (Ch. 17)

“I see no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it.” (Ch. 22)

“Well,” said Miss Crawford, “and do you not scold us for our imprudence? What do you think we have been sitting down for but to be talked to about it, and entreated and supplicated never to do so again?” (Ch. 22)

“Upon my word,” cried Miss Crawford, “you are two of the most disappointing and unfeeling kind friends I ever met with! There is no giving you a moment’s uneasiness. You do not know how much we have been suffering, nor what chills we have felt! But I have long thought Mr. Bertram one of the worst subjects to work on, in any little manoeuvre against common sense, that a woman could be plagued with. I had very little hope of him from the first; but you, Mrs. Grant, my sister, my own sister, I think I had a right to alarm you a little.” (Ch. 22)

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” (Ch. 22)

“Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than themselves.” (Ch. 23)

“Foolish fellow! And so this is her attraction after all! This it is, her not caring about you, which gives her such a soft skin, and makes her so much taller, and produces all these charms and graces!” (Ch. 24)

“There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.” (Ch. 25)

“A poor honourable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in the case, for take away his rants, and the poor baron has nothing. What a difference a vowel makes! If his rents were but equal to his rants!” (Ch. 40)

“Varnish and gilding hide many stains.” (Ch. 45)

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Illustrations: “Walking Dress” an 1814 Ackermann’s fashion plate and “The Marchioness of Northampton Playing a Harp” by Sir Henry Raeburn.

First Impressions of Mansfield Park

“How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!” — Fanny Price (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter XXII)

I was looking through some of my old school papers and came across some writing that I did about Mansfield Park when I was between ten and eleven years old. I’m not sure whether I was writing about the book or the 1983 miniseries — probably the miniseries. The writing is riddled with misspellings and other mistakes. Obviously, I meant that Miss Crawford was Henry’s sister. I wrote that Henry Crawford marries Maria, that Lady Bertram is emotional (I’m not sure what I thought that word meant), and that Fanny was energetic. I called Sir Thomas, Sir Bertran, and had the mistaken notion that Henry Crawford was handsome. Alas for human wisdom at ten!

Caraistics of Mansfield Park

Mrs. Aunt Noris          May 4, 19—

Aunt Noris is Fanny Prices’ Aunt. She always wants what is best for herself. She orders Fanny about. She thinks ordering people about make her look better. She is Selfish, Self-Centerd, Arrogent, and she is a Miser.

Example #1: Fanny is going to visit her Family. Her Aunt Noris (trying to make people think she cares about her sister, Fanny’s mother) thinks she might go with Fanny. But after Lady Bertram (Fanny’s other Aunt) reminds Aunt Noris that she must pay her own way back, Aunt Noris changes her mind imiditly. She does not care about her poor sister (Fanny’s mother). This shows that she is self-centerd. She is trying to make her living on her rich sister (Lady Bertran).

Mr. Henry Crawford          May 5, 19—

Mr. Crawford wants all girls to be in love with him. He flurts with one girl while a while ago he was asking Fanny to marry him. He is dishonist, unloyle, rich, and handsome. Girls think he is just wonderful. He ends up running away with a married girl. Her husband divorses her. Henry dicides to marry her instead of Fanny.

Miss Crawford          May 5, 19—

Miss Crawford is Henry’s brother. She is Fanny’s friend, but she diseeves Fanny. Most People are diseeved by her, but Fanny suspecs her of tricking her. She is kind, dishonest, beutifull, tricky, rich, Friendly, and funny.

Sir Bertran          May 6, 19—

Sir Bertran is Fanny’s Uncle. He is very rich. He has good judgement. He is kind and handsome. He maneges the Family estate very well. He loves his family and takes care of them.

Lady Bertran          May 6, 19—

” is Fanny’s Aunt and Sir Bertran’s wife. She kind, gental, beutiful, graceful, emotional, loving, lazy, and funny.

Fanny Price          May 7, 19—

Fanny Price is the main charectur in Mansfield Park. She is Kind, beutiful, graceful, emotional, loving, gental, loyal, Friendly, unselfish, and energetic. She loves to ride horses. She reads aloud to her Aunt, Lady Bertran. Her cousin, Edmund, reads aloud to her. She studies with him. She is always ready to do anything she can to help (even her Aunt Noris). She is obedient. She will obey anyone when she thinks they are right. Like Sir Bertran, her Uncle, she has good judgement. In the End Of the Story Fanny marries Edmund

This Is What the World Does

“If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.” (Chapter XXV)

It is, perhaps, not to be wondered at that Miss Crawford possesses these flaws. Her impropriety in speaking ill of her uncle, can, as Fanny observed, be seen as “a reflection itself upon Mrs. Crawford, as her niece has been entirely brought up by her”. Edmund agrees, “That is a fair remark. Yes, we must suppose the faults of the niece to have been those of the aunt; and it makes one more sensible of the disadvantages she has been under.” (Ch. VII). Later Edmund speaks of Miss Crawford,

“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. What a pity,” he added, after an instant’s reflection, “that she should have been in such hands!” (Ch. XI)

Mary’s uncle and aunt had an unhappy marriage. “Admiral and Mrs. Crawford, though agreeing in nothing else, were united in affection for these children, or, at least, were no farther adverse in their feelings than that each had their favourite, to whom they showed the greatest fondness of the two. The Admiral delighted in the boy, Mrs. Crawford doted on the girl” (Ch. IV).

When Miss Crawford speaks of her “late dear aunt”, Mrs. Crawford, she speaks of her as a woman “whose knowledge of the world made her judgment very generally and deservedly looked up to by all the young people of her acquaintance” (Ch. XXXVI) — though, in the situation she was speaking of, Mrs. Crawford had advised a young woman to accept a marriage proposal that afterwards led to her being very unhappy. Miss Crawford says, “My poor aunt had certainly little cause to love the state [of matrimony]; but, however, speaking from my own observation, it is a manoeuvring business. I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connexion, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse. What is this but a take in?” (Ch. V). Her aunt seems to have been an unhappy, worldly-wise woman. Being “doted on” (Ch. IV) by such a woman must have had something of the same effect on Miss Crawford that being the darling of Mrs. Norris had on Maria Bertram.1

Mary’s uncle, Admiral Crawford, must also have been a bad influence on Miss Crawford, even apart from the example the strife in his marriage must have been, for “Admiral Crawford was a man of vicious conduct, who chose, instead of retaining his niece, to bring his mistress under his own roof” (Ch. IV). After Miss Crawford speaks ill of her uncle in public, Edmund and Fanny discuss her behaviour,

“It was very wrong; very indecorous.” [said Edmund]

“And very ungrateful, I think.”

“Ungrateful is a strong word. I do not know that her uncle has any claim to her gratitude; his wife certainly had; and it is the warmth of her respect for her aunt’s memory which misleads her here. She is awkwardly circumstanced. With such warm feelings and lively spirits it must be difficult to do justice to her affection for Mrs. Crawford, without throwing a shade on the Admiral. I do not pretend to know which was most to blame in their disagreements, though the Admiral’s present conduct might incline one to the side of his wife; but it is natural and amiable that Miss Crawford should acquit her aunt entirely. I do not censure her opinions; but there certainly is impropriety in making them public.” (Ch. VII)

Her aunt and uncle are the primary, but not the only, bad influences in Miss Crawford’s life. She has bad friends, and “Be not deceived: evil communications2 corrupt good manners.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Edmund tells Fanny his opinion of one of Miss Crawford’s “particular” and “intimate” friends (Ch. XXXVI):

I do not like Mrs. Fraser. She is a cold-hearted, vain woman, who has married entirely from convenience, and though evidently unhappy in her marriage, places her disappointment not to faults of judgment, or temper, or disproportion of age, but to her being, after all, less affluent than many of her acquaintance, especially than her sister, Lady Stornaway, and is the determined supporter of everything mercenary and ambitious, provided it be only mercenary and ambitious enough. I look upon [Miss Crawford’s] intimacy with those two sisters as the greatest misfortune of her life and mine. They have been leading her astray for years. Could she be detached from them! — and sometimes I do not despair of it, for the affection appears to me principally on their side. They are very fond of her; but I am sure she does not love them as she loves you. (Ch. XLIV)

Fanny’s opinion on the subject is, “Her friends leading her astray for years! She is quite as likely to have led them astray. They have all, perhaps, been corrupting one another; but if they are so much fonder of her than she is of them, she is the less likely to have been hurt, except by their flattery.” — which is true (Ch. XLIV).

Fanny is disposed to look on London itself as a bad influence.

It astonished her that Tom’s sisters could be satisfied with remaining in London at such a time, through an illness which had now, under different degrees of danger, lasted several weeks. They might return to Mansfield when they chose; travelling could be no difficulty to them, and she could not comprehend how both could still keep away. If Mrs. Rushworth could imagine any interfering obligations, Julia was certainly able to quit London whenever she chose. It appeared from one of her aunt’s letters that Julia had offered to return if wanted, but this was all. It was evident that she would rather remain where she was.

Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at war with all respectable attachments. She saw the proof of it in Miss Crawford, as well as in her cousins; her attachment to Edmund had been respectable, the most respectable part of her character; her friendship for herself had at least been blameless. Where was either sentiment now? It was so long since Fanny had had any letter from her, that she had some reason to think lightly of the friendship which had been so dwelt on. (Ch. XLV)

In some ways, Mary Crawford is one of the most tragic characters in Jane Austen’s canon. She comes close to changing, to choosing good over evil. In Edmund’s words, “I imagined I saw a mixture of many feelings: a great, though short struggle; half a wish of yielding to truths, half a sense of shame, but habit, habit carried it.” (Ch. XLVII). There was hope for her.

In their [Fanny and Miss Crawford’s] very last conversation, Miss Crawford, in spite of some amiable sensations, and much personal kindness [to Fanny], had still been Miss Crawford; still shewn a mind led astray and bewildered, and without any suspicion of being so; darkened, yet fancying itself light. She might love, but she did not deserve Edmund by any other sentiment. Fanny believed there was scarcely a second feeling in common between them; and she may be forgiven by older sages for looking on the chance of Miss Crawford’s future improvement as nearly desperate, for thinking that if Edmund’s influence in this season of love had already done so little in clearing her judgment, and regulating her notions, his worth would be finally wasted on her even in years of matrimony.

Experience might have hoped more for any young people so circumstanced, and impartiality would not have denied to Miss Crawford’s nature that participation of the general nature of women which would lead her to adopt the opinions of the man she loved and respected as her own. But as such were Fanny’s persuasions, she suffered very much from them, and could never speak of Miss Crawford without pain. (Ch. XXXVII)

Mary had felt the attractiveness of virtue, of goodness.

“Mrs. Fraser has been my intimate friend for years. But I have not the least inclination to go near her. I can think only of the friends I am leaving: my excellent sister, yourself, and the Bertrams in general. You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large. 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)

She was becoming more disinterested. She was not unwilling for her brother to marry beneath him — a definite change from her previous attitude of “cold-hearted ambition” (Ch. XLV).

The conviction of his [Henry’s] determination [to marry Fanny Price] once admitted, it was not unwelcome. There was even pleasure with the surprise. Mary was in a state of mind to rejoice in a connexion with the Bertram family, and to be not displeased with her brother’s marrying a little beneath him. (Ch. XXX)

Mary’s love for Edmund was overcoming her ambition.

… the more [Fanny] recollected and observed, the more deeply was she convinced that everything was now in a fairer train for Miss Crawford’s marrying Edmund than it had ever been before. On his side the inclination was stronger, on hers less equivocal. His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away, nobody could tell how; and the doubts and hesitations of her ambition were equally got over—and equally without apparent reason. It could only be imputed to increasing attachment. His good and her bad feelings yielded to love, and such love must unite them. (Ch. XXXVII)

She has many good qualities. But, in the end, she is unable to understand Edmund’s moral standards, his principles, his character — him. It is Edmund’s ability to make clear judgments that make him so dependable — a “rock” in Mary’s turbulent world. Mary wanted that rock, but she could not understand the discipline behind it — that the same principles that led Edmund to be a clergyman, to condemn his sister and her brother, &c. were what gave him so much more “heart” than the world in general.

In one scene in Mansfield Park, several of the characters are playing speculation together.

“I have two or three ideas also,” said Edmund, “and one of them is, that very little of your [Henry Crawford’s] plan for Thornton Lacey will ever be put in practice. I must be satisfied with rather less ornament and beauty. I think the house and premises may be made comfortable, and given the air of a gentleman’s residence, without any very heavy expense, and that must suffice me; and, I hope, may suffice all who care about me.”

Miss Crawford, a little suspicious and resentful of a certain tone of voice, and a certain half-look attending the last expression of his hope, made a hasty finish of her dealings with William Price; and securing his knave at an exorbitant rate, exclaimed, “There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.”

The game was hers, and only did not pay her for what she had given to secure it. (Ch. XXV)

In the end of the book, however, Mary Crawford does not emerge victorious. She loses her “game”. In the end, Edmund’s eyes are opened to Mary’s true character, and she loses him. He leaves her, telling her, “Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do.” (Ch. XLVII).

Mrs. Grant [after leaving Mansfield] … 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. (XLVIII)

Mary Crawford is a charming character, but in the end it is her own choices that cause her downfall (her downfall in terms of the story, that is). She was still a young woman, however. Hope for her amendment is not gone and, though she “was long in finding … 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”, Jane Austen leaves open the possibility that she did.

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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.

Screencaps of the 2007 ITV production of ‘Mansfield Park’ with Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford from angelfish_icons. I used screencaps from this adaptation not because I like this version (I don’t), but because I enjoyed Hayley Atwell’s depiction of Mary Crawford and the pictures are pretty.

1 “Too late he [Sir Thomas] became aware how unfavourable to the character of any young people must be the totally opposite treatment which Maria and Julia had been always experiencing at home, where the excessive indulgence and flattery of their aunt had been continually contrasted with his own severity. He saw how ill he had judged, in expecting to counteract what was wrong in Mrs. Norris by its reverse in himself; clearly saw that he had but increased the evil by teaching them to repress their spirits in his presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him, and sending them for all their indulgences to a person who had been able to attach them only by the blindness of her affection, and the excess of her praise. …

“That Julia escaped better than Maria was owing, in some measure, to a favourable difference of disposition and circumstance, but in a greater to her having been less the darling of that very aunt, less flattered and less spoilt. Her beauty and acquirements had held but a second place. She had been always used to think herself a little inferior to Maria. Her temper was naturally the easiest of the two; her feelings, though quick, were more controllable, and education had not given her so very hurtful a degree of self-consequence.” (Ch. XLVIII)

2 The word “communications” here is translated from the Greek word “homilia”, meaning, according to Strong’s Greek Bible Dictionary (Number 3657), ‘companionship (“homily”), i.e. (by implication) intercourse’. Communication in this sense is “the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings”, “social contact” (from Dictionary, Version 1.0.2, Apple Computer, Inc., 2005).

The Case Against Mary Crawford, Part II

Mary Crawford is a careless and manipulative friend. She only takes Fanny as a friend when every one else is gone:

Fanny went to her every two or three days:  it seemed a kind of fascination:  she could not be easy without going, and yet it was without … any sense of obligation for being sought after now when nobody else was to be had … (Ch. XXII)

Mary tricks Fanny into accepting a gift, a necklace, from Mr. Crawford, something that at that time was inappropriate between men and women who were unengaged and unrelated.

It was impossible for her [Fanny] to be insensible of Mr. Crawford’s change of manners. … He evidently tried to please her … he was something like what he had been to her cousins: … and whether he might not have some concern in this necklace—she could not be convinced that he had not, for Miss Crawford, complaisant as a sister, was careless as a woman and a friend. (Ch. XXVI).

And he did have some concern in the necklace —

“Do you mean, then, that your brother knew of the necklace beforehand?  Oh!  Miss Crawford, that was not fair.”

“Knew of it!  It was his own doing entirely, his own thought. I am ashamed to say that it had never entered my head, but I was delighted to act on his proposal for both your sakes.”

“I will not say,” replied Fanny, “that I was not half afraid at the time of its being so, for there was something in your look that frightened me, but not at first; I was as unsuspicious of it at first–indeed, indeed I was. It is as true as that I sit here.  And had I had an idea of it, nothing should have induced me to accept the necklace.” (Ch. XXXVI)

Edmund was right, “The evil lies . . . in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did.” (Ch. XLVII). Mary Crawford is also deceitful. In order to trick Fanny into receiving the necklace from her, she must convince Fanny that it did not come from Henry.

“My dear child,” said she, laughing, “what are you afraid of? Do you think Henry will claim the necklace as mine, and fancy you did not come honestly by it? or are you imagining he would be too much flattered by seeing round your lovely throat an ornament which his money purchased three years ago, before he knew there was such a throat in the world? or perhaps”—looking archly—”you suspect a confederacy between us, and that what I am now doing is with his knowledge and at his desire? ….”

Fanny dared not make any farther opposition; and with renewed but less happy thanks accepted the necklace again, for there was an expression in Miss Crawford’s eyes which she could not be satisfied with. (Ch. XXVI, emphasis mine)

Later, she obliges Fanny to endure the impropriety of receiving letters from Mr. Crawford. In her book Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye writes of the time period, “There was also an inflexible law which forbade correspondence between marriageable persons not engaged to be married. Elinor knows that Willoughby has been permitted to cut off a lock of Marianne’s hair, but it is not until she sees her sister writing to inform him of their arrival in London that she concludes they must be engaged, however secretly.” 1 Through Mary, Henry Crawford was able to bypass the protocol of the time. Mary also used Fanny as a way of corresponding with Edmund herself.

[Fanny] had reason to suppose herself not yet forgotten by Mr. Crawford. She had heard repeatedly from his sister within the three weeks which had passed since their leaving Mansfield, and in each letter there had been a few lines from himself, warm and determined like his speeches. It was a correspondence which Fanny found quite as unpleasant as she had feared. Miss Crawford’s style of writing, lively and affectionate, was itself an evil, independent of what she was thus forced into reading from the brother’s pen, for Edmund would never rest till she had read the chief of the letter to him; and then she had to listen to his admiration of her language, and the warmth of her attachments. There had, in fact, been so much of message, of allusion, of recollection, so much of Mansfield in every letter, that Fanny could not but suppose it meant for him to hear; and to find herself forced into a purpose of that kind, compelled into a correspondence which was bringing her the addresses of the man she did not love, and obliging her to administer to the adverse passion of the man she did, was cruelly mortifying. Here, too, her present removal [to Portsmouth] promised advantage. When no longer under the same roof with Edmund, she trusted that Miss Crawford would have no motive for writing strong enough to overcome the trouble, and that at Portsmouth their correspondence would dwindle into nothing. (Ch. XXXVIII).

And Fanny was right. As soon as she ceases to be of use to Mary, her correspondence slows down significantly. After Fanny leaves Mansfield and is away from Edmund, “Mary’s next letter was after a decidedly longer interval than the last” (Ch. XL). Again, “It was so long since Fanny had had any letter from [Miss Crawford], that she had some reason to think lightly of the friendship which had been so dwelt on.” (Ch. XLV).

Even Mary’s affection for her brother, and his for her, is turned bad when they join together to hurt others. They work together for good (as when Henry helps Mary by turning the attention of the “theatrical board” from Fanny in chapter XV), but they are equally intent on furthering each other’s ends when the object is wrong — as when Mary helps turn off Mr. Rushworth’s jealousy so her brother can flirt with Maria, and when she helps him woo Fanny, so he can steal Fanny’s heart, knowing that he does not intend to marry her.

When Mary first learns that her brother intends to make “a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart” (Ch. XXIV), she asks that he not “plunge her deep” but thinks that “a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good”.

“It can be but for a fortnight,” said Henry; “and if a fortnight can kill her, she must have a constitution which nothing could save. No, I will not do her any harm, dear little soul! only want her to look kindly on me, to give me smiles as well as blushes, to keep a chair for me by herself wherever we are, and be all animation when I take it and talk to her; to think as I think, be interested in all my possessions and pleasures, try to keep me longer at Mansfield, and feel when I go away that she shall be never happy again. I want nothing more.”

“Moderation itself!” said Mary. “I can have no scruples now. Well, you will have opportunities enough of endeavouring to recommend yourself, for we are a great deal together.”

And without attempting any farther remonstrance, she left Fanny to her fate … (Ch. XXIV)

Mary was not innocent in the matter of the private theatricals at Mansfield. She and her brother knew that their performing a play would displease the master of the house, yet they did it anyway, making themselves culpable with Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia, though to a lesser extent. (They owed no duty to Sir Thomas, and therefore, unlike his children, could transgress none, but it was his house, and they had no right to use it for anything they knew he would disapprove.) That they knew that Sir Thomas would disapprove is shown by their reaction to his sudden arrival home.

… the other three [Mr. and Miss Crawford, and Mr. Yates], no longer under any restraint, were giving vent to their feelings of vexation, lamenting over such an unlooked-for premature arrival as a most untoward event, and without mercy wishing poor Sir Thomas had been twice as long on his passage, or were still in Antigua.

The Crawfords were more warm on the subject [of Sir Thomas’s early return, which prevented the rehearsal of the play] than Mr. Yates, from better understanding the family, and judging more clearly of the mischief that must ensue. The ruin of the play was to them a certainty: they felt the total destruction of the scheme to be inevitably at hand; while Mr. Yates considered it only as a temporary interruption, a disaster for the evening, and could even suggest the possibility of the rehearsal being renewed after tea, when the bustle of receiving Sir Thomas were over, and he might be at leisure to be amused by it. The Crawfords laughed at the idea … (Ch. XIX).

Mary also understood the excessive intimacy, the familiarity, that would arise from acting together. She takes the part of Amelia in the play in order to flirt with Edmund (“Miss Crawford accepted the part very readily”; — “I should not particularly dislike the part of Amelia if well supported”  — Ch. XV). She is relieved that Mr. Rushworth does not take the part of Anhalt (“You chose very wisely, I am sure,” replied Miss Crawford, with a brightened look; “Anhalt is a heavy part.” — Ch. XV), and is disappointed when Edmund doesn’t. That she understood the intimacy that acting together would give is shown by her reaction at finding out who would be (or, at least, who she thought would be) acting Anhalt. “I can tell Mr. Maddox that I shall shorten some of his speeches, and a great many of my own, before we rehearse together. It will be very disagreeable, and by no means what I expected.” (Ch. XV, emphasis mine).

Mary is an opportunist, even using the fact that Edmund is to be a clergyman to try to tempt him to join the play—though she spends a great deal of time in the book trying to prevent him from becoming a clergyman.

“If any part could tempt you to act, I suppose it would be Anhalt,” observed the lady archly [to Edmund], after a short pause; “for he is a clergyman, you know.”

That circumstance would by no means tempt me,” he replied, “for I should be sorry to make the character ridiculous by bad acting. It must be very difficult to keep Anhalt from appearing a formal, solemn lecturer; and the man who chuses the profession itself is, perhaps, one of the last who would wish to represent it on the stage.”

Miss Crawford was silenced, and with some feelings of resentment and mortification, moved her chair considerably nearer the tea-table, and gave all her attention to Mrs. Norris, who was presiding there.  (Ch. XV)

She rejoices in Edmund’s moral fall when he chooses to join in the play which he believed to be wrong.

“If I had the power of recalling any one week of my existence, it should be that week—that acting week. Say what you would, Fanny, it should be that; for I never knew such exquisite happiness in any other. [Edmund’s] sturdy spirit to bend as it did! Oh! it was sweet beyond expression.” (Ch. XXXVI)

Perhaps one of the most shocking things Miss Crawford does is to wish that Edmund’s elder brother, Tom Bertram, would die.

“Poor young man! If he is to die, there will be two poor young men less in the world; and with a fearless face and bold voice would I say to any one, that wealth and consequence could fall into no hands more deserving of them. It was a foolish precipitation last Christmas, but the evil of a few days may be blotted out in part. Varnish and gilding hide many stains. It will be but the loss of the Esquire after his name. With real affection, Fanny, like mine, more might be overlooked. Write to me by return of post, judge of my anxiety, and do not trifle with it. Tell me the real truth, as you have it from the fountainhead. And now, do not trouble yourself to be ashamed of either my feelings or your own. Believe me, they are not only natural, they are philanthropic and virtuous. I put it to your conscience, whether ‘Sir Edmund’ would not do more good with all the Bertram property than any other possible ‘Sir.’ ” (Ch. XLV)

Philanthropic and virtuous indeed! To use Miss Crawford’s words, I can have no scruples now! Earlier, she had been planning on marrying this same Tom Bertram. “She had felt an early presentiment that she should like the eldest best. She knew it was her way.” (Ch. V).

Tom Bertram … had easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance, and a great deal to say; and the reversion of Mansfield Park, and a baronetcy, did no harm to all this. Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do. She looked about her with due consideration, and found almost everything in his favour: a park, a real park, five miles round, a spacious modern-built house, so well placed and well screened as to deserve to be in any collection of engravings of gentlemen’s seats in the kingdom, and wanting only to be completely new furnished …. It might do very well; she believed she should accept him … (Ch. V)

Finally, she treats sin as little more than an indiscretion, and that only because of the unnecessary exposure. It is this that finally opens Edmund’s eyes to her true character.

“‘I heard you were in town,’ said she [Miss Crawford]; ‘I wanted to see you. Let us talk over this sad business [of Henry and Maria running away together]. What can equal the folly of our two relations?’ I [Edmund] could not answer, but I believe my looks spoke. She felt reproved. Sometimes how quick to feel! With a graver look and voice she then added, ‘I do not mean to defend Henry at your sister’s expense.’ So she began …. I cannot recall all her words. … Their substance was great anger at the folly of each. She reprobated her brother’s folly in being drawn on by a woman whom he had never cared for, to do what must lose him the woman he adored; but still more the folly of poor Maria, in sacrificing such a situation, plunging into such difficulties, under the idea of being really loved by a man who had long ago made his indifference clear. Guess what I must have felt. To hear the woman whom—no harsher name than folly given! So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! No reluctance, no horror, no feminine, shall I say, no modest loathings? This is what the world does. For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had so richly endowed? Spoilt, spoilt!” ….

She saw it only as folly, and that folly stamped only by exposure. The want of common discretion, of caution: his going down to Richmond for the whole time of her being at Twickenham; her putting herself in the power of a servant; it was the detection, in short … not the offence, which she reprobated. It was the imprudence which had brought things to extremity, and obliged her brother to give up every dearer plan in order to fly with her.” (Ch. XLVII)

Mary’s attitude towards the adultery of her brother and Maria Rushworth comes as no surprise to Fanny.

[Fanny] could not doubt, she dared not indulge a hope, of the paragraph [in the newspaper] being false. Miss Crawford’s letter, which she had read so often as to make every line her own, was in frightful conformity with it. Her eager defence of her brother, her hope of its being hushed up, her evident agitation, were all of a piece with something very bad; and if there was a woman of character in existence, who could treat as a trifle this sin of the first magnitude, who would try to gloss it over, and desire to have it unpunished, she could believe Miss Crawford to be the woman! Now she could see her own mistake as to who were gone, or said to be gone. It was not Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth; it was Mrs. Rushworth and Mr. Crawford. (Ch. XLVI)

Edmund sums Mary up toward the end of the novel.

“Cruel!” said Fanny, “quite cruel.  At such a moment to give way to gaiety, to speak with lightness, and to you! Absolute cruelty.”

“Cruelty, do you call it? [said Edmund] We differ there.  No, hers is not a cruel nature.  I do not consider her as meaning to wound my feelings.  The evil lies yet deeper: in her total ignorance, unsuspiciousness of there being such feelings; in a perversion of mind which made it natural to her to treat the subject as she did.  She was speaking only as she had been used to hear others speak, as she imagined everybody else would speak.  Hers are not faults of temper.  She would not voluntarily give unnecessary pain to any one, and though I may deceive myself, I cannot but think that for me, for my feelings, she would— Hers are faults of principle, Fanny; of blunted delicacy and a corrupted, vitiated mind.  Perhaps it is best for me, since it leaves me so little to regret.  Not so, however. Gladly would I submit to all the increased pain of losing her, rather than have to think of her as I do.” (Ch. XLVII).

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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.

1 Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002), p. 114.

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