09/04/2021 03:14 PM
Sir Thomas Bertram
This is my final post for my series on the characters of Mansfield Park, which I explored in depth while writing my novel, Fanny, a Mansfield Park Story .

I have decided to end this series as Austen ends the novel, on Sir Thomas Bertram. Of all the characters in Mansfield Park, it is the unlikeliest, the paternal figure, who learns and grows the most, and consequently, in whose point of view almost the entirety of the final chapter is given.

When we first meet Sir Thomas we learn he was "captivated" by a Miss Maria Ward of only seven thousand pounds. He then induces his friend, Mr. Norris to marry his wife's sister, by giving him the living at Mansfield Parsonage. We learn a lot about him in the very first chapter. He wants to help his wife's sister's family. He wants to do what's right. He's a principled man. He's willing to invite one of her numerous children to live in his home. But he doesn't want her marrying either of his sons and he wants to make sure a distinction is maintained between his niece and his daughters.

And we soon learn what kind of daughters they are: selfish, vain, shallow, and sometimes even cruel. Sir Thomas does not have an active role in raising them. Maybe in that time and place he shouldn't have, but he knew what kind of person his wife was; he knew she wasn't doing anything and he let Mrs. Norris fill the void, and fill his daughters' heads with flattery, self-importance, and a sense of superiority.

Sir Thomas was surprised to find out his sister-in-law who had pushed for the adoption does not intend to bring their neice into her own home and when Mr. Norris dies, Sir Thomas is again caught by surprise. Sure, he's willing to keep Fanny on, but he had been hoping "to be relieved from the expense of her support, and the obligation of her future provision."

He travels to Antigua soon after, just as his daughters are at the "interesting" age of entering the marriage market. A lot happens in his absence, including his daughter's engagement. And when he returns and discovers the kind of man Maria is engaged to, he offers her an out, but is actually relieved she doesn't take it. We learn she is motivated at least in part by the desire to get out of her father's house. Later, her sister Julia has the same motivation for her elopement with Yates.

But before that, Fanny receives an unwelcome proposal of marriage and Sir Thomas treats her very differently than he treated Maria. True, he was not around to see all the things Fanny objects to in Mr. Crawford, but she has told him she doesn't like him and doesn't want to marry him. He demands an explanation from her, and not being satisfied, he berates her for her refusal and then punishes her by sending her to Portsmouth. I believe he is motivated by self interest here, by the desire to be relieved of Fanny's present and future support, as he was after the death of Mr. Norris.

So far Sir Thomas does seem to have a lot to learn. What does it take for him to learn it? His daughter Maria commits adultery and gets a divorce; his other daughter elopes with Mr. Yates. Even his son Tom comes down with a life threatening illness and Edmund gets his heart broken. All of his children have suffered. But we are told that Sir Thomas "was the longest to suffer" because he was "conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent" and "the anguish arising from the conviction of his own errors in the education of his daughters was never to be entirely done away." He now "saw how ill he had judged" in raising his daughters and allowing them to be so much influenced by Mrs. Norris. He reflected over it "bitterly" and "wretchedly" concluding, "Here had been grievous mismanagement." A large part of the final chapter is dedicated to the explanation of Sir Thomas' realizations and regretes. Until, at last, "Sick of ambitious and mercenary connexions, prizing more and more the sterling good of principle and temper," he finally "realised a great acquisition in the promise of Fanny for a daughter." And as it turned out, "Fanny was indeed the daughter that he wanted."

It seems to me everyone thought Mansfield Park would improve Fanny, but in the end, Fanny improved Mansfield Park which is "just such a contrast ... as time is for ever producing between the plans and decisions of mortals, for their own instruction, and their neighbours' entertainment."

What are your thoughts on Sir Thomas?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on September, 04
05/16/2021 02:52 PM
The Miss Bertrams
The Miss Bertrams
This post is a continuation of my series on the characters of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park which I explored in my novel, Fanny, a Mansfield Park Story . I expect to post one more entry in this series -- extra points if you can guess which character ...

Maria and Julia Bertram are presented in Mansfield Park as a contrast to the heroine, Fanny Price. Mary Crawford is also presented as a contrast to Fanny, but in a different way. While we have plenty of reason to dislike Mary Crawford, there are moments in which she expresses real affection for Fanny. We never see that from her female cousins. The closest we get is when Julia defends Fanny by observing in response to an accusation from her aunt that “Fanny is as little upon the sofa as anybody in the house.” Another less obvious contrast is apparent in this scene in the way Julia openly contradicts Mrs. Norris -- something Fanny would never do.

The Miss Bertrams are spoiled, selfish, and vain and these characteristics are the direct result of the way they are raised. They are constantly praised, validated, and taught they are superior to everyone. They have a good relationship with one another but only because it hasn't been tested. When it is, it falls apart. Their mother does not participate in their upbringing -- she seems to feel that she's done enough by pushing them into the world! Their father is pretty much absent, even when he's at home. And the other main influencing adult in their life, Mrs. Norris, only nurtures and encourages these negative traits.

Lady Bertram's having given up her house in London and opting to remain in the country all year is a key plot point -- not only to the isolation of Fanny but to the upbringing of the Miss Bertrams. They are isolated as well. Isolated from competition, from disappointment, from other women who might outshine them, and from the lessons to be learned by exposure to all of the above. In short, they are the proverbial 'big fish in a little pond.' And the narrator makes that clear when they start attending social events, telling us they were, “fully established among the belles of the neighbourhood … they possessed its favour as well as its admiration.” And Miss Bertram manages to snag the richest guy around: Mr. Rushworth.

When Mr. Crawford shows up, the Miss Bertrams don't think he's handsome; and while he's rich by the standards at the time his fortune is no where near as impressive as Mr. Rushworth's. But their feelings rapidly change. This change of course, is the result of Mr. Crawford's personality and charm. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself -- a man who isn't good looking can certainly be charming without being a scoundrel -- but we later learn that their change in feelings is likely the result of his deliberate efforts to make them like him with no intent of acting honorably after creating such feelings, or at the very least -- if he doesn't set out purposely to "make a small hole" in their hearts -- he enjoys their attentions and even encourages the affections of both.

I noted in my first post in this series that Mr. Crawford and Maria are basically playing the same game but she's no match for him precisely because of her lack of worldliness and London experience. Julia is playing too, but she is saved by her inferiority as the younger sister -- her sense of superiority is not as great as Maria's and her feelings of inferiority actually give her room to judge a little better than her sister both during the play and at the end of the novel.

Maria seemed pretty satisfied to be engaged to the richest man in the area until she met Mr. Crawford and decided she wanted him too. The narrative describing Maria's perspective on meeting Crawford shows that she expects him to fall for her even though she's engaged. We are privy to her thoughts: "Mr Crawford must take care of himself," and we are immediately told that, "Mr. Crawford did not mean to be in any danger!" It's all a game for him. Ironically, the same thing that happens to Maria later happens to Crawford when he expects Fanny to fall for him but he falls in love with her instead. And his choice of Fanny -- who Maria has been raised to view as worthless and inferior -- must feel to Maria like adding insult to injury after his desertion. Both Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford are victims of their own game. Meanwhile, Fanny isn't even playing.

The problem for Maria is that the game becomes real when she develops real feelings which make her vulnerable, while Mr. Crawford never sees it as anything but a game. When given the opportunity to get out of marriage to a man she despises, she doesn't take it because she doesn't want to give Crawford the satisfaction of ruining her prospects, with the additional motivation of wanting to get away from her family home now that her father is back to restore order and decorum. Maria is used to getting what she wants and eventually she does get Mr. Crawford, but only temporarily -- and it costs her everything! The only satisfaction for her, we are told, is knowing she had divided him from Fanny after all. Her satisfaction must have been short-lived; and, I imagine, would have been of little consolation in her exile with Mrs. Norris.
Julia also expects Crawford to fall in love with her. We are told, “Miss Bertram's engagement made him in equity the property of Julia, of which Julia was fully aware; and before he had been at Mansfield a week, she was quite ready to be fallen in love with. ” The wording is interesting in that it says nothing about her own feelings and reveals her vanity in expecting him to fall in love with her. She has the support of Mrs. Grant who also expects her brother to marry Julia and tells him so. He, in turn, makes it clear to his sisters he is not the least bit interested in marriage and I have always thought his attentions to Maria may have been motivated, in part, by his wanting to avoid any appearance of attachment to Julia after Mrs. Grant shares her expectation. (Then again, I find myself asking whether it really matters -- he's not the sort to do the honorable thing if she is misled by his attentions anyway.)

So, Julia is drawn in by her feelings of entitlement to his attentions, to playing the same game; but it becomes complicated when her engaged sister gets in the way by competing for his attentions. She's pretty triumphant when she gets to sit with him on the way to and from Sotherton; but when he later shows a decided preference for Maria she realizes she's lost the game and wisely extricates herself from it both during the time of the play and later when she removes herself from Maria's house in London, which gives us some hope for her good sense. She ends up better than her sister (although that's not saying much). Her motivation for precipitously marrying Mr. Yates was similar to her sister's motivation for marrying Rushworth - to escape Mansfield - and her husband isn't much of an improvement over her sister's, so there is reason to fear she may end up committing a similar mistake at some point. In the end she's humbled and wants to be received and forgiven by her family, and maybe that's Austen's way of letting us know that she's actually learned something.

The narrator tells us a lot in the last chapter about the errors made in the upbringing of these girls, ironically from the point of view of their father, to whom the narrator seems to assign ultimate responsibility. For Austen, the buck stops with Sir Thomas - even though they are daughters - rather than with their mother, who has woefully neglected them. Mrs. Norris is not their parent so although her influence played a large part in forming their characters, it would have fallen on their parents to stop or correct the effect of such influence.

In response to my previous post about the Ward sisters, there was some discussion about how those young ladies of the previous generation were raised. We don't really know much about it, but we can see from the text that none of them is particularly warm and they don't seem to possess the qualities Sir Thomas was hoping his daughters would somehow attain. We see more warmth in the manipulative and morally deficient Mary Crawford - the character set up to be the heroine's rival - than is ever exhibited by any of the former Miss Wards or either of the Miss Bertrams.

In the end, we can only hope Julia will do well in her ill-judged marriage. As for Maria, I think we can all agree with Austen that she bore a disproportionate share of the punishment for a sin she did not commit alone. The narrator's explanation at the end of the novel of how the manner of Maria's upbringing led to her downfall makes me wonder how much we can really blame her. The only explanation we are given for Crawford eloping with Maria after their affair was that, "he could not help it." Maybe that explanation applies to Maria as well; given the way she was raised, could we really expect anything different? Likewise, Crawford's actions are also attributed to his upbringing; indeed, it is a constant theme in Austen. But at what point do these young people become responsible for themselves? At what point do we expect them to learn to behave properly in spite of a faulty upbringing? Even Mr. Darcy had to be berated by the woman he loves in order to realize his upbringing had been deficient and seek to correct his conduct. At least he had the maturity to do so. Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford, not so much; although I would argue she didn't have much of an opportunity to do so and neither of them had much of a motivation. What do you think?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on May, 16
04/25/2021 09:27 PM
The Ward Sisters
The Ward Sisters

This post is a continuation of my series on characters in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, which I explored in my novel, Fanny, a Mansfield Park Story: specifically on, the Ward sisters: Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram, and Mrs. Price. The situations and characters of these three sisters make up the backdrop for our heroine, Fanny's story.

Her mother, Mrs. Price, formerly Miss Fanny Ward married to "disoblige her family" while her sister, Miss Maria Ward, “had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram … and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income." Their older sister, Miss Ward, became Mrs. Norris and we are never told her first name (though a friend of mine thinks it was probably Julia; it could also have been Elizabeth, the name presumably given to her god-daughter, Betsey.) I stated in a previous comment that while Lady Bertram married up and Mrs. Price married down, Mrs. Norris, married equal, but we are told, that her match was “not contemptible” and that she “married on a narrower income than she had been used to look forward to,” so she may have married down but not as far down as Mrs. Price. The wording of the sentence informing us of Miss Ward's marriage, that six years after her younger sister married, she "found herself obliged to be attached to," Mr. Norris implies that her hand was not highly sought after and we later learn that she was indeed not particularly likeable.

Lady Bertram is indolent and can afford to be. She has a house full of servants to take care of everything and a sister with a "spirit of activity" and no children of her own to chaperone her daughters in public. Mrs. Price has a similar disposition but being of much more limited means and having many more children, cannot afford to indulge her inclination to indolence and we learn that she is an incompetent manager of her household. These two sisters are so similar, it has been suggested they are twins and they are cleverly portrayed by the same actress in the 1999 film (literally the ONLY thing that film got right.)

None of the Ward sisters is particularly warm. Mrs. Norris, obviously is horrid and Mrs. Price doesn't seem to have any warm feelings for Fanny after so many years of separation. Even Lady Bertram, who we are more disposed to like than either of her sisters demonstrates no warmth towards Fanny. When Mr. Crawford proposes, Lady Bertram (assuming she will marry him) says she won't miss Fanny and the only impression it seems to make on her is the discovery that Fanny must be prettier than she thought! She sends her own maid, Mrs. Chapman, to help Fanny dress before her coming-out ball and is so impressed with her own gesture, she can't be distracted from it long enough to compliment Fanny's looks. She does learn to miss Fanny when she goes to Portsmouth but when Fanny returns the narrator tells us through Fanny's point of view that she feels “she could never do enough for one who seemed so much to want her,” -- notably, not one who cares about her, loves her, etc.

Like all of Austen's characters, the Ward sisters are well-crafted individuals with consistent, plausible personalities, who seem real, though perhaps not as complex as some of the other characters; and their character traits, in large part, drive the plot. The plot of Mansfield Park, like all of Austen's novels, is character driven. In other words the events unfold as a natural result of each character acting in accordance with their individual dispositions; and the characters themselves are plot driven, in that Austen created them to serve her story purpose. This is particularly true in Mansfield Park; the characters of all three sisters have a profound impact on Fanny's situation and feelings.

Lady Bertram gives Fanny someone to devote herself to. We don't know much more about her except that she is pretty and indolent, she is dependent – I don't mean in the financial sense but in the sense that she relies on those around her to do everything and handle everything for her -- and she is pliable, being "guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister." She takes Fanny for granted and doesn't really learn to value her until she's gone. She doesn't trouble herself about her own children, much less her niece, except when it comes to her own comfort. She was content to “give up her sister” after Mrs. Price married to "disoblige her family," and she was just as ready to accept not only the reconciliation when her sister wrote, but the full charge of her eldest niece on Mrs. Norris' suggestion. She gives up her house in town even though her husband is in parliament because she can't be bothered to move back and forth every year and she doesn't even visit her neighbors. She just sits at home making things of “little use and no beauty.”

What can I say about Mrs. Norris? There are some who attribute her cruelty to being childless or envious of Lady Bertram. I do not believe there is support for either of these theories in the text, but there is nothing in the text that makes them implausible either. She is an unlikeable know-it-all busy-body who had to be foisted on her brother-in-law's friend in exchange for the living at Mansfield. Mrs. Norris is the one who first came up with the idea of bringing Fanny to Mansfield. She explicitly tells Sir Thomas, “Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well,” but later does nothing for Fanny. She takes her nieces out because their mother can't be bothered, but never does anything to “introduce Fanny properly into the world” -- she never forwards the objective she assured Sir Thomas would be attainable and abdicates any responsibility to do that which she herself said would be necessary for Fanny to find a suitable match.

There is one brilliant passage in which Mrs. Norris brags about having prevented a child from the village whose father is working on the stage for the Mansfield Theatricals, from having a meal in the servants' dining room. We only get the story as a monologue from Mrs. Norris, so we don't even know if young Dick Jackson was actually trying to get a meal or if it was all her own assumption. Either way, there is no reason to deprive a child of a meal other than a pathetic attempt to feel powerful and important. This event is in amazing contrast to her "spunging" at Sotherton whence she takes home some pheasants' eggs, a cream cheese, and a heath plant, after the Mansfield Party visits for a day.

But obviously the worst of Mrs. Norris is in her treatment of Fanny. Again, for no apparent reason, she orders that there is to be no fire in the East Room for Fanny, she doesn't care about Fanny not having a horse to ride, she doesn't think Fanny should partake of the trip to Sotherton, and she tries to force Fanny into acting. And of course, if Fanny had wanted to act and asked for a part Mrs. Norris would undoubtedly have berated her for putting herself forward. There is also the moment when she reminds everyone of "who and what Fanny is." She is angry that Fanny gets an offer from Mr. Crawford and then blames Fanny for the Maria/Henry scandal because she didn't accept him! So when she is exiled at the end of the novel everyone within Mansfield Park as well as those reading it all have the same sentiment: "Good riddance!"

Mrs. Price can't afford to be like Lady Bertram and doesn't have the energy to be like Mrs. Norris. She has warm feelings, but apparently only for some of her children. She has no skill or apparent inclination for managing her household. She has too many children and a husband who is coarse, useless, and cares for nothing but the Navy and his own pleasures. Neither Mrs. nor Mr. Price seem to have missed Fanny while she was gone or value her while she's at home and her mother's indifference is key to making Fanny feel more isolated even when at home. She doesn't seem to belong at the Price household any more than she belongs among the Bertrams. She is displaced, disconnected, isolated, and oppressed at both houses.

Modern readers often comment (or even criticize) Austen for focusing so much on marriage without, perhaps, considering the differences in the culture of the time which made marriage about so much more than romance. And it is the absence of that “romance” element, perhaps, that makes Mansfield Park the least popular of Austen's six novels. But marriage at that time was everything to a woman; who she married was the most important decision of her life as it determined everything from where she lived to how she lived, who she associated with, her income, and her social standing. The fates of the Ward sisters in Mansfield Park provide a powerful illustration of what marriage meant for young women of the time.

I'm not sure any of these sisters are particularly attractive personalities, it makes me wonder about their parents and the manner of their upbringing -- now that would be an interesting story! What do you think?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on May, 28
04/04/2021 01:49 PM
The Brothers
This is a continuation of my series of posts on the characters of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, which I studied in depth while writing my novel, Fanny, a Mansfield Park Story. I wasn't going to feature either William Price or Tom Bertram in this series, but recent conversations have convinced me they deserve a mention.

William Price and Tom Bertram are the brothers of the main characters, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram. They are both eldest sons and both seem to have an open, spirited personality. But there are also differences. William is making his way in the Navy. Tom is idle and, "born only for expense and enjoyment," had nothing to do but wait to inherit and spend his father's money in the mean time. And, of course both serve a purpose in the plot.

It is Tom's "extravagance" that requires the living at Mansfield to be sold which brings the Grants and consequently the Crawfords to the Parsonage. He also serves a purpose in being the eldest son by providing that tension in Edmund's relationship with Mary Crawford occasioned by his being a second son who is to take orders. He is a catalyst for the play and a foil to Edmund's attempts to prevent impropriety during the time of the play. Finally, his illness draws Edmund's attention away from Mary when he was on the brink of proposing and kept it away long enough to prevent the engagement from being formed before the elopement of Henry and Maria.

So Tom is important in moving the plot forward at several pivotal points. But as a character, aside from his service as a plot device, there's not much to him. He is often away from home and when he is at home he talks about himself and his own exploits both past and future. He does have one delightful scene in which he grabs Fanny and drags her to the dance floor without bothering to ask her permission, in order to escape from Aunt Norris' attempts to rope him into playing cards against his will; and then actually remarks to Fanny about how rude it is for Aunt Norris to try to force him to do something without realizing that he's just done the same thing to Fanny. Except of course Fanny did want to dance, which is the only thing that allows the reader to be more amused than angry. It is altogether a pretty hilarious scene and shows how Fanny is thought of by Tom – as someone he can use at his convenience.

William of course is a much more likeable character than Tom. His main plot purpose is to provide an avenue for Henry to do a good turn by Fanny right before proposing to her. In order to develop the meaningfulness of that gesture, he is shown to be of great importance to Fanny from the beginning as the most beloved of her brothers and sisters. He is the one Fanny is missing as a little girl when Edmund finds her upset; and he is the one Edmund helps her write her first letter to. When William takes Fanny back to Portsmouth and has to be off immediately, he specifically tells his mother to look out for Fanny in a very sincere way. And of course Fanny and William have already planned their future together, notably not at Mansfield Park. William is very important to Fanny. We are told her heart is divided between him and Edmund.

We also know William is his mother's favorite and I wonder if he is perhaps as his father was at his age. The Mr. Price we get to see is not very appealing at all, but the portrayal of his eldest son gives us a glimpse perhaps of the young man who might have induced Miss Frances Ward to marry "to disoblige her family." A more youthful, more energetic, more spirited, and less coarse Mr. Price, full of adventure, may have turned her head and her seven thousand pounds in his direction.

Tom and William are similar in some ways and very different in others. I have to admit I've always loved William and never gave much thought at all to Tom (which perhaps might be evident by the end of chapter one of my book). William is obviously a much better brother than Tom. During their years apart, William writes Fanny long letters about his adventures and is as happy to see her when they are finally reunited as she is to see him. He loves Fanny and is solicitous of her comfort. And as grateful as he is to Henry for securing his promotion, William never urges Fanny to accept him; instead he doesn't mention it at all to her out of respect for her feelings. Edmund, however, urges her to accept him.

Tom on the other hand, seems to care very little for Edmund and not much more for his sisters. He is most concerned with his own pleasure in putting on a play and does not share Edmund's scruples regarding his sisters' participation. He dismisses Edmund's concerns and states that he's capable of looking after his sisters, but he does not see all the danger that is so very obvious to Fanny. In his defense, though, Edmund doesn't see it either. Tom presides over the play, spending his father's money and making changes to the house, while Maria carries on a flirtation with Henry that eventually leads to the ruination of her reputation and Edmund's hopes. Edmund says at the end of the novel that all the mischief began during the time of the play -- which was almost entirely Tom's doing -- and Tom shares this sentiment at the end when he reflects that the origin of the intimacy between Maria and Henry was his "unjustifiable theatre."

William, is a brilliant character and one can imagine Austen drew upon her two naval brothers in creating him. He is loving towards his sister, spirited, and adventurous, but industrious, respectful, and well-mannered. He seems to be well liked by everyone. When he returns to Mansfield after Maria and Julia have gone, he is included in the hunting party with the other gentlemen and Henry lets him borrow a horse. This is in stark contrast to Fanny's exclusion from the riding parties of the previous summer when Miss Crawford used her horse. And I love the line in which William is speculating about his future adventures while traveling to Portsmouth with Fanny where the narrator tells us that William, who has just been made a Second Lieutenant, "was not very merciful to the First Lieutenant." I find this line kind of hilarious although I suppose it's not very different in sentiment from Mary Crawford's speculation about Tom Bertram's prospects of survival, which obviously disgusts me -- maybe because Tom is actually sick at the time while as far as we know, the First Lieutenant of the H.M.S. Thrush is perfectly well. The only mention of William in the novel's closure is the assurance of his "good conduct and rising fame." And this is told, oddly enough, from the point of view of Sir Thomas, as his benefactor.

Tom's wrap-up is also told from his father's point of view but is given in more detail. We are told that he "gradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits. He was the better for ever for his illness. He had suffered, and he had learned to think: two advantages that he had never known before ... He became what he ought to be: useful to his father, steady and quiet, and not living merely for himself." This transformation seems a little unrealistic to my mind, but it's not Austen's only example of such a change. Marianne Dashwood and Louisa Musgrove both underwent substantial change after illness and it makes me wonder whether Austen knew someone who had experienced something similar.

William and Tom are certainly different sorts of brothers. Both have important roles in the story and both have scenes which are hilarious, but we never get much into the head of either. Like Lizzy Bennet, I have no brothers myself, but if I did I think I'd want him to be more like William than Tom. Would you like to have either of them for a brother?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on April, 13
03/21/2021 03:55 PM
Edmund Bertram
I am continuing my series on Austen's characters from Mansfield Park, all of which I explored at length in writing my novel, Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story. Austen's heroes, for the most part, are not particularly heroic (except of course for Mr. Darcy). The rest of them engage in smaller acts of heroism, and maybe Edmund Bertram has a couple of those – like obtaining a horse for Fanny to ride, but overall I think he is the least heroic of the lot.

I cannot forgive Edmund for his infatuation with the likes of Mary Crawford. His blindness towards Fanny for most of the novel is more understandable. She was raised in his family's home from the time she was ten years old and he was a teacher and mentor to her, heavily influencing her tastes and opinions. He clearly loves her all along, but it's a fraternal love, not a passionate one. So I don't mind his not returning her love or not being sensitive about her tender feelings, which he doesn't suspect. His lack of romantic feelings for Fanny is understandable, but his neglect of her, after being the only one who has been looking out for her, is more difficult to accept. There is a sort of tension wherein the more Edmund falls for Mary, the more he neglects Fanny. And because we see the story from Fanny's point of view, it is grueling for the reader to watch him confide in Fanny about his feelings for Mary, which are perhaps less understandable. He is not blind to Miss Crawford's faults; rather he makes excuses for them, which I think is worse. We, along with Fanny, see her for what she is, but without the influence of Fanny's jealousy.

Edmund is a good man. He is more approachable and understanding than Sir Thomas, more respectful than Tom, more companionable and attentive to Fanny than his sisters, more conscientious of her needs than his indolent mother, and certainly more everything good than Mrs. Norris. But Fanny's love for him is grounded in more than his goodness. He's pretty much the only young man she interacts with for most of her life. He is the only one around to love, while Tom is more often absent from home than not. And he is certainly the only one who gives her any real care and attention. This combination makes it easy to understand her feelings as well.

Edmund's and Fanny's feelings for one another during the course of the book seem perfectly natural given their relationship and situations. But, Edmund's feelings for Mary are harder to grasp. He certainly has seen more of the world than Fanny, though he is hardly as worldly as some of the other characters. He has been to school and to London. He has interacted with more young people, both male and female. Unlike Fanny, he has presumably been around other potential romantic prospects – though perhaps none in a situation that provides an opportunity for such familiarity or such frequent interaction as Miss Crawford at the Parsonage.

To account for Edmund's feelings, we are told:
A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart. … Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love.

The reason for Edmund's feelings seems a little shallow – especially for a man of such depth and such high moral rectitude, something he has already acknowledged that Miss Crawford lacks. Edmund's infatuation with Mary Crawford shows him, I think, to be immature and perhaps as naive as Fanny. Perhaps more naive than Fanny. We know Edmund was going to propose to Mary, “the only woman in the world whom he could ever think of as a wife,” while in contrast, Fanny never considered accepting Mr. Crawford.

Edmund shows weakness in comparison to Fanny. Miss Crawford manipulates him into changing his mind about acting in the play, and his reasons for doing so are sound. Nevertheless, he comes to Fanny for validation. He expects to be able to influence her to his side because he is so accustomed to guiding her thoughts and opinions. He claims that he has come to her for her opinion but once he sees that “her judgment is not with him” he tries to persuade her into the opinion he wants to hear. When she doesn't agree he says again, “but still it has not your approbation” and again, “Give me your approbation, then, Fanny. I am comfortable with it.” Finally, he says, “If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself.” This is a revealing line. Since he has been forming Fanny's views her whole life, she's like a mirror of his own moral compass. He is not satisfied with his own decision and Fanny does not give him the validation he needs to reconcile his actions to his feelings.

Later, after Fanny turns down Crawford's proposal, Edmund tries to persuade her to accept him. It would certainly be a financially prudent match for her, but he can see how she feels, how strongly she dislikes him. Although he may be motivated by the prospect of Fanny making a fortunate match, he is also motivated by his own prospects with Miss Crawrford, which must be facilitated by a connection between Fanny and Henry. But worse than that, Edmund has been in the same house with Fanny and all of the young people, he's been witness to the same behavior as Fanny, yet he is blind to Crawford's faults, or he dismisses them and expects Fanny to take on the responsibility of improving him, telling her, “I know he will make you happy; but you will make him everything.” Fanny rightfully recoils from the very idea. At least Edmund sees Mary's faults, though he dismisses them; he is as fooled by Henry as his sisters.

Edmund is a complex, sometimes bewildering, and often infuriating character. He is weak and readers like strong heroes. His portrayal shows, I suppose, that even those with faults can be deserving of someone a little more perfect than themselves. Fanny is never wrong and in the end she's fully vindicated. She loves Edmund, and she certainly deserves to get what she wants. Whether he deserves her has long been an issue of debate. And perhaps Edmund himself would even agree with the naysayers – the narrator tells us that he understood that “she was of course only too good for him.” What do you think?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on March, 24
02/14/2021 07:40 PM
Mary Crawford
In writing my book, Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story, I enjoyed getting into the heads of Austen's original characters, including Mary Crawford, who many readers find more likeable and relatable than Fanny Price, the heroine.

All of Austen's characters are brilliantly drawn, but I have always felt that Mansfield Park includes some of her most complex characterizations. Both Crawfords are masterfully complex. There are moments when we love and moments when we despise them both. We love Henry's concern for Fanny at Portsmouth and his heartfelt, though not wholly appropriate, offer to take her home; and we despise him when he actually says the words, "I cannot be satisfied without making a small hole in Fanny Price's heart." Likewise, we love Mary Crawford when she comes to comfort Fanny after Mrs. Norris accuses her of ingratitude in front of a room full of people, making sure to add the reminder: “considering who and what she is.” -- without question Miss Crawford's shiniest moment. In contrast, we are appalled when she openly suggests to Fanny that it would be a great thing if Tom Bertram were to die and even suggests that Fanny agrees with her.

In a way Miss Crawford is similar to Lady Susan – we like her in spite of her moral vacuity. She is portrayed as fun, witty, and exciting in contrast to Fanny's gentle, quiet, serious manner. Both women tend to be judgmental, but Fanny comes off as moralizing while Miss Crawford seems jaded and disillusioned. And the least heroic hero ever, Edmund Bertram, of course, excuses and dismisses Mary Crawford's faults even when he sees and recognizes them. He insists on believing that she is naturally good and her moral deficiency is due only to the manner of her upbringing. That may be true, but regardless of the cause, she is what she is and is unlikely to change. So while readers tend to like Miss Crawford they also have a hard time fathoming Edmund's blindness when it comes to her morality.

I have often heard Mary Crawford compared to Elizabeth Bennet. In my opinion there is little similarity. Elizabeth is not mercenary, as she proves by refusing the very eligible Mr. Darcy. Meanwhile, Mary comes to Mansfield intending to marry the eldest son, Tom Bertram, but she falls in love with Edmund instead and there is a constant tension between them arising from her objection to his choice of profession. And while we are told that once she had fallen in love with Edmund she would have turned down Tom if he had asked, we also know that in a letter to Fanny she openly wished for Tom's death so that Edmund would be the heir to Mansfield Park. She fell in love with the younger son, but wasn't necessarily prepared to accept him until his elder brother fell ill.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth asks, "What is the difference in matrimonial affairs between the mercenary and the prudent motive?" The question is omnipresent in Austen's writing. We know that Mary Crawford has twenty thousand pounds which alone would generate enough income to support them both in comfort, and would be added to Edmund's income from Thornton Lacey. Meaning, she could marry the man she loves without being imprudent. But she wants more. She wants to be rich, not just comfortable. And, being a clergyman's wife is not fashionable enough for her; she seems almost to consider it an embarrassment. Indeed, Mary makes some rather insensitive remarks about clergymen then claims she would not have said them had she known Edmund was to be ordained; but in later scenes she continues to make the same kind of remarks.

Mary is selfish and inconsiderate. Elizabeth is neither. Even when Elizabeth despises Darcy, she stops herself from making sarcastic remarks that she thinks might hurt his feelings. And Elizabeth exhibits none of the “feminine lawlessness” that Mary employs to flirt with Edmund. Elizabeth certainly doesn't shy away from an argument but she doesn't take on an irrational position just to flirt, the way Mary (and incidentally, Caroline Bingley) does.

Even if modern readers aren't bothered by Mary Crawford's negative comments about clergymen, we do see how she manipulates Edmund to act in the play against his own judgment and manipulates Fanny into accepting a gift from her brother. And Austen gives Miss Crawford perhaps the most coarse joke in all her books – the “rears and vices” comment. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is never coarse, inconsiderate, or manipulative.

The reader sees the events of the novel through Fanny's eyes, and therefore hopes for Fanny's happiness, but readers also like Mary Crawford (often, but not always, more than they like Fanny); and we are reminded constantly that the outcomes that would make them happy are mutually exclusive. It is a tension arising so naturally from the characters and their situations that we almost forget it was created intentionally. In Pride and Prejudice, we are never rooting for Miss Bingley; we never like her more than we like Elizabeth. Austen creates a new scenario in Mansfield Park where the “other woman” is portrayed as more appealing than the protagonist.

I have never understood the appeal of Mary Crawford but I suppose if Edmund likes her in spite of the faults he clearly sees in her character, we cannot blame the reader for liking her too – though I do have a hard time forgiving Edmund for it! Maybe modern readers relate to her because she believes she should and can have everything – she wants both the cosmopolitan London lifestyle and a man who is antithetical to that lifestyle. She wants to have it all, but doesn't everyone?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on March, 07
02/01/2021 08:51 PM
Henry Crawford
In writing my book, Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story I spent a lot of time studying Jane Austen's amazing original characters from Mansfield Park. I wanted to tell my story without changing any of the original characterizations as presented so masterfully by Austen. And, I was particularly intrigued by the character of Henry Crawford.

Recently in a facebook group discussion about Mansfield Park, it was suggested that Henry Crawford is a womanizer, a narcissist, a cheater, and a manipulator. I don't argue with any of those descriptions as there is evidence in the text to support them all.

He is certainly a manipulator. He manipulates girls who didn't think much of him at first because he wasn't good looking, into falling in love with him. He is absolutely a narcissist as Austen reminds us repeatedly that he is driven by vanity. He recognizes the same vanity in the girls he targets and enjoys not just satisfying his own vanity, but starving theirs.

As for a womanizer and a cheater, these are more complicated. We know he likes to make girls in love with him and as these are usually genteel girls, like the Miss Bertrams, it is unlikely that he has physical relationships with them. Certainly, he has physical relations with women, but probably not often with the same women whose feelings he likes to sport with. He cannot maintain his reputation in society by acting dishonorably by the young unmarried girls constantly thrown in his way. He has an affair with Maria Rushworth in Richmond and thinks it's just a brief fling that he can walk away from. Notably, she is now married, which makes it safer as long as he can keep it a secret. Clearly he thinks this kind of relationship is okay and he wasn't any less in love with Fanny when he did it, so it is reasonable to conclude he's unlikely to be a faithful husband and that he probably hasn't given it much thought at all. He lives in a culture where faithfulness in husbands was not expected and certainly he grew up in a home and with a role model where it was neither practiced nor taught.

This is what I added to the facebook conversation:

Henry Crawford's weakness was vanity. JA makes that very clear. We know he likes to make girls in love with him but he doesn't fall in love himself. This is because he is motivated by vanity. He and Maria are playing the exact same game from the beginning. This is made very clear if you carefully read the narrator's account of how they each react to meeting one another in the beginning of chapter 5. There's a couple of lines in which Maria is reflecting, "Mr. Crawford must take care of himself" and then the narrator immediately tells us that, "Mr. Crawford did not mean to be in any danger!" Each expects the other to fall in love, but Maria is way out of her league with him in this kind of gamesmanship. Henry is not interested in marriage until he meets a girl who is extraordinarily good and who he can confide in. He is attracted to Fanny because she is the only one around after Maria and Julia leave, but he falls in love with her when he sees how truly good she is, how far above the games of vanity she is. But it's a selfish love, he thinks only of what he wants out of it and doesn't much think about her feelings. Even when he's talking about liberating her from an oppressive life, his pleasure in the idea arises from being the one who is giving her "the consequence so justly her due."

I absolutely love the narrator's juxtaposition between Henry's and Maria's views in chapter 5 that foreshadows later events. Henry doesn't want to like Julia because he knows she's still single and his sister wants to make a match -- and he's so not interested in marriage. He targets Maria instead because she's engaged and no one will form any expectations of him. He ends up leading them both on and no one seems to notice but Fanny.

Austen tells us at the end of the novel that had Henry "persevered, and uprightly" he would have won Fanny. But could the character as written have done so? Austen gives enough support in the text for either answer. What do you think?

posted by Amelia Marie Logan on February, 07