The Crawfords at
Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
Web Page, the Second
December 16, 1999
The Rights of a Lively Mind
At the beginning of Chapter VII - Volume 1, Edmund asks Fanny
"Well Fanny, and how do you like Miss Crawford now?"
He himself had begun to like Mary Crawford very much. Fanny answers in a positive way, but does say she was a bit shocked by the unkind - she would say "ungrateful" - way Mary spoke of her London uncle. Edmund agrees but points to Mary's fond attachment to her brother. (Jane Austen signals the nature of a character, in this novel, by the way they treat of family ties.) Fanny agrees with that, but remembers that Mary had complained that her brother's letters were too short;
"... And what right had she to suppose that you would not write long letters when you were absent?"
"The right of a lively mind, Fanny, seizing whatever may contribute to its own amusement or that of others; ..."
Too true! We do grant too much to the possessor of a lively mind. That will always be the case - nothing can be done. We grant these rights especially to the lively female mind and that is one of the small things that can lead to a great unhappiness. However, I think that is because the object of a lively mind can sometimes be more than just amusement; the lively mind can sometimes mask a destructive self-interest.
Mary Crawford was lively, but she was blessed with many other skills as well. For example, it soon became apparent that she had a natural if untrained ability as a horsewoman. She sat her horse well and had courage, strength, and a quick understanding. She was graceful and funny in society. She was also a calculating woman in clear command of all the nuances. She would disappoint herself in one respect - she would not love the correct person. She liked to think herself of the Charlotte-Lucas School of Female Philosophy; Mary thought that Maria was only doing what any woman would do when she accepted Rushworth even though Mary saw all of that man's undesirable qualities. Later, Mary became most vexed with herself when she realized that she could not make herself stop favoring Edmund so that she could tempt the Mansfield heir instead - A very disagreeable turn of events.
I want to turn to the excursion to Sotherton, passages which, to me, rank even higher than the picnic at Box Hill, and nearly as high as the passages on Elizabeth's reactions to Darcy's letter. Sotherton was the estate of Mr. Rushworth, Maria's fiancé, and all the young people were to go there on a visit with their Aunt Norris. Fanny was to go as well; this was the very first time that she had been included in that way. She was dazzled by the event and the scenery. Actually, Fanny was included only after a great deal of determined and creative lobbying by Edmund. No one else cared one way or the other - except Aunt Norris who lobbied just as hard to leave the family embarrassment at home.
The day started well with everyone happy except Maria who would have preferred to ride next to Crawford as he drove the carriage. Sister Julia was there instead and happy to assume this privilege of the only unattached female (Fanny didn't count). She was happy and animated. Crawford was charming and clever, but he was also unprincipled and so he used Julia in this way to screen his real intentions. He surreptitiously announced himself to Maria in the chapel of her fiancé's home, and so their clandestine flirtation began even before she had the husband she would eventually cuckold. It was in that very same place that sister Mary Crawford learned that Edmund intended to enter the church. She came undone and was quite overboard in her denunciation of the clergy. In the process, Mary further sank the reputation of her brother-in-law, Mr. Grant, by using him as an example of that profession that any man should avoid. - More of Mary's betrayal of family ties. It was the worst kind of behavior but it was the right of a lively mind, and Edmund saw it that way. Fanny was included in the conversation but was not so easy in the granting of dispensation.
The party then turned to walking the grounds. Fanny was in a party with Edmund and Mary, but she soon tired and her companions sat her on a bench and promised to return to her soon. Fanny was benched like the substitute that she always had been, like a member of the junior varsity. There is one advantage to such a seat, and that is that Fanny could take in the entire game, the entire field and all the stratagems. Since she was not on the varsity, the others did not have to be so careful of what she saw and learned - she had just better keep quiet and be grateful. And Fanny saw it all; Fanny saw far more than anyone else was allowed. Mary and Edmund moved off in the midst of a silly argument about how far they had come. On his side, Edmund used logic and instruments to make his case, while on hers, Mary made her argument with axioms. She was clever, teasing, and funny, but what was really happening was that Mary was beguiling Edmund, binding him to herself. When they were gone, Maria appeared with Crawford and Rushworth. Rushworth was sent away on a fool's errand and that allowed Maria and Crawford to slip away together, perhaps to share a kiss. The bench-warmer was noticed but only was granted the duty of passing on a lie to Rushworth upon his return. Fanny was mortified but obeyed and so was forced to observe that man's pain.
It was cruelty but that is the right and privilege of the lively Crawford mind.
Fanny Price was a nothing to everyone except Edmund and the Bertram parents; however, she was the proverbial fly-on-the-wall and so she was allowed to see more than others. And, Fanny was quite conscious of the impropriety of Crawford's attentions to Maria during this family excursion. By the way, that is an impropriety for a newly engaged woman anywhere, anytime - in Regency England or in present-day Manhattan or Georgetown. Any alert person will notice and be disturbed unless in a state of denial. And everyone but Fanny was in denial. Fanny tried to broach the subject with Edmund; they were discussing Crawford and Fanny opened with
" 'What a favourite he is with my cousins!'
'Yes, his manners to women are such as must please. Mrs. Grant, I believe, suspects him of a preference for Julia; ... He has no faults but what a serious attachment might remove.
'If Miss Bertram were not engaged.' said Fanny cautiously. 'I could almost think that he admired her more than Julia.'
'Which is, perhaps, more in favour of his liking Julia best, than you, Fanny, may be aware; for I believe it often happens, that a man, before he has quite made up his own mind, will distinguish the sister or intimate friend of the woman he is really thinking of, more than the woman herself. Crawford has too much sense to stay here if he found himself in any danger from Maria; and I am not at all afraid for her, after such a proof as she has given, that her feelings are not strong.' "
Talk about denial! Actually, it would have taken sense and an honorable nature for Crawford to have absented himself. (You might compare this to Darcy's behavior at Netherfield after he found himself attracted to Elizabeth Bennet and after deciding a match to her unsuitable - he tried to stay away from her.) There is nothing wrong with Crawford and Maria developing an attachment after her engagement and before her marriage, but the only honorable course was to play it completely one way or the other. Either declare themselves or stay away from each other. Crawford was only dallying and Maria wanted to keep the possibility of Rushworth's fortune as a fall-back in case someone better didn't come along. Disgusting!
Mary was no Charlotte Lucas because Mary could love a man, and she loved Edmund most dearly. And Edmund loved Mary just as well - Jane Austen is explicit and clear about that.
|Edmund was at the parsonage every day to be indulged with his favorite instrument. ... A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself ... Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use; it was all in harmony; ... were worth looking at.|
Mary's feelings were awakened simply enough:
" ... without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule, he talked no nonsense, he paid no compliments, his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity ... She did not think much about it, however; he pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her; it was enough."
Chapter VII, Volume 1
Sounds a bit like one of the Austen brothers does he not? - Or, perhaps, like Tom Lefroy - or Darcy.
Well, you know how it is; once set in motion, these things develop a momentum. Mary flirted with him and teased him, became involved in his concerns, alternately treated him with kindness and cruelty. And before she was aware, she was herself in love. There are a number of painful moments as there must be where there are strong emotions. Mary was to play a tender scene with Edmund in the play that the young people are to perform, and she was so nervous about the first rehearsal that she went to Fanny and begged her to rehearse the scene with her in Edmund's part as she braced up her courage. Later, when Edmund was on a prolonged visit to a friend, Mary again sought out Fanny for consolation in her loneliness. Of course, the readers' sensibilities are doubly bombarded as we have to witness poor Fanny Price witnessing all this. In the final part of the book, where it is clear that Edmund has suddenly given up all hope of a marriage to Mary, Jane Austen leaves us with a final demonstration of what Mary must suffer. I refer to the passage in which Mary calls to Edmund to stop walking away, to come back to her so that they might try once again.
Still, by the time of that passage, in spite of our own attraction to Mary Crawford, we are glad to read that Edmund did not turn back, that he had the strength to endure his pain, to continue out of the house and out of Mary's life. Let us turn to that development.
The Play is the Thing
Sometimes, much is happening in a Jane Austen novel when the writing seems the mildest. I am thinking of the production of the play Lovers' Vows in Mansfield Park. Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford behaved badly and it was so disturbing that the others almost seemed to pretend that it wasn't happening. Eventually, however, several characters did understand what this couple was perpetrating. I want to underscore the way that Jane Austen describes this growing awareness.
Culture brings us everything - everything beautiful and all the unique tools required to recognize beauty. Culture brings us the coping skills that no individual could hope to acquire entirely by logic or experiment. Culture also brings us racism, warfare, and madness. Culture is exhilarating and overwhelming, we cannot live without culture and then it is our culture that destroys each individual. Now, one has to stand outside of society, at least a little bit, in order to understand these things. It can only be the alienated and disenfranchised that might see things so clearly, but that is a terrible price to pay for an insight. It is a cost that is not willingly borne by anyone, but it was borne by Jane Austen's Fanny Price.
Culture gives us a sense of propriety and then teaches us how to circumvent the censure of an impropriety. In the regency period, it was an impropriety for an unrelated man to write to an unmarried woman, but Darcy and Wentworth did just that, didn't they? (Although, perhaps the most complete description of this convention is in Sense and Sensibility.) Darcy and Wentworth circumvented censure by hand-delivering the letters themselves: This was not something that could be asked of a servant, a friend, or a relative; it would not have been honorable to have involved someone else as an accomplice.
The principle here is that the unobserved impropriety is like the sound the falling tree doesn't make in the deserted forest. Jane Austen knew that the principle could be carried too far; so, in Mansfield Park, she had Edmund Bertram recoil from Mary Crawford's suggestion that Maria's adultery would not have been so bad if only Maria had been more discreet. But, it was Fanny Price that first perceived and best anticipated the effects of impropriety because it was only she that was uninvited and uninvolved.
(Another principle explored in Mansfield Park is that of peer pressure. Some seem to think that merely pronouncing its name exorcises peer pressure; in fact, peer pressure is only another type of seduction, and seduction cannot be so easily avoided.)
Mary Crawford first seduced Edmund into joining the production and then - yes - even Fanny was about ready to take her tumble when she was saved by the fortuitous and unexpected arrival of her uncle, who entered like an avenging angel of society. (I am reminded of the entry of the naval officer, near the end of The Lord of the Flies.)
Jane Austen is hardly one to censure the production of a play - she was not a Victorian. Jane often participated with her family in the production of plays as she was growing up, and she and her brother Henry often attended the theater in London together. No, what Fanny and Edmund were objecting to, in the dramatic production at Mansfield Park, is that the cast members were using this device to circumvent the proprieties of their society. And, their worst fears were realized when the familiarity that Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram developed in the rehearsals, lead inevitably to adultery.
Both Julia and Rushworth had been aroused by the events at the estate, but Crawford smoothed things over by paying each some extra attention; that was enough because it was easier to be in denial than otherwise, and because Crawford was so adept at simulation. (Later, Fanny would discover that Crawford was, by far, the best actor of the Mansfield players - she didn't like him as a man, but she could acknowledge his abilities.) During the organization of the play, the suspicions of both Julia and Rushworth were resurrected.
For Julia, full knowledge came during the casting of the play. Crawford had taken the part of Frederick and both Julia and Maria then wanted the part of Agatha. Agatha is the mother of Frederick and so it seemed a perfect cover for rehearsing tender scenes and "motherly" embraces. Crawford steered Julia away from the part with the following nonsense
" ...'I must entreat Miss Julia Bertram,' said he, 'not to engage in the part of Agatha, or it will be the ruin of my solemnity. ... The many laughs we have had together would infallibly come across me, and Frederick and his knapsack would be obliged to run away.' "
But Julia was no longer the fool:
"Pleasantly, courteously it was spoken; but the manner was lost in the matter to Julia's feelings. She saw a glance at Maria, which confirmed the injury to herself; it was a scheme--a trick; she was slighted, Maria was preferred; the smile of triumph which Maria was trying to suppress shewed how well it was understood, ... "
The oily Crawford would not give up his cover so easily and so he tried to convince Julia to take on the part of Amelia - it was the last straw.
" The influence of his voice was felt. Julia wavered; ... He was perhaps at treacherous play with her. She looked suspiciously at her sister; Maria's countenance was to decide it; if she were vexed and alarmed--but Maria looked all serenity and satisfaction, and Julia well knew that Maria could not be happy but at her expense. ... "
Julia disengaged from the players and would have nothing else to do with their play. But was she now concerned about her sister's honor? Should she not be concerned about family honor?
"... and now that the conviction of [Henry's] preference for Maria had been forced upon [Julia], she submitted to it without any alarm for Maria's situation or at any endeavour at rational tranquillity for herself. ... For a day or two after the affront was given, Henry Crawford had endeavored to do it away by the usual attack of gallantry and compliment, but he had not cared enough about it to persevere against a few repulses; ... "
Rushworth was a limited man, but the kind of man who would probably never do harm. He was a bit foolish and Maria manipulated him disgracefully during the preparations for the play. While giving too much attention to her scenes with Crawford, she did nothing to help Rushworth prepare for his part. Fanny took pity, and since she knew Rushworth's part very well, she tried to help him prepare. Bravo. In that context, Rushworth came to trust Fanny and to confide in her his growing awareness of the Crawford-Maria improprieties. Fanny was mortified and embarrassed for her cousin.
Even Edmund came to understand that something was wrong with the way that Maria and Crawford were manipulating events. His own sense of things was a bit nebulous because he was in love with Mary Crawford; however, after trying to convince his brother to set aside the play, Edmund turned to Maria and the debate there touched upon her status and situation.
Remember that Crawford had two sisters at Mansfield Park - we tend to forget Mrs. Grant because she is a minor character. Who knows a man better than adult sisters? Unlike Mary, Mrs. Grant was an honorable woman and she first broached the subject with brother Crawford.
"...she could only renew her former caution as to [Maria], entreat him not to risk his tranquillity there, ..."
And then Mrs. Grant entered into discussion with sister Mary.
" 'I rather wonder Julia is not in love with Henry.' was her observation to Mary.
'I dare say she is,' replied Mary coldly. 'I imagine both sisters are.'
'Both! no, no, that must not be. Do not give him a hint of it. Think of Mr. Rushworth.'
'You had better tell Miss Bertram to think of Rushworth. It may do her some good. I often think of Mr. Rushworth's property and independence, and wish them in other hands--but I never think of him. ...'
'If you have such a suspicion, something must be done, and as soon as the play is over, we will talk to him seriously, and make him know his own mind; and if he means nothing, we will send him off, though he is Henry, for a time' "
Good, sweet woman! And yes, it was only Mary Crawford whose view of things was as clear as Fanny's. Later she would joke to Fanny.
" '...and the theatre is engaged of course by those indefatigable rehearsers, Agatha and Frederick. If they are not perfect, I shall be surprised. By the bye, I looked in upon them five minutes ago, and it happened to be exactly at one of those times when they were trying not to embrace, and Mr. Rushworth was with me. I thought he began to look a little queer, so I turned it off as well as I could, by whispering to him "We shall have an excellent Agatha, there is something so maternal in her manner, so completely maternal in her voice and countenance." Was that not well done of me? He brightened up directly. ...' "
So stonehearted, so morally obtuse - we can only imagine Fanny's thoughts at those remarks.
Even Aunt Norris must have understood at some level. I say that because when she overheard her sister, Lady Bertram, begin to question Fanny about the nature of the play, this aunt quickly and forcefully moved to distract Lady B.
So, it seems that nearly everyone came to understand what was happening at the Park. Why didn't someone put a stop to it? Edmund and Mrs. Grant made muted attempts, but should not someone have made a more concerted effort? Of course not, put yourself in the place of one of those onlookers. I have had this experience - has this ever happened to you? I can remember a few times when I knew things before I believed them. I mean I would see bad things developing and make explicit, dire predictions, but when those very things actually came to pass, I was shocked. I was as shocked as I would have been had the events been a complete surprise. I don't think I am talking about denial here because denial is a refusal to know the truth; I think this is something else - a capacity to know without believing. I mean I think that there are deeper levels of knowing that have a lid over them to protect us. All this reminds me of the theatrical play almost produced at Mansfield Park. I think Jane Austen would have understood what I am trying to describe.
The unifying theme of Mansfield Park is the strength of the familial tie, but Jane Austen was no Louisa May Alcott, our Lady was an adult writer with a realistic view. Notice that she wrote, "Too often, alas! it is so.--Fraternal love, sometimes almost every thing, is at others worse than nothing." I am thinking about the way that Edmund Bertram was used by his siblings, Tom and Maria, during the production of the play at Mansfield. Edmund resisted the production of the play at Mansfield, but restrained his protest somewhat by reminding himself with "...'Family squabbling is the greatest evil of all, and we had better do anything than be altogether by the ears.' " and, "... 'I cannot undertake to harangue all the rest upon a subject of this kind--There would be the greatest indecorum I think.' ". But, his resolve was doomed when Mary Crawford cheerfully took on the part of Amelia and the subject became who would play Amelia's lover, Anhalt. Tom Bertram may not have known himself, but he knew his brother well enough to know how to trap him into the part. Tom merely made a show of bringing in a neighbor to play the role. Edmund capitulated, he said this to Fanny: " '...To think only of the license which every rehearsal must tend to create. It is all very bad! Put yourself in Miss Crawford's place, Fanny. Consider what it would be like to act Amelia with a stranger. ...' ". (Hmm, yes I suppose that it would be better for Mary to take license with Edmund.)
"It was, indeed, a triumphant day to Mr. Bertram and Maria. Such a victory over Edmund's discretion had been beyond their hopes, and was most delightful. There was no longer any thing to disturb them in their darling project, and they congratulated each other in private on the jealous weakness to which they attributed the change, with all the glee of feelings gratified in every way. ...They behaved very well, however, to him on the occasion, betraying no exultation beyond the lines about the corners of the mouth, ..."
Mansfield Park, Chapter XVII, Volume 2
Well, you know how it is, sometimes family ties are worse than nothing.
|'... I wish I could see Cassiopeia'|
'We must go out on the lawn for that. Should you be afraid?'
'Not in the least. It is a great while since we have done any star-gazing.'
'Yes, I do not know how it has happened.' The glee began. 'We shall stay till this is finished, Fanny,' said he ...
Julie Grassi 2/11/99, 2/27/99, 9/25/99, 9/29/99, 10/17/99, 12/2/99; Anielka Rice 12/3/99
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