Love, Vanity, and "Education" at
Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
Web Page, the Third

December 16, 1999

Fanny, Edmund, and Mary

Jane Austen makes these relationships quite explicit: Fanny loves Edmund; Edmund loves Mary; Mary loves Edmund; and Fanny dislikes and mistrusts Mary. Edmund's treatment of Fanny was consistent with those of a generous and feeling man. Those feelings are identical to those of his father except that, during the first part of the novel, Sir Thomas was distracted and more concerned about his own children. (That changed dramatically when Sir Thomas came to understand his own respect and love for Fanny.)

I suppose that most relationships start as a triangle or two; that is true in Jane Austen's novels. Some are as innocuous as the Anne/Wentworth/Louisa relationship and some really have only one dominant edge as is the case for the Miss-Bingley/Darcy/Elizabeth interaction. A more complete example is the Lucy/Edward/Elinor relationship in Sense and Sensibility. However nothing can engage our interest as much as that Mansfield triangle formed on Fanny Price, Edward Bertram, and Mary Crawford.

Fanny was filled with loathing and contempt for Mary's brother and she didn't like Mary either, but things could not be so simple in the case of the sister, and that is interesting. Things were not so simple because Mary did seem to develop a genuine friendship for Fanny and that was a complication. That feeling was not so strong, however, that Mary was not above betraying Fanny - not above making Fanny vulnerable to Henry Crawford's schemes. And, I cannot help observing that every single act of kindness to Fanny was accompanied by an improvement of Mary's relationship to Edmund. It almost seems that, in Mary Crawford, Jane Austen created a wiser, subtler Miss Bingley or a gentler if craftier Lucy Steele.

However, Mary was not in perfect control and we love her for it. We learn this in Chapter XII of Volume 1: the Mansfield heir, Tom Bertram has returned from a vacation of excess

"... to be gay, agreeable, and gallant again as occasion served, or Miss Crawford demanded, to tell of races and Weymouth, and parties and friends, to which she might have listened six weeks before with some interest, and altogether to give her fullest conviction, by the power of actual comparison, of her preferring his younger brother."

"It was very vexatious, and she was sorry for it; but so it was; and so far from now meaning to marry the elder, she did not even want to attract him beyond what the simplest claims of conscious beauty required; ... "

"What the simplest claims of conscious beauty required" - I love it. I mean Mary wanted to entice Tom, only not all that much. Of course this vexatious attachment meant that Mary had to straighten out a few things for Edmund; he had to be made aware that he was not to be ordained; "you should go into the law" and "you should have gone into the Army ten years ago." All that presumption and insensitivity really ate into Fanny, and Fanny was allowed to hear it all.

Mary became interested in Fanny at about the same time that she became interested in Edmund. Perhaps that was because it was obvious that Edmund was the outspoken champion of Fanny. He arranged for a horse for Fanny and it was only he, in the absence of Sir Thomas, that pushed Fanny forward in company - Fanny had far less status with the rest of the family. Indeed, to a stranger, such as Mary Crawford, her status would have seemed ambiguous and it was hardly a surprise that Mary asked if Fanny was "out", full out in company. Even Edmund had difficulty answering this question and that shows how little the Bertrams had thought about making Fanny's relationship and expectations clear, and how ambiguous Fanny's status was in the family. This also indicates the alertness of our Mary Crawford.

Mary's first act of kindness to Fanny occurred during the preparation for the play when some of Fanny's family treated Fanny abominably. That began one evening when the young people were sitting about in various groups and preparing for the play. The Mansfield heir began the lacerations with

" 'Fanny,' cried Tom Bertram, ... 'we want your services'

Fanny was up in a moment, expecting some errand, for the habit of employing her in that way was not yet overcome, in spite of all that Edmund could do.

'Oh! we do not want to disturb you from your seat. ... We shall only want you in our play. You must be Cottager's wife.' "
Fanny refused, she would have nothing to do with those proceedings, but Tom would have none of that:
" 'Indeed but you must, for we cannot excuse you. It need not frighten you; it is a nothing of a part ... it will not much signify if nobody hears a word you say, so you may be as creepmouse as you like, ... You have only two scenes, and as I shall be the Cottager, I'll put you in and push you about; and you will do it very well I'll answer for it.' "

Nice! But that was as a caress compared to what followed. The party, including Mr. Crawford reinforced Tom's request, but the worst was to come from Aunt Norris who admonished Fanny to oblige her cousins. Edmund tried to head off the old dragon:

" 'Do not urge her madam,' said Edmund. 'It is not fair to urge her in this manner.--You see she does not like to act.--Let her choose for herself as well as the rest of us.--Her judgment may be quite as safely trusted.--do not urge her anymore.' "

And then Aunt Norris dropped the hammer.

" 'I am not going to urge her,' replied Mrs. Norris sharply, 'but I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her--very ungrateful indeed, considering who and what she
is.' "

There it was at last - no one had ever been so explicit before, but Tom and Aunt Norris set the record straight - "who and what she is" - the "creepmouse" - and worse. It was all so clear now and should have been expected, but Fanny began to weep; Edmund was too furious to speak; and, Mary Crawford was astonished. But Mary was strong, confident, and had a flare and an understanding. Mary moved quickly to sooth and comfort Fanny with words, but that was not enough. That could never be enough; Mary knew that; and, she knew that she must overpower Fanny - take control of Fanny in order to heal her. And Mary overpowered Fanny, demanded her attention, directed her thoughts toward brother William Price, refused to let loose of her - and healed her.

"Fanny did not love Miss Crawford; but she felt very much obliged to her for her present kindness; ..."

There are two subtleties in that same passage that is so-oo Jane Austen; the first was where Mary moved to make sure that the thing that had started all this would not recur:

"...By a look at her brother, she prevented any further entreaty from the theatrical board ..."

That's all it took, a glance at her brother was enough. Whatever else I may say about the Crawfords, I will admit that they were excellent brother and sister. The other subtlety becomes apparent when we ask ourselves whether or not this was an unalloyed kindness on Mary's part. I think the answer is "no", and I base that on the fact that the passage is embedded within a difficulty that Mary and Edmund were experiencing with one another. The Mansfield players were casting the roles for Lovers' Vows, and Mary had been assigned the role of Amelia. But who was to play the role of her Anhalt? "...Who is to be Anhalt? What gentleman among you am I to have the pleasure of making love to?" says Mary to the players, while stealing glances at the brooding Edmund. Mary was no creepmouse and so she confronted Edmund with "If any part could tempt you to act, I suppose it would be Anhalt. ... for he is a clergyman you know." But Edmund was still able to decline and so they parted, each unhappy with the other's attitude.

"Miss Crawford was silenced; and with some feelings of resentment and mortification, moved her chair considerably near the tea-table..."

and away from Edmund. It was immediately after this unhappiness that the lacerations of Fanny began; those insults followed by Mary's rescue. And what had Edmund to do with any of that? Jane Austen put it this way:

"...and the really good feelings by which she was almost purely governed, were rapidly restoring [Mary] to all the little she had lost in Edmund's favour."

What a beautifully crafted sentence - "by which she was almost purely governed". Those feelings had to be nearly the sole reason for her actions or Edmund would not have been so thoroughly charmed, but "almost" helps us more clearly understand what was really happening.

Jane Austen endows Mary Crawford with ambiguity and, thereby, transforms her from a character in a novel to a living person. Mary was wise but she did not know everything that was crucial. Mary did not understand that she could not love Tom Bertram, as she would have wished, because he had no center. Mary loved Edmund because he had a soul, the part of him that she would have destroyed had they married. Fanny understood this; it was this very thing that Fanny saw happening. In our real lives, Mary and Edmund would have married, and been happy until Mary first saw a puzzling weakness and an emptiness in him that she would detest, and then she would have turned her attention elsewhere. Mansfield Park is a great novel and a great credit to our Lady - our prose Shakespeare.

The Fraternal Tie

Everyone remembers Mary Crawford's gift of a gold chain to Fanny, the gift that was meant to aid Henry Crawford's pursuit of Fanny Price; however, it is interesting to consider the sequence of events surrounding the gift of the necklace. The necklace was given before Crawford told Mary of his love for Fanny Price - his intention of marrying Fanny Price. However, the gift was made after Crawford's announcement to Mary that he intended to "put a small hole in Fanny Price's heart", to seduce Fanny. So, the sequence is (1) Henry announces his plan to seduce Fanny; (2) Mary makes her gift to Fanny; and, (3) Crawford announces his plan to marry Fanny. In other words, Mary is lending her aid to her brother for the seduction and not the courtship. It is only after the ball that Crawford told Mary that he wanted to marry Fanny, and Mary was very surprised to hear it.

I believe that Jane Austen made all this very explicit when she wrote this line for Mary Crawford in response to Crawford's announcement that he now loved Fanny and wished to marry her.

"...'Your wicked project upon her peace turns out a clever thought indeed. You will both find your good in it' "

Mary is a good sister in the limited sense that she will aid her brother in any possible way - in any good endeavor or in a wicked project upon someone's peace. "Conspiracy" may be the wrong word here; what Mary was about was aiding and abetting, which does not mean that she verbalized an explicit plan with her brother. The Crawfords were as partners in the game of bridge - each, instinctively, knew what would help the other.

Re-read that passage in which Mary gives Fanny the necklace and notice how Mary deliberately pushes the necklace from Henry without telling Fanny its history until Fanny has actually accepted it. Notice that when Mary talks to Fanny at the ball, she again tries to further Henry's cause. And what is that cause, I ask you?

Jane Austen also gave us an excellent example of Henry's devotion to his sister. That occurs in Chapter VII of Volume 2. "Bertram," says Henry to Edmund, "I have never told you what happened to me yesterday in my ride home." His horse had thrown a shoe and he was obliged to return home as best he could. Just by chance, or so he would claim, Henry had happened to wander onto the land and house that was to serve as Edmund's parsonage, Thornton Lacey. At the party, Henry then began to critique the house and lands, "There will be work for five summers at least before the place is live-able." He then burdened Edmund by suggesting a series of expensive improvements that "must be done". Edmund replied to Crawford in the next passage, and Mary, who had been eavesdropping, then returned with new vigor to her card game.

" '... very little of your 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 comfortable, and given the air of a gentleman's residence without very heavy expense, and that must suffice me; and I hope may suffice for all who care about me.'

Miss Crawford, a little suspicious and resentful of a certain tone 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.' "

No, Mary would strive and her brother would be her partner in whatever hand she played. Henry did not leave it there, he continued in his beloved sister's cause until Sir Thomas ended the discussion with a lecture to Crawford.

However, I will sooner think Henry innocent than I will think Mary spontaneous. This is a passage from the chapter on the Mansfield ball. Sir Thomas observed Fanny's beautiful countenance and graceful presence and was much pleased.

"Miss Crawford saw much of Sir Thomas's thoughts as he stood, and having, in spite of all his wrongs towards her, a general prevailing desire of recommending herself to him, took an opportunity of stepping aside to say something agreeable of Fanny. Her praise was warm, and he received it as she could wish, joining in it as far as discretion, and politeness, and slowness of speech would allow, ...Miss Crawford knew Mrs. Norris too well to think of gratifying her by commendation of Fanny; to her it was, as the occasion offered,--'Ah, ma'am, how much we want [Maria] and Julia to-night!'..."

Careless as a Woman and a Friend

There is that passage in which Crawford informed Mary that he must have Fanny Price: "But I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price's heart." At first Mary argued with him and points out that Fanny's attraction to Henry was that she did not much like him. She bantered rather than remonstrated with her brother before she gave up the matter:

"And without attempting any further remonstrance, she left Fanny to her fate--..."

This is hardly the action of a friend. Jane Austen repeatedly expressed Fanny's feeling about the Crawfords. Here is an example. Fanny goes to Mary to receive some advice about how to prepare for the ball that Sir Thomas is giving in Fanny's honor (her cousins are not to home). Mary gives Fanny a necklace on which to wear the amber cross (a gift from William Price). After Fanny accepts, Mary tells her that the necklace had come to her from Henry. Fanny was revolted and tried to return the gift but Mary insisted. Then Jane Austen tells us this.

"Fanny dared not make any further opposition; and with renewed but less happy thanks accepted the necklace again, for there was an expression in Miss Crawford's eyes she could not be happy with... --[Crawford] was something like what he had been to her cousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquility as he had cheated them; 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."

"Careless as a woman and a friend", Fanny certainly had a basis for such a judgment. Fanny had listened as Mary spoiled the reputation of both her uncle in London and the husband of her sister, Mrs. Grant, all in fun and to amuse company with whom she had had only a short acquaintance. Also, Mary had manipulated Rushworth in order to distract him from her brother's flirtation with Rushworth's fiancée, and then had the nerve to brag of this accomplishment to Fanny. And, Mary made no secret of her contempt for Edmund's chosen profession and ridiculed him in public with no apparent regard for his feelings, and certainly with a complete disrespect for his judgment. Mary Crawford was unreliable indeed.

Someone once explained to me that in the classic tragic form, the tragedy is inevitable because of circumstances combined with the human flaws of the characters. Surely, Mansfield Park comes close to this form. The tragedy is the love lost between Edmund and Mary and the very human flaws of Mary Crawford make this inevitable. Perhaps the greater tragedy would have been the marriage of the two; George Eliot would later visit the greater tragedy upon Dr. Lydgate of Middlemarch.

A Pity You Did Not Know Yourself

" 'Perhaps Sir,' said Fanny, wearied at last into speaking--'perhaps Sir, I thought it a pity you did not know yourself as well as you seemed to at that moment.' "

Fanny said that to Henry Crawford and she, herself, thought it "an extremity of reproof". Crawford did not get it and many modern readers do not get it either. (Actually, some readers, throughout the last two centuries, haven't gotten it - beginning with Jane Austen's own sister, Cassandra.) I will conclude this section by reminding you of "that moment", but first I will lay a little groundwork. My purpose is to amplify upon Crawford's nature and Fanny Price's reproof.

Crawford usually managed to make himself the center of attention. For example, when the young people went to visit Rushworth's estate, they went with the general understanding that Crawford was to make some sage judgments and recommendations for the remodeling of that great place. And when Crawford was not at the center, he longed for it. When Fanny Price's brother, William, was wowing everyone with his wartime experiences, Henry thought this.

"...[Crawford] longed to have been at sea, and seen and done and suffered as much. His heart was warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt the highest respect for a lad who, before he was twenty, had gone through such bodily hardships, and given such proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so much self-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!"

"The wish was rather eager than lasting..."

Incidentally, if you ever meet someone who doubts that Jane Austen loved her brothers, show her that passage.

And now I turn to "that moment" to which Fanny referred. It should remind you of the passage concerning William Price. Here is the situation. Crawford had recently proposed to Fanny and been refused. His vanity led him to interpret the refusal as a "not yet", and he was pressing the issue right into her home. Sir Thomas and Edmund were his allies for interesting reasons. Fanny could have turned Sir Thomas against Crawford, but only if she had exposed Sir Thomas's own daughters to him. Edmund had demonstrated that he was blind to Crawford's behavior, in good part, perhaps, because he was in love with Crawford's sister and wished to think well of her family. So, that exquisite, Jane-Austen logic placed Fanny in a terrible dilemma; Fanny must appear as unreasonable; and must endure Crawford's repeated visits and unwelcome attentions. Only time and events would vindicate her. Edmund had recently taken orders, and the discussion turned to the occupations of the clergy. Apparently, the erstwhile designer/Captain Crawford was to abandon his naval-hero's uniform for the cloth:

" 'A sermon, well delivered, is more uncommon than prayers well read. A sermon, good in itself, is no rare thing. It is more difficult to speak well than to compose well; that is, the rules and trick of composition are oftener an object of study. I can never hear such a one without the greatest admiration and respect, and more than half a mind to take orders and preach myself. There is something in the eloquence of the pulpit, when it is really eloquence, which is entitled to the highest praise and respect. ... I should like to be such a man.'

Edmund laughed.

'I should indeed. I never listened to a distinguished preacher in my life, without a sort of envy. But then, I must have a London audience. I could not preach, but to the educated; to those who were capable of estimating my composition. And, I do not know that I would be fond of preaching often; now and then, perhaps, once or twice in the spring, after being anxiously expected for half a dozen Sundays together; but not for a constancy; it would not do for a constancy.'

Here Fanny, who could not but listen, involuntarily shook her head, ... "

Crawford was trying to impress Fanny with his rhetorical skills and a supposed piety, and then he hit upon the word "constancy" - what irony! If only Crawford always had known himself half so well as he seemed to at that moment.

It was Crawford's vanity that drove him on in his effort to win Fanny's consent to marriage. Sister Mary Crawford had seen that immediately and warned him early on in this pursuit. It was mainly Fanny's resistance and refusals that seemed to motivate him. At no point, did Henry Crawford give the slightest notice or pay the slightest respect to Fanny's feelings or tranquility. She became something like a quarry, an intelligent quarry upon which the master hunter could exercise his practiced tactics. His main tactic was to employ her family against her, to enlist them in his service. Fanny's brother owed him the dearest of debts, his commission that he wanted so much, and doubtless deserved, but could only obtain through the recommendation of someone like Crawford's uncle. Crawford charmed and impressed Sir Thomas. To Fanny herself, Crawford simulated a new social consciousness that he promised would soon be manifest on his properties.

And Crawford was the superior hunter; he would have captured his quarry eventually - Jane Austen tells us that explicitly. However, Crawford's vanity would be the undoing of his strategy. He simply had to have his fling with Mrs. Rushworth, even to delay the good works promised for his estates in order to tryst with that Bertram sister. All was discovered and that was the end - all was revealed - everyone could know that Fanny Price was vindicated in her judgments and choices.

The Advantages of Early Hardship and Discipline - The Main Point

Given that "family ties" form the unifying theme of Mansfield Park, what is the main theme? What point does Jane Austen make with this novel? I believe that the answer to this important question is education. I do not mean "education" in the narrow, modern sense of the word - preparation for admission to institutions of elite, higher education; rather, I mean "education" and "mis-education" in the more complete sense of the words that Jane Austen used them. Education also meant agreeable manners and good taste and the genuine selfless, kind spirit and developed intellect that might underlie such things.

I make the defense of my assertion with a number of quotes from the novel. There were the examples of mis-education:

"Such were the counsels by which Mrs. Norris assisted her [Bertram] nieces' minds; and it is not wonderful that with all their promising talents and early information, they should be entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity, and humility. ..."
Chapter II, Volume 1

And, of course, the examples of good education:

"Kept back as she was by every body else, [Edmund's] single support could not bring [Fanny] forward, but his attentions were otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures. He knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which properly directed must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French, and heard her read the daily portion of History; but he recommended the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment; he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read, and heightened its attractions by judicious praise. ..."
Chapter II, Volume 1

Our Lady wrote this conversation betwen Edmund and Fanny about Mary Crawford ...

" '... I know [Mary's] disposition to be as sweet and faultless as your own, but the influence of her former companions makes her seem, gives to her conversation, to her professed opinions, sometimes a tinge of wrong. She does not think evil, but she speaks it--speaks it in playfulness--and though I know it to be playfulness, it grieves me to the soul.'

'The effect of education,' said Fanny gently.

Edmund could not but agree to it. 'Yes, that uncle and aunt! They have injured the finest mind! - for sometimes, Fanny, I own to you it does appear more than manner; it appears as if the mind itself was tainted.' "
Chapter IX, Volume 2

... and this final judgment of Henry Crawford.

"Henry Crawford, ruined by early independence and bad domestic example, indulged in the freaks of a cold-blooded vanity a little too long. ... Curiosity and vanity were both engaged, and the temptation of immediate pleasure was too strong for a mind unused to make any sacrifice for right; ..."
Chapter XVII, Volume 3

There is this telling passage, the final comment about the Price children:

"In [Susan's] usefulness, in Fanny's excellence, in William's continued good conduct and rising fame, and in the general well-doing and success of the other members of the family ... Sir Thomas saw repeated, and for ever repeated reason to rejoice in what he had done for them all, and acknowledge the advantages of early hardship and discipline, and the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure."

Yes, if the "fraternal tie" is the unifying theme of Mansfield Park, then this is the central theme. Sir Thomas's elder son and daughter grew up utterly selfish - even their father, in hindsight, can scarcely believe he had allowed such a thing to happen.  But, somewhere in the Price household was enough tolerance, interest and affection paid to the children, for all the chaos and dirt and booze also present, to allow them to grow up, with a little outside help, into productive human beings who possessed sound values. However, it is not that simple, the Price home was hardly ideal for the education of the young; this can hardly be the end that humanity is seeking. Fanny was treated with insensitivity upon her return for a visit to that home, and she was appalled at the noise and rude manners of her long lost siblings. She blamed herself for not being more tolerant, but she could not help wishing for the good breeding at Mansfield Park.

"...Yet she thought it would not have been so at Mansfield Park. No, in her uncle's house there would have been a consideration of time and seasons, a regulation of subject, a propriety, an attention towards every body which there was not here."

In the final chapter, Sir Thomas thought about the mistakes he had made in the rearing of his daughters; he regretted that he had not been more accessible to them, so that they were not always looking to an overindulgent aunt for their training and education. And, in that place, Jane Austen wrote the crucial paragraph of the novel.

"Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, [Sir Thomas] gradually grew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his plan of education. Something must have been wanting within, or time would have worn away its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting, that [his daughters] had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers, by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice. To be distinguished for elegance and accomplishments - the authorised object of their youth - could have no useful influence that way, no moral effect on the mind. He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self-denial and humility, he feared they never heard from any lips that could profit them"
Chapter XVII, Volume 3

Reads like an analysis of the twentieth century does it not?


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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