Mansfield Park: Movie Characters Analysis
Jane Austen hasn’t gotten the best reputation over the years. A lot of people, especially those who have never read her novels, think of her books as wordy, complicated, and boring. However, these people are just plain wrong. Austen’s writing is full of social commentary, making fun of things that her contemporaries took for granted as just a part of life. She deals with her own life and that of her characters with a witty confidence that was unusual for her time.
Austen shares these qualities with the main character of the film based on her novel, Mansfield Park. This is a British-made historical fiction film, set in the English countryside around the late 17- to early 1800s. This film is about a young girl named Fanny, born to a poor family with rich relatives. Fanny is sent to live with these relatives, who don’t always treat her very well. She has four cousins (two girls and two boys), and is watched over by her uncle Sir Thomas, his wife the Lady Bertram, and her Aunt Norris. Fanny deals with all of these people (unpleasant in different ways), and handles many trials with wit and dignity before finally ending up with her cousin Edmund, who she has loved with since she arrived there as a child.
Like all Austen stories, Mansfield Park contains many characters with complex relationships and isn’t easily summarized. However, all of these characters are meant to show us something about human nature and ourselves. In this film, Fanny shows us that following your heart and doing the right thing will usually turn out well. Lady Bertram is the impersonation of sloth, and Mrs. Norris is the Martha of the story, harsh, worrisome, and overly frugal. Through each of these characters, we are shown something about ourselves, as well as something about society.
One political aspect infused into this film is the issue of slavery. It is mentioned briefly in the book but is not emphasized. In the movie, however, it is more of a central plot line. This issue is portrayed as a prime point of disagreement between Sir Thomas and his eldest son, Tom. Sir Thomas has, we are led to believe, at least one plantation in Antigua that is run on slave labor. Tom, however, hates slavery. Toward the end of the movie, we see Fanny flip through a notebook of his full of sketches of the horrible treatment the slaves received at the hands of the white masters, including his own father. Austen wrote her novel as more of a humorous critique of (then) modern times, but the filmmakers chose to take this relatively small part of the book and expand upon it. The exact year the film takes place is not mentioned, but it was becoming more and more of an issue during that period. The Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807, only years before Mansfield Park was published. So I believe we can reasonably assume this upheaval would have definitely had an impact on families like the Bertrams. At the end of the film, it is revealed that Sir Thomas gave up his “interests” in Antigua in favor of tobacco, so it stands to reason that Tom convinced his father to abandon the slave plantations they owned there.
One cinematic device used in this film at several key points is narration. It is usually employed to explain simply a sequence of events that is important to the plot, but not enough to warrant the time it would take to act it out for the audience. This adds to the film by reinforcing the point of view, keeping the film moving at a good pace, and focusing the audience’s attention on what the filmmakers want to emphasize.
Fanny provides these narratives, which are taken from her letters to her younger sister, Suzie. One unique aspect of these narratives is that Fanny looks into the camera while giving them. The sequences alternate between Fanny and the event she is describing, with her voice over it all. Breaking the imaginary window between the audience and the actors isn’t used very frequently in film or plays, and is usually discouraged. The way this is used in the film, however, helps draw in the viewer. We feel a sort of comradery with Fanny, and it makes the story feel more real.
The first instance of Fanny’s narration occurs near the beginning of the film. It starts as Fanny’s first letter to Suzie, where she describes her new family and continues a story they shared. The scene then transitions to her as a young lady, reading some of her writings to her cousin Edmund. The narration help smooth the transition of the scene, as well as giving the best example of the use of narration to skip ahead in the story to a more important part. Seeing Fanny as she grew up isn’t really necessary to the story, and obviously it isn’t really possible to put her entire childhood in this film. In this sequence in particular, the narration adds to the continuity of the visual storyline.
The second and third narratives occur about 20 and 45 minutes into the film, respectively. Again, they provide a way to speed through some less important story points while still letting you know how Fanny feels about those events.
The second narration also gives a prime example of using these narrations to focus the viewer’s attention on what the filmmakers want to emphasize. During this narrative, Fanny kind of breezes over the death of Aunt Norris’ husband. In the characters’ lives, this probably would have caused a fairly major upheaval. However, in terms of the storyline, his death isn’t as important as its effects on Fanny. As a result of her husband’s death, Aunt Norris decides to move in permanently with the Bertrams. Aunt Norris is the least pleasant to Fanny, and frequently treats her as more of a servant than her own niece. So, even though the death of a family member is obviously significant, the filmmakers, through the use of the narration, downplay this event and instead emphasize its effects.
The fourth and final narration is at the very end of the film, and is used to sum up the conclusion of the film’s events. Fanny gives a brief description of how each person fared. She herself ended up with Edmund, whom she had loved since she was a child. Her younger sister came to live with the Bertrams, and the less savory characters got what they had coming to them by way of inconvenient or unpleasant situations. Fanny’s voiceover does a nice job of bringing to a close the various storylines. As Fanny concludes, ”It all could have turned out differently, I suppose, but it didn’t.”
Through the use of narration in this film, the audience is given an insight into the life and thoughts of Fanny. We are shown what she (and the filmmakers) considers to be the important events while skipping over the less important parts. The unusual technique of Fanny looking into the camera and addressing the audience enhances this effect, and makes the viewer feel more like an observant friend than a moviergoer. Throughout the film, the narrations draw us in and make us feel as though we are experiencing the film rather than only watching.
Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park: Novel’s Historical Context
Joseph Lew’s 1994 critical analysis essay of Mansfield Park, “’That Abominable Traffic’: Mansfield Park and the Dynamics of Slavery”, originally published in History, Gender, and Eighteenth Century Literature, discusses historical background leading to the writing of Mansfield Park, the way family households can mimic governmental regimes, and how Mansfield Park is a metaphor for the downfalls of absentee landlordism.
Lew establishes historical context by informing the reader that the summer of 1814 brought a strong desire for abolition in England due to the international slave trade becoming more prominent. In June more than 800 petitions, with more than 25 million signatures, were brought into Parliament demanding the abolition of slavery. That June, Holland abolished slavery. France took a bit more time; Louis XVIII alluded to an eventual slavery and Napoleon finally abolished in hopes to gain support from Britain (Lew 498).
All the petitions to Parliament coincided with the publishing of Mansfield Park. Lew suggests that the novel dramatizes “the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species”, an idea originally thought by Thomas Clarkson. The idea starts in the very beginning when the entire Huntingdon family is in awe over Maria’s acquiring a husband of a much higher status and continues when Maria sends money and assistance to her poorer younger sister. Lew argues that, although, the topic of Slavery only appears in reference to Antigua and Fanny asking a few questions about the slave trade it, along with the role of women, is an important aspect to the political aspect of the story (499).
Lew believes that the idea of the slave trade in Mansfield Park needs a broader interpretation of it which is given by Austen to her niece about her novel-in-progress. In the letter, Lew summarizes that, Austen suggests that Anna’s characters shouldn’t leave England to go to Ireland because Anna doesn’t understand the ways of the Irish. If she talked about Ireland she could give false representation and that would not go over well. Austen knew much of the West Indies due to George Austen’s Antigua estate, her brothers being stationed there in the navy, and through other family members. Lew reminds his readers that the idea of writing what you know is seen again in Persuasion when Mrs. Croft says: “We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.” Austen sticks to what she knows. By doing so she is able to expose contradictions in absentee landlordism and the realities of running a family (499).
The way Austen presents this contradiction should come as no surprise because of the traditional set up of a novel. Lew uses Gary Kelly’s discussions to show that it’s common in Anti-Jacobian fiction to scale a large political issue down to something more accessible and domestic. Family quarrels lead to revolution which is seen when King George IV tried divorcing his wife. Anti-abolistionists used this connection to support the position of a slaveholder and used the bible as justification (500).
Lew theorizes that, just like Pride and Prejudice has Lydia being Elizabeth’s criticism shield, Mansfield Park has Edmund being the brunt of the criticism that should go to his father. This is seen through Edmund accepting multiple livings which is often discussed but rarely is the fact that Sir Thomas owns multiple estates. This means that Sir Thomas has to occasionally visit his other estates and becomes an absentee landlord (500).
Sir Thomas’ idea of how he runs Mansfield Park is completely different from the way his children view it. He feels that he rules Mansfield Park the way a monarch would rule a country. This is the idea that he alone rules by law and instilling a love of honor. This works for Edmund but not for the ladies. Lew concludes that they see it as a despotic form of government. They have a fear of their father. This can only be assumed because not much is known about what happens before he leaves for Antigua (501).
Sir Thomas wasn’t trying to befriend his daughters. He was distant and authoritative. This lead to Maria and Julia not having a true “love” of their father. Lew suggests that his absence created a feeling of freedom which would turn out to be negative. Now their father’s word is nothing more than writing on a paper; he cannot hover and physically control what they do day-to-day. This feeling of euphoric freedom continues as they are able to control what their father knows about their home life because all he knows is what is written to him (501).
Lew cites that the distinction between despotic rule and monarch rule are great. In Lettres persanes the world of a despot being removed is dramatized. It is shown as a world of great moral debauchery and a place that would not be ideal for living (502).
Lew suggests that Mansfield Park has a slightly similar chain of events. Sir Thomas hears of his other estate needing help so he and his son leave. This creates a divide in power in the Park becauseMrs. Norris is to watch and Edmund is to be the judge. Young Tom returns without Sir Thomas and it will be a while before he returns to Mansfield Park (502).
Once gone we see a power shift from Sir Thomas to the manipulative Maria and Mrs. Norris who alter the reality of Mansfield Park to illicit certain responses from Sir Thomas who can only correspond with letters as he is no God. When Sir Thomas arrives back at the estate he is shocked to see that the reality he believed isn’t what is happening because the past he agreed to wasn’t the present at the time so the current present is different from the expected pasts’ future which has turned Mansfield Park into its own Antigua (502).
Lew shows that with no moral, or governing, compass the play begins to blur the lines between reality and illusion which is evident in Mary asking who she will make love to instead of asking who her character will make love to as would be normal. The process of gaining a relationship has become out of whack as Fanny must now help Edmund so he can properly do the role but she really loves him but must give him back to Mary (503).
Everything that can go wrong is going wrong: the billiard room, a symbol of manliness, is feminized and Sir Thomas’ bookshelf is removed thus making his word no longer a looming presence; this is all shattered when he returns which shouldn’t come as a surprise due to his letters but it does. Thomas’ return shows the women that the kind of freedom they just experienced was an illusion and that men are truly in control (504).
There is a theory that draws a correlation to government types and the climate and says that warmer climates with more “tropical” diseases would produce a more despotic government than that of cooler climate. Scientific advances reinforce this idea. An empire circulates goods and people just like a body circulates blood. In 1802 Henry Brougham described how the West Indies influenced health and morality of the English. He started by saying that in the absence of the Englishwomen the men became promiscuous which is a moral problem and it could lead to sexually transmitted diseases. The most moral issue that arose was the desire for unlimited power over another human being. Their return to England brought these ideologies back with them creating a morally and physically diseased country (504).
Due to this, the view of Sir Thomas having a new “firmness” is accurate. Fanny’s negative attitude is detested by Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas. She refuses to marry a man whom she doesn’t love even though it would increase the family, and her own, status; it draws parallels to the princess of Wales who refused to marry in 1815. Sir Thomas expects the same unquestioning authority in Mansfield Park that he had in Antigua. Fanny, who says no, acts as a traitor to the “monarch”. Fanny’s exile, in poor health, was actually a common practice of convicted criminals in the real world. If a real criminal was to be exiled but already didn’t have property to be exiled from they would be sent to an area that would weaken their health. Maria is also banished for having a will of her own and owning her sexuality (505).
Fanny’s rebellion puts strain on the system that is based on the view of women as being equivalent to a man’s slave. Lew believes that by her defying her “master” she is attacking not only his authority, but his self-worth. Fanny is often discussed by Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris as being economically negative and is seen equally as such. She is also wanted to marry so she doesn’t embarrass the family by her mother and was supposed to do such and not with a cousin as was common at that time (505).
Lew persuades that Fanny begins to “increase” in economic value. She becomes Lady Bertam’s companion after Maria marries for free. She attracts Henry Crawford which makes her look like a much better economic investment in the eyes of her “owner”. A proposal boosts her value even more; all this without a dowry which saves Sir Thomas much money in the long run. This marriage would boost his status and redeem the chance lost by Maria. Her refusal of this is parallel to someone not selling sugar or slaves to the highest bidder: infuriating and irrational (506).
Lew informs that in Great Britain the king’s family was seen as an important aspect of the state and necessary for the nation. This is true in Chinese society as well. They all believed that individuals should bend their will to match that of the fathers (506).
Lew ends his essay by saying that in the end Austen creates a realistic atmosphere, unlike her previous novels. The events of the novel actually have lasting effects on what could happen after the story. Austen shows just how awful slave holding could be (507).
Throughout his critical essay, Lew illuminates deeper meanings in Mansfield Park. He gives his readers a view of absentee landlordism as it is shown in the novel and its downfalls. He also demonstrates the governmental way that families are run by using the Bertram family as an example.
The Role of Fiction in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park
The Role of Fiction in Mansfield Park
Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park closely examines a multitude of social and political issues, as well as scrutinizes nineteenth century middle to upper class marriages. One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is the importance of acting as a general theme in Mansfield Park. Considering that acting can be used as a method for depiction, and as a metaphor for false attempts to express and characterize oneself. However these attempts can be confirmed false because, ultimately, they deny oneself they seek to create. They also reject important realities of the physical world to which oneself must exist, swapping them for fiction and other material values. This deceit can be most exemplified by Mary and Henry Crawford who spend time at Mansfield Park to seek potential marriage partners. The ideal being of this form of art as true to life is the main character Fanny Price. Her delicacy and wit are qualities that are opposed throughout Mansfield Park to the fictions and role-play to which the Crawfords, and others, aspire to create their own reality.
During the time of the rehearsals for “Lovers’ Vows”, Fanny makes a statement that reveals her intrapersonal character. Tom Bertram had asked her to act as Cottager’s Wife. She responds with: “Indeed you must excuse me. I could not act anything if you were to give me the world. No, indeed, I cannot act” (p. 145). She then tries to justify herself by insisting: “It is not that I am afraid of learning by heart but I really cannot act” (pp. 145-46). This would already seem to be a vital comment by Fanny upon herself, for it is emphasized from the beginning that Fanny, unlike almost all those by whom she finds herself ignored or treated as an inferior at Mansfield for her family’s poverty, is incapable either of creating fiction or of performing in them. Furthermore, the performing arts, acting and music, are opposed negatively, in Mansfield Park, to nature and to rational conversation. At one point Fanny is left alone with Edmund at the drawing-room window, and turns to the scene outside and observes the brilliant unclouded night and the contrasting color of the woods. “Here’s harmony!” she exclaims, “Here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe ” (p. 113). Here nature serves as the truest form of art and everything else is imitation. Whereas Edmund himself appreciates the art of nature moves towards the fortepiano, seemingly to avoid nature and sensible conversation to engage in performance and applause. By doing so, he reveals the type of person he chooses to follow which he has already pursued admiringly with his eyes was the attraction of deception in appearance; whether the appearance in question be an attractively composed woman or musical pleasure. Fanny observes claiming that “She [Mary Crawford] tripped off to the instrument, leaving Edmund looking after her in an ecstasy of admiration of all her many virtues, from her obliging manners down to her light and graceful tread” (p. 112). The notion that Fanny “cannot act” is seen as the language of her contact with nature both human and phenomenal. When she first arrives at Mansfield it is noted explicitly that her feelings were “very acute.” As a result of the education she received as a child relying on Edmund that these “feelings” are advanced in the direction of the comprehension of herself and others so that they become “sympathetically” acute. It is this very “sympathetic acuteness of feeling,” or gentleness that is missing from Fanny’s treatment by the Mansfield residents, which all of whom Fanny is belittled and viewed less as a person than as one who must fulfil a designated role.
To Mrs. Norris, Fanny Price is just a poor relation who is to be used. For Sir Thomas it is rather Fanny’s household and social roles that matter. To Maria and Julia Bertram, Fanny is to be judged by her material possessions as well as her lack of accomplishments, while to Lady Bertram Fanny has solely one role as that of a helper. All these perspectives demonstrate the absence of sympathy that arises from feeling. Fanny’s emotional reality is rejected by people who themselves perpetually cast others, as they would cast themselves in their roles. Casting roles is presented as the most opposite, and as the obstacle of that “sympathetic acuteness of feeling” to which Fanny, as the result of Edmund’s tend to her education, has become the epitome of. The term used most often in Mansfield Park to describe this quality is “delicacy,” and in terms of their lack of delicacy the human deficiency of other characters is most often expressed. Mr. Yates is “without discernment or diffidence, or delicacy, or discretion enough” to understand that Sir Thomas preferred to leave the topic of theatricals alone. Henry Crawford’s distasteful determination with Fanny’s affections is regarded by her as “a want of delicacy and regard for others.” Fanny considers that Sir Thomas, “who had married a daughter to Mr Rushworth,” can have no “romantic delicacy” which may allow him to see beyond purely real information, into her real feelings concerning Crawford. “Delicacy,” then, would seem to imply sympathetic perception of the kind demonstrated by Edmund when he discovers Fanny as a child crying on the stairs, and the kind displayed by Fanny in her consistent concern with the structure of the thoughts and feelings of others as well as of herself. It is defined as a measure of Edmund’s straying from purity during his pursuit of Mary Crawford that he allows his captivation in favor of her brother Henry to overlook the delicacy of his perceptions. Having assured Fanny “you did not love him-nothing could have justified your accepting him,” he then urges her, “let him succeed at last, Fanny, let him succeed at last. You have proved yourself upright and disinterested, prove yourself grateful and tender- hearted; and then you will be the perfect model of a woman, which I have always believed you born for.” Here Edmund is asking Fanny to adapt to her emotional responses to Henry Crawford just much as she is in the tendency to comply with orders in the service of the residents of Mansfield Park. However, Fanny in the routine of her life as a servant, is being emotionally true to herself. Unlike Edmund’s lack of delicacy, she cannot undertake emotional roles, because by doing so would mean she would not be true to the grounds of feeling within her. She “cannot act.”
What Fanny exhibits, in direct opposition to the Crawfords, and to the other role-players and role-imposers, is a state of being grounded in feeling, not in role-play, but in actual, not unimagined experience. This state of being requires a cordial relationship between the self and others. In this manner she is habitually engaged in the effort to view both herself and others as they really are in terms of reason, feeling, and moral intention, not as she would have them be.
Taken for Granted and Remorsefulness
Being Taken In
How much of a role does deception play in courtship? In marriage? In Volume I of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford engage in a conversation with their sister, Mrs. Grant, concerning this very question. The conversation occurs soon after the Crawfords arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, and becomes an early introduction into the characters’ beliefs, as well as their opinions of the Bertrams. The passage not only employs dramatic irony, it foreshadows the romantic turmoil that lies ahead and also gives the reader a closer look at the characters’ beliefs concerning marriage and courtship.
The passage displays two instances of dramatic irony. The first is Henry’s assertion that “Miss Bertram is very much attached to Mr. Rushworth,” which is followed by his declaration that he “think[s] too well of Miss Bertram to suppose she would ever give her hand without her heart” (34). Both of these statements reflect his opinion of Maria Bertram’s motives, but they also hint that he favors her. His sisters view these statements as evidence that he has been “taken in” or, in other words, deceived (34). As the reader may already know at this point, Henry’s initial assumptions are, in fact, false. This is an example of dramatic irony: because there is “a discrepancy between a character’s perception and what the reader or audience knows to be true” (Murfin and Ray 224). This dramatic irony is seen again in Mary’s thought that Tom Bertram “had more liveliness and gallantry than Edmund, and must, therefore, be preferred; She knew it was her way” (Austen 35). Mary’s other words and actions in this part of the novel reveal that she doesn’t just want Tom because he is lively and gallant, but also because he is the eldest of the Bertram sons and will, therefore, inherit the estate. This early deduction and decision on Mary’s part to “prefer” Tom over Edmund is, just like Henry’s initial opinion of Maria, soon proven false. Mary turns out to favor Edmund for the simple reason that Tom was out of town for a long period of time. When the reader encounters this change in Mary’s decision, he/she is reminded of Mary’s early resolution and how easily it was forgotten. This isn’t the only instance in which Mary betrays her own beliefs about how women should behave during courtship.
In this passage, Mary expresses her view that being “taken in” is a natural part of any marriage, where it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect the most from others, and are least honest themselves (34). This statement is evidence of her belief that marriage is a “maneuvering business,” where people must deceive each other in order to gain favor and acceptance. This assertion, however, is inverted later in the novel when Mary continues to bluntly voice her disgust about clergymen and their salary, yet Edmund, who is determined to become an ordained minister himself, continues in his pursuit of her. Even though she is being brutally honest about her views, he isn’t discouraged, and still seeks her hand in marriage. She doesn’t try to hide her true feelings, even though they are distasteful and offensive to Edmund, and yet none of this keeps Edmund from chasing after her. This disproves her early sentiment that marriage is initially based on deception and that all married (and soon-to-be married) couples deceive eachother in hopes of gaining the other’s favor.
The passage also sheds light on Mrs. Grant’s views on marriage. She believes that all married couples will eventually disappoint one another, but that human nature motivates them to seek consolation in other “scheme[s] of happiness” (34). The use of the word “scheme” in her statement hints at her opinion that marriage is indeed based at least partly on deception, even though she asserts the opposite notion in her argument. Her remark correlates with her own married life: it is obvious that her husband is lacking in many areas, including his treatment of her, his work ethic, and his extreme fondness for alcohol. Her assertion that, when faced with disappointments in marriage, one must look elsewhere to find happiness, is obviously inspired by her experiences in her own marriage. In a way, she is trying to rid Mary and Henry of their ignorance on the trials of married life by giving them a glimpse into her own.
In Mrs. Grant’s words, she is trying to “cure” Mary and Henry of their naivete. She sees that Henry is already being deceived by Maria about her motives and that Mary is still unaware of the trials that marriage and courtship bring. In her own words, she wants to “cure [them] both” (35), and believes that Mansfield can assist her in doing so. Later, it becomes obvious that Mansfield will indeed “cure” their ignorance, but only by subjecting them to disappointment and heartache. As the reader knows by the end of the novel, Henry runs off with Maria, only to find it impossible to live with her after their initial facades wear off and they are exposed to one another’s real personalities. Mary’s fate is just as depressing, mainly because her own belief in the importance of deception in courting contrasts directly with Edmund’s (not to mention the fact that she is more interested in his money than anything else). Mary believes that at least some of Edmund’s personality is a disguise, especially in her assumption that his determination to become a clergyman can be easily discouraged. Edmund, however, remains truthful in his words and actions, and as a result Mary ends up digging her own grave, so to speak. In a way, Mansfield Park really does “cure” Henry and Mary of their naivete, but not without subjecting them to instances of disappointment and heartache along the way. The cliche phrase “they learned it the hard way” certainly appears applicable in this situation.
This short passage gives the reader a deeper look into Mary and Henry’s motives as they enter into courtship with the Bertram youths, foreshadowing future events and their consequences. It also offers a brief glimpse of Mrs. Grants emotional struggle in her own marriage, and her desire to convince the Crawfords that no marriage can be happy without a great deal of effort. The dramatic irony in the passage is used to set both Henry and Mary up for falls later in the novel, when their initial assumptions are proven wrong and, as a result, they wind up alone.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. New York: Norton, 34-35.
Murfin, Ross, and Supryia Ray. “Irony.” The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Family Man and Morality: A Study of Edmund
While Edmund first shows himself to be compassionate and morally grounded as a character, he also shows that these qualities, as well as his own perceptions, are capable of being corrupted, mainly due to his romantic attachment to Miss Crawford in spite of her questionable moral foundations; these distortions of both Edmund’s values and his social awareness lead Edmund to become ignorant of Fanny’s affections toward him and makes him unconcerned with Fanny’s well-being to boot: Edmund’s lack of regard towards Fanny makes him largely to blame for the decline in physical and mental health she experiences throughout the novel.
Fanny’s first encounters with Edmund while transitioning into life at Mansfield Park show something contrary to the detachment Edmund exhibits later in the novel. In these encounters, the reader learns quite a large amount about Edmund’s good character in only a few pages. Edmund establishes his kind nature to the reader by helping Fanny write a letter to her sorely missed brother: “He continued with her the whole time of her writing, to assist her with his penknife or his orthography, as either were wanted; and added to these attentions, which she felt very much, a kindness to her brother, which delighted her beyond all the rest.” (17). Edmund did not have to console Fanny, let alone help her write a letter to her brother, yet he kindly did so anyway. The reader also learns about Edmund’s “strong good sense and uprightness of mind” (21) from Sir Thomas’ point of view, confirming the notion that Edmund is a morally upright young man by nature. Finally, the narrator enumerates that “his [Edmund’s] attentions were otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures.” (22). Even the narrator is outright telling the reader that Edmund remains of vital importance to Fanny’s mental health and learning potential, which leaves Edmund with quite a lot of responsibility over his cousin.
Edmund makes evident his continuing devotion to Fanny’s care as well as his first big misstep with such a responsibility in how he handles Fanny’s new horse. Edmund’s provision of a new horse for Fanny further demonstrates his goodwill, especially because of the fact that he traded one of his own horses for it: “this third [horse] he resolved to exchange for one that his cousin might ride…the whole business was soon completed.” (36). This is a great moment in their relationship, but this same horse soon turns to be a problem after the story introduces Mary Crawford. The whole reason Edmund bought the horse was for Fanny to exercise and remain in good physical condition instead of wasting away at the house, but Edmund seems to lose sight of this when Miss Crawford comes into the picture. He hints to Fanny about how “Miss Crawford would be glad to have her for a longer time,” even though he knew of Fanny’s wavering health. While Edmund did not intentionally cause Fanny to fall ill, especially without his knowledge of the torturous chores that her aunts would assign to her if she had been left without the ability to ride, Edmund still cannot escape some responsibility for the lack of consideration he had for his cousin in this instance. His ignorance of Fanny’s demeanor has big consequences for Fanny.
Continuing this trend, the Lover’s Vows fiasco sheds light on an even bigger failure of Edmund’s moral sensibilities and his commitment to Fanny’s well-being. In justifying his role in the play, Edmund attempts to reason that by taking the part in the play, he is really doing Sir Thomas a favor by not letting strangers into the household, but this decision that Edmund makes no doubt has ulterior motives, namely that Mary agreed to do the play and Edmund “…was obliged to acknowledge that the charm of acting might well carry fascination to the mind of genius; and with the ingenuity of love…” (120). Edmund’s justification of the play for this reason can only display that his moral foundation has the capacity to be tampered with, especially if the person doing the tampering is a charming young woman. It seems that Edmund is so infatuated with Mary Crawford that he not only knowingly goes against what his father would have wanted, but he also blatantly ignores Fanny’s discomfort with the line rehearsals between himself and Miss Crawford. Fanny had already displayed her vexation with the idea of a play, thus Edmund knew better than to ask for her opinion on rehearsed lines with Mary, and even worse is the fact that both Edmund and Mary mistook Fanny’s anxiety and discomfort for exhaustion. This can also be explained by Edmund’s intoxicated attraction to Mary; perhaps if he was more soberly dedicated to Miss Crawford’s affections, he might have been able to understand how Fanny was suffering.
Fanny’s suffering is only exacerbated with Henry’s proclamations of love for her. Perhaps the worst failure of Edmund’s blurred judgmental vision manifests itself in his haste to condone and even support the relationship and possible marriage of his cousin Fanny to Henry Crawford. It is clear that his motives are not simply that he wishes Fanny the best, but rather, he makes the ordeal about himself: “‘A counteraction, gentle and continual, is the best safeguard of manners and conduct.’ Full well could Fanny guess where his thoughts were now. Miss Crawford’s power was all returning.” (323-324). In a time where Edmund is supposed to be giving Fanny sound advice about her choices moving forward, he instead decided to ruminate on his own relationship with Mary Crawford! Even worse is Edmund’s approval of Sir Thomas’ plan to send Fanny back to Portsmouth in order to make her wan Henry. The reader knows that Edmund is aware of Fanny’s poor medical state, but still looked at the plan, “…considered it in every way, and saw nothing but what was right.” (341). Not only is he supporting the manipulation of his cousin into marrying someone she does not love, he is also threatening her physical health by sending her to an overburdened and impoverished family with a careless mother and alcoholic father. In effect, he would be willing to condemn her to adverse conditions and unstable emotional environments just to quell the tension between herself and Mary, the two people he holds dearest. This is the most damning proof towards Mary’s perversion of Edmund’s kindness and morality that would cause Fanny direct physical and mental distress.
Fanny recognizes the blinding effects that Mary has on Edmund’s good judgment very early, but because of her own soft-spoken nature, feels powerless over the situation and forces herself to agree with Edmund on “How well she walks! And how readily she falls in with the inclination of others!” (105). At first glance, this might just be chalked up to a quiet jealousy and dismissed as insignificant, but this is a theme that occurs often throughout the novel. This theme finally reaches a climax when the author portrays Fanny resigning herself to Edmund’s satisfaction with Miss Crawford’s unscrupulous disposition and even the inevitability of their marriage:
…the more she recollected and observed, the more deeply was she convinced that every thing was now in a fairer train for Miss Crawford’s marrying Edmund than it had ever been before. — On his side, the inclination was stronger, on her’s less equivocal. His objections, the scruples of his integrity, seemed all done away—nobody could tell how; and the doubts and hesitations of her ambition were equally got over—and equally without apparent reason. It could only be imputed to increasing attachment. (340)
It is only after Edmund snaps out of his delusional attachment to Mary that he is finally able to perceive Fanny’s love. The narrator makes it quite clear, even without regard to dates, that as soon as Edmund stopped thinking about Mary, he was eager to marry Fanny: “Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire.” (436). Edmund was able to redeem himself from his past ignorance and misdeeds, with his penance being the pain he endured while recovering from his relationship with Mary. It is also made optimistically clear that his marriage to Fanny would prevent his compassion and morality from being shaken thereafter.
While Edmund’s redemption is touching, it must be understood that had he been attentive to Fanny’s passions towards him earlier in his youth, the outcome to all of the aforementioned situations would have been very different. Had he not been distracted, his knowledge of her affections would have led to reduced strains on her physical and emotional health, regardless of whether or not he had decided to return said affections, as he would not have been charged with doing so. The responsibility that Edmund had towards his cousin was a large one, but such is the price of being kind and morally upright; both of these traits connote responsibility, which is something that no one is capable of doing perfectly, as conveyed by Edmund. Instead of perfection, the message Edmund does reveal to the reader is the possibility of redemption from the omission of responsibility. Where Edmund was less than kind or immoral, he made up for it with some sort of apology or penance, which seems to be the kind of example Jane Austen wants to make of Edmund for her readers.
Money and Morality in Mansfield Park
A character’s views on morality and material gain seem to form the distinction between being a “good” or “bad” character in Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. By conducting a character analysis of Lady Bertram, Mary Crawford, and Sir Thomas, one can glean the true, didactic purpose of Mansfield Park, especially when the values of these characters are contrasted with the pristine morality of Fanny Price. Sir Thomas, for instance (despite his already morally questionable slave plantations in Antigua), magnanimously offers releasing Maria Bertram, his daughter, from her engagement to the dull yet wealthy Rushworth. However, once Maria opts to remain in her engagement, the insincerity of Sir Thomas’ offer becomes apparent, since he feels “happy to escape the embarrassing evils of such a rupture, the wonder, the reflections, the reproach that must attend it, happy to secure a marriage which would bring him such an addition of respectability and influence” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 21). Not only is he relieved to avoid the embarrassment breaking off an engagement would bring, he is also relieved that the wedding will continue because it will bring him influence, power, and money. Thus, Sir Thomas prioritizes material gain over the happiness of his daughter. This mentality strikes again when he tries to force the marriage of Fanny and Henry Crawford. When Fanny says that she could not make Henry happy and that she would be miserable for the rest of her life, Sir Thomas replies:
“… I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper, self-conceit…The advantage or disadvantage of your family…never seems to have had a moment’s share in your thoughts on th is occasion. How they might be benefited… throwing away from you such an opportunity of being settled in life…Fanny, that you may [never be] addressed by a man of half Mr. Crawford’s estate, or a tenth part of his merits” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 32).
Sir Thomas cannot fathom why Fanny would put principles/happiness over material gain, and interprets her refusal as, at best, a bout of ungratefulness and, at worst, a temporary fit of hysteria. When viewed with a contemporary eye, this situation can only be seen in Fanny’s favor. However, one can only wonder whether Fanny putting affection over avarice would indeed be seen as a selfish act during the Victorian era. Sir Thomas’ wife, Lady Bertram, puts this belief much more plainly than her husband does. Lady Bertram, in speaking with Fanny, says “if you were married to a man of such good estate as Mr. Crawford…you must be aware, Fanny, that it is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable o ffer as this” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 33). Even these two opinions could be dismissed as the outdated beliefs of the older generation, but in analyzing the mindset of Mary Crawford, we start to wonder if Fanny might be the only one in the wrong, or the only one in the right. I would argue that Mary Crawford is the main foil character used to highlight Fanny’s pure morality. Mary Crawford, though clearly intellectually superior to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, is a staunch believer in marrying for money; she is of the opinion that “everybody [should] marry if they can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can d o it to advantage” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 4). Mary Crawford seems to be of the opinion that, if marriage does not serve the purpose of material gain, then it has not been done “properly”.
Fanny, however, is unlike all of the Bertrams and Crawfords. After her uncle’s scolding on the matter of marriage to Henry Crawford, her principles are not shaken. In fact, she “trusted, in the first place, that she had done right: that her judgment had not misled her. For the purity of her intentions she could answer; and she was willing to hope, secondly, that her uncle’s displeasure…would abate farther as he…felt, as a good man must feel, how wretched… and how wicked it was to m arry without affection” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 32). She wholeheartedly believes in the direction of her moral compass. Though superior in morality, Fanny’s principles make her dull company: she looks down on her cousins for engaging in theater/entertainment. However, since Fanny ends up in mutual love with Edmund while Mary ends up cast out of Mansfield Park and the Bertrams socially disgraced, perhaps Fanny’s iron-clad morality was the only true path. By giving Fanny her happy ending and the rest of the characters misfortune, Austen seems to support the idea that putting material gain before morality can only end in disaster.
Individuating Female Marital Constraints
The eighteenth-century novel seemed often to be the place in which people would attempt reform society. The novel gave writers a medium through which they could provide both entertainment and a place in which they could attempt to reform people’s views. Although often times these writers were only slightly allowed to delve into something outside of the status quo of the time, they were often even more successful because of this penchant to stay within boundaries. In other words, because these authors weren’t too radical in their writings, the readers were therefore abler to swallow these ideas. Austen uses this technique in Mansfield Park to show the readers some of the wrongs of the marriage institution, as well as the way in which women were constrained in the society at the time. In order to do this, Austen uses a technique which Armstrong, in Desire and Domesticity, defines as individuating a collective body—making a societal wrong shown through an individual case in order to reform it. By using this technique of individuating women’s constraints in marriage, we are able to first sympathize with Fanny, and then with the female society as a whole by seeing the emotional impact on the individual.
Fanny, throughout the novel, is shown to be one with the least amount of influence and voice in the novel, once even defined as a “creep-mouse” by her cousin, and treated as a servant by others (Austen, 168). It is at the crucial part of her life, and possibly the most crucial portion of the book, in which she must raise her voice against her potential suitor, Henry Crawford, as well as her family, in which she truly achieves a greater amount of agency. This increased sense of agency is brought to a climax in Chapter 35, in which Edmund comes to Fanny to encourage her to accept Henry’s marriage proposal. While Edmund is encouraging the marriage, Fanny says of this, that “it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself” (Austen, 391). Fanny’s assertion, here, that women need not be forced into a marriage conveys a small part of Austen’s critique of the business-like marriages of the day. Instead, Austen shows here that women should be the ones in charge of their own fate, rather than society dictating that they should be forced into a love-less marriage simply because society, as well as their own families, have pressured them into it. Austen is critiquing female constraints in marriage as a whole through this individual case. Fanny says that she “should have thought…that every woman must have felt the possibility of a man’s not being approved, not being loved by someone of her sex,” which implies this contradiction to the reality of society (Austen, 391). Not only does Fanny’s literal emphasis of the words give more power to her words—something that she normally lacks—but in the fact that she speaks out at all makes the words that much more powerful. Here, Austen is showing the power that women should possess. Being that Fanny almost never speaks out against societal norms, this point of departure from her normal self adds much more power to her words than if she was constantly speaking out. Her emphasis of the word “should” gives an importance to what she is saying, and is on the brink of urgency. Had she been any other character, the word to use here may have been “must,” yet the word “should” lends more credibility to who Fannie is. She cannot give a more forceful opinion, or else be recognized as straying from the societal norm—this being a woman being subservient to men and having little to no say in their matters.
In order to explain and validate what Austen is doing, Armstrong contends that eighteenth-century novelists attempted to reform what people thought of sexuality. Of this, she says that the “struggle to represent sexuality took the form of a struggle to individuate wherever there was a collective body” (Armstrong, 468). In other words, the rise of the novel sought to show an individual circumstance in order to fully convey the struggles of the whole. The individual’s circumstance then gives emotional support and sympathy towards the whole of the population. In order to show the whole, the rise of the novel gives way to individualizing the societal norms, such as the female constraints shown in this novel. Armstrong goes on to say that “Rather than refer to individuals who already…carried on relationships according to novelistic conventions, domestic fiction took great care to distinguish itself from the kind of fiction that predominated in the eighteenth [century]” (Armstrong, 469). Mansfield Park, as a form of domestic fiction, questions the roles that men and women played in relationships through cases such as Fanny’s. Fanny’s exclamation that women should be able to say no to a potential suitor brings to light some of the wrongs of the patriarchal existence that she lives in.
Leading up to this event, Fanny’s subservience and general lack of power is shown earlier in the chapter, evoking in the reader the same sort of sympathy for Fanny’s lack of power that is seen throughout the novel. “Oh! never, never, never; he never will succeed with me,” says Fanny to Edmund during the first part of their conversation, which the readers hope that Fanny is gaining more agency and more of a voice (Austen, 385). This is contradicted immediately by Fanny’s willing subservience to Edmund—she quickly changes this firm decision to saying that she thinks that she shall never marry Henry and that she thinks she shall never return his love (Austen, 385). Her firm decision is quickly turned irresolute by Edmund’s assertion that her decision to never marry Crawford is “so very determined and positive,” which was apparently “not like [herself], [her] rational self” (Austen, 385). In this, Edmund is asserting that her wanting to turn Henry Crawford down is irrational, as if a woman’s own opinions were only rational if they agreed with a man’s, or simply society in general. Austen seems to be critiquing the way in which men made women feel as though their views and feelings were invalid unless they were similar to their own. Once Edmund makes this statement, the narrator conveys that Fanny was obliged to “sorrowfully correct herself’ (Austen, 385). This description from the narrator gives the reader a small sight into Fanny’s mind, showing the reader the great pains, mentally, that Fanny is forced to take in order to fit into the patriarchal-run society. She is constrained to what Edmund—and the rest of the family around her—want to hear, much like other women of the time were forced to deal with. Fanny’s penchant to only subtly go against the patriarchal norm of society can be explained in Armstrong’s theory. Armstrong postulates that “domestic fiction could represent an alternative form of political power without appearing to contest the distribution of power that it represented as historically given” (Armstrong, 471). Fanny only goes so far as to speaking out against Edmund because of the way in which Austen was forced, as an author, to keep the status quo of the time. She must do this in order to survive as an author, and in doing so, the reader is more likely to accept these views because they are not too radical. By subtly integrating some radical views at the time, Austen is thereby able to gain some supporters because her work only slightly contests the views of the day.
This oppression of the proposed marriage between Fanny and Henry is attended to during her explanation, to Edmund, of why the match would be unfavorable to her. After telling Edmund repeatedly of why she did not want to marry Henry Crawford, he claims that their tempers are similar. To this, Fanny contests that the difference between their personalities are “infinitely too great” and that “his spirits often oppress [her]” (Austen, 387). Although Fanny says this fairly nonchalantly, it seems as though Austen is attempting to imply the oppression of the marriage itself. Oppression meaning here something akin to “to (mentally) overwhelm or weigh down a person,” meaning that his spirits (or personality) distressed her, Austen uses this meaning in order to conceal a deeper meaning to this word (OED). Rather, she here is trying to convey that Henry has a penchant to “govern harshly; to tyrannize; to engage in oppression” (OED). Fanny conveys the oppressive nature of men in the patriarchal society of eighteenth-century Britain through speaking about his oppressive personality and temper. This oppressive nature is seen again, when Edmund states that Henry Crawford has “chosen his partner, indeed, with rare felicity” (Austen, 388). The word “chosen” is used here to put pressure on the fact that men felt above women, that they indeed were the ones to choose their partners, who would thereby submit to them. It is this choosing of a wife that Fanny so opposes when she claims that women must not reciprocate romantic feelings towards every man who flirts with her. Rather, it is the choice of both parties which should make the decisions—should being the operative word here, which is put pressure on by Fanny, as mentioned before. “Chosen” puts an insistence on Fanny’s approval, giving the power of the relationship (or lack thereof) to Henry.
Armstrong’s Desire and Domestic Fiction details some of the reasons why the characters of the novel were vying for Fanny to accept Henry, and therefore to submit to society—and Edmund’s—wills. Armstrong claims that “the rise of the novel hinged upon a struggle to say what made a woman desirable”—thus, Edmund was attempting to show submissiveness as a desirable trait in women (Armstrong, 468). Austen criticizes this aspect of novels at the time by actually contradicting this through Fanny’s rejection of Edmund’s persuasions. Being that we already sympathize with Fanny, the reader is thereby trained to sympathize with Fanny’s wishes as well. This allows the reader to see that a woman being independent is much more desirable than what the patriarchal norm of society deemed as desirable. As Armstrong asserts, “narratives which seemed to be concerned solely with matters of courtship and marriage in fact seized the authority to say what was female” (Armstrong, 468). Austen seems to use this allowance in that she forces the reader to reevaluate what they think of as desirable in a woman. It is complicated, though, by the way in which we have already sympathized with Edmund at certain points in this novel. Perhaps Austen does this in order to mask her intentions, and only reveal slightly what is truly desirable in a woman, else be ostracized and criticized for completely going against the norm.
The constraints that were put upon females and marriage is shown through Fanny’s case. In showing the wrongs of the society by showing its impact on an individual, we can see more clearly how it truly affects women in general. By taking this issue from a collective body and showing it in individualistic terms, we are thereby able to put emotion to the issue and humanize concern. What gives the readers the notion that this is important in a global sense, though? It is the way in which we can relate these happenings to the society of the time. In Austen critiquing the constraints that were put on Fanny, a timid creature already, she is more so using Fanny in order to show but one part of a larger whole of women at the time. Fanny is dealing with the pressures of her family, and (more importantly), the pressures that Edmund is putting on her—to deal with this, she is only able to submit to Edmund’s wishes. These roles seem to fit perfectly into the societal norms that were prevalent at the time—women were often conveyed as timid and subservient to men, while men and the entirety of the patriarchal society put pressure on women, which they were often forced to submit to.
Cheering for Crawford
If ever Jane Austen set out to depict the moralistic chasm between Regency society and pre-Victorian propriety, she did so with Mansfield Park. To accomplish this, her characters are divided among these diverging ideologies. The majority succumb to their unscrupulous fancies while the few but faithful are governed by their sense of duty. This distinction is as acute as it is unwanted, for the plot revolves around characters labouring to convert one another. Henry Crawford, a wealthy, congenial gentleman, makes this pastime his principal entertainment. As to his methodology, where theatricals end and reality begins is hardly distinguishable. Because Crawford is an outstanding actor with magnificent charisma, it is difficult to discern his sincerity and put off his charms. Austen uses Crawford’s person to demonstrate that authenticity determines where conviction is felt and principle is honoured. As such, he embodies one of Austen’s greater challenges to her readers, who are left with a moral predicament of whether this very amiable actor should be cheered for or chastised. Henry Crawford is somewhat of an anomaly as a dashing rogue, for the first description of his mien is that he was “not handsome, but had air and countenance; manners both lively and pleasant.” (35). He is further described by his sister Mary as the “most horrible flirt that can be imagined,” (36) and has a flock of admirers who are “dying” to marry him. For all of their efforts to “reason, coax or trick him into marrying” (36), however, he cannot be persuaded to abandon his freedom as a bachelor. As we are told, “to anything like a permanence of abode, or limitation of society, Henry Crawford had, unluckily, a great dislike.” (35). This is a very critical piece of information in establishing his character because it shows that he will evade the bonds of matrimony as long as his youthful autonomy is sufficiently amusing. That is, the moment he finds himself unable to woo a woman, who needs to be of strong moral character if she is able to resist him, is the time he is most likely to think himself in love. He is a conquistador of challenges, not honest courtships, and as such he has not enough compassion to feel any conviction for his actions.Aside from this vibrant independence, Crawford’s next greatest character trait is determination. Whatever he sets his sights on must be achieved at all costs, which is where his skill as a performer becomes his most valuable asset. He exercises this talent with the commitment of a mother to her beloved child and the alacrity of a playful puppy. He also takes great care to spend his time rewardingly, so that he will never lack the gentleman’s “wholesome alloy of labour” (204). “Recreation and indulgence” are fine, but as he says of himself “…I do not like to eat the bread of idleness.” (204). Equally true, he despises drinking the wine of deferment, for he is not at Mansfield Park for a week before he sets out to enamour the Miss Bertrams. The height of his pursuit pinnacles when he is assured that both of their hearts are held in his hands, and we see that his dedication wanes as soon as his vanity has been satiated. Thus, his attentions are shallow and selfish, and not at all as they seem to his hopeful admirers. It is in his early acquaintance with the Bertram family that Crawford’s acting debut is made. Even though he is disinclined to matrimony, his affable faÃ§ade gives the appearance of wanting to engage the ladies’ most permanent affections. His actual intentions are made perfectly clear from the narrative, that “He did not want them to die of love; but with sense and temper which ought to have made him judge and feel better, he allowed himself great latitude on such points.” (37). Austen here begins her illustration of the propriety in exercising conviction. The reader knows that Crawford has enough good judgement, but his moral failure is an inability to consider exercising it as his duty. His pretensions as a performer jeopardize his integrity because he assumes them to be inconsequential, and perhaps even shared, by others. To him, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” With this mentality, he bears no concern for the sincere feelings of others, who can but watch him waltz through Mansfield Park as the greatest tempter since the serpent of Eden.Crawford’s real duplicity as an actor comes into even better focus with the Sotherton episode. The Bertrams and the Crawfords set out to view Mr. Rushworth’s large estate at Sotherton. By this time Maria Bertram is all but formally engaged to marry Mr. Rushworth, a bumbling, boring gentleman. It is Crawford who engages her affections, however, and he is quite cognizant of his influence. Despite the indecency of his behaviour, he continues to lure Maria even while in the chapel, where he takes the intimate privilege of whispering, “I do not like to see Miss Bertram so near the altar.” (79) His romantic innuendo is reinforced by the “look of meaning” that follows his speech. (79) Later on, he persuades her to continue their promenade alone by squeezing past a locked gate. As improper as it is, the inducement is too great for Maria when he sardonically remarks, “And for the world you would not get out without the key and without Mr. Rushworth’s authority and protection, or I think you might with little difficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance; I think it might be done, if you really wished to be more at large, and could allow yourself to think it not prohibited.” (88). Were this casual speech directed towards a sister or a friend, there would be no implications to consider. What Austen wants her audience to read into, however, is the underlying promotion of indecorum. As Ian Littlewood says of this event (and also of acting in general), its propriety “is concerned with what they mean here, to this group of characters in this particular context…[it] represent[s] an attempt to bypass the permissible limits of expression, to find a way of doing what you ought not to do or what you ought not to say.” That Crawford instigates this misconduct as an unaffected suitor is evidence of his good performance. Moreover, it demonstrates how his initial designs for the acquaintance, where the Miss Bertrams would no more than like him, gives way to his own shallow principles and indelicacy.The theatre interlude at Mansfield Park also amplifies Crawford’s theatricality. Having lived in London and been exposed to more such entertainment, he really has the best concept of good stage presence. He is also the most remarkable actor in the private troupe. He is deficient in capacity to act both as a lover and as another character, however, and Julia Bertram perceives his pretentiousness. Realizing that he is exposed to her as a fraudulent suitor, he endeavours to restore their coquetry “by the usual attack of gallantry and compliment.” (143). When his half-hearted attempts fail he gives up altogether, for he was “too busy with his play to have time for more than one flirtation” (143). The more Julia understands how he operates, the more she realizes that his attentions were awarded at the expense of her own. This reversal of courtship roles reflects its inauthenticity. As it is, she learns too late how he is merely acting to have a proper esteem for her and her expectations.Although displeased to lose one admirer, Crawford capitalizes on his opportunity to entertain himself with Maria’s hero worship. Their dalliance is most overtly shown through the course of their rehearsals for the play. The more he and his “indefatigable” partner practice, the more he indulges his liveliness with a lust for theatrical intrigue. Maria’s acting, on the other hand, is a manifestation of her true feelings for him. The poor girl is too much in love to realize that, for all of Crawford’s “looks of devotion” and “pressing her hand to his heart” (154), he sought no more than the gratification of his own selfish vanity. Austen’s ironic situation of role-playing, where Crawford is a blackguard and Maria is a fallen woman, is also significant in light of foreshadowing. The fact that she uses Sir Thomas, who is a symbol of decorum, to cast a dark cloud upon the theatre is evidence that she believes propriety should triumph misconduct, as when Maria and Crawford are ultimately punished.Crawford’s most brilliant performance comes by his attempted seduction of Fanny Price, the novel’s timid but resolved heroine. When he returns to Mansfield Park and finds Maria and Julia absent, his attentions turn towards Fanny as the object of his amusement. His conceit is so flattering, in fact, that he believes he can make Fanny fall in love with him in a mere fortnight. As he dramatically confides in his sister, “I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart.” (204). By his sister’s diagnosis, Fanny’s real attraction is her not caring about him, of which he laments, “I never was so long in company with a girl in my life – trying to entertain her – and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this.” (206). To Crawford’s dismay his efforts are ineffective; to his credit he believes Fanny to be more worth pursuing than any other woman he has known. Thus, he tenaciously persists, and soon there is less of a distinction between the excellent theatricals of a talented actor and the sincere infatuation of a maturing admirer. Even the reader can acknowledge that he seems a changed man. Fanny, however, has an infallible moral barometer that detects the insincerity of Crawford’s professed devotion. As we are told, “It was impossible for [Fanny] to be insensible of Mr. Crawford’s change of manners. She had long seen it. He evidently tried to please her – he was gallant – he was attentive – he was something like what he had been to her cousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity as he had cheated them…” (234).Fanny’s suppositions prove true when Crawford runs off with Mrs. Rushworth. Even more shocking is when he refuses to marry her after the scandal, and Mrs. Rushworth is cast out of her husband’s house and her reputation is stamped with a scarlet letter. Austen’s sentence for Crawford permanently condemns him to belong to the cruel race of Regency actors like himself. Ironically, then, for all of his forward thinking he becomes the starling who cannot escape. The question yet remains, however, if Crawford’s character is always acting throughout the whole of the novel or if, for a brief respite in the midst of his obsession with Fanny, he did inadvertently fall in love. It is a popular contention of critics that she could have been his saving grace had she but accepted his hand. Indeed, it is worth considering that her soul of discretion could refine his heart for pleasure. This prospect is appealing, for every reader likes to see the reform of a wayward man, particularly if it is a testament of the power of love. In the end, seems more plausible that Crawford simply made a choice to walk the wide and winding road where his acting was more appreciated. All of this lends to the conclusion that Austen finds theatricality a dangerous influence on those without sound principles. The world of drama may be entertaining, like Crawford, but society is not made to function upon immodest lover’s vows. Crawford perhaps deserves a standing ovation for his consistency in presentation, but it seems that Austen would not recommend cheering for Crawford as a whole.
Being Taken In
Being Taken In How much of a role does deception play in courtship? In marriage? In Volume I of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford engage in a conversation with their sister, Mrs. Grant, concerning this very question. The conversation occurs soon after the Crawfords arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, and becomes an early introduction into the characters’ beliefs, as well as their opinions of the Bertrams. The passage not only employs dramatic irony, it foreshadows the romantic turmoil that lies ahead and also gives the reader a closer look at the characters’ beliefs concerning marriage and courtship. The passage displays two instances of dramatic irony. The first is Henry’s assertion that “Miss Bertram is very much attached to Mr. Rushworth,” which is followed by his declaration that he “think[s] too well of Miss Bertram to suppose she would ever give her hand without her heart” (34). Both of these statements reflect his opinion of Maria Bertram’s motives, but they also hint that he favors her. His sisters view these statements as evidence that he has been “taken in” or, in other words, deceived (34). As the reader may already know at this point, Henry’s initial assumptions are, in fact, false. This is an example of dramatic irony: because there is “a discrepancy between a character’s perception and what the reader or audience knows to be true” (Murfin and Ray 224). This dramatic irony is seen again in Mary’s thought that Tom Bertram “had more liveliness and gallantry than Edmund, and must, therefore, be preferred; She knew it was her way” (Austen 35). Mary’s other words and actions in this part of the novel reveal that she doesn’t just want Tom because he is lively and gallant, but also because he is the eldest of the Bertram sons and will, therefore, inherit the estate. This early deduction and decision on Mary’s part to “prefer” Tom over Edmund is, just like Henry’s initial opinion of Maria, soon proven false. Mary turns out to favor Edmund for the simple reason that Tom was out of town for a long period of time. When the reader encounters this change in Mary’s decision, he/she is reminded of Mary’s early resolution and how easily it was forgotten. This isn’t the only instance in which Mary betrays her own beliefs about how women should behave during courtship. In this passage, Mary expresses her view that being “taken in” is a natural part of any marriage, where it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect the most from others, and are least honest themselves (34). This statement is evidence of her belief that marriage is a “maneuvering business,” where people must deceive each other in order to gain favor and acceptance. This assertion, however, is inverted later in the novel when Mary continues to bluntly voice her disgust about clergymen and their salary, yet Edmund, who is determined to become an ordained minister himself, continues in his pursuit of her. Even though she is being brutally honest about her views, he isn’t discouraged, and still seeks her hand in marriage. She doesn’t try to hide her true feelings, even though they are distasteful and offensive to Edmund, and yet none of this keeps Edmund from chasing after her. This disproves her early sentiment that marriage is initially based on deception and that all married (and soon-to-be married) couples deceive eachother in hopes of gaining the other’s favor. The passage also sheds light on Mrs. Grant’s views on marriage. She believes that all married couples will eventually disappoint one another, but that human nature motivates them to seek consolation in other “scheme[s] of happiness” (34). The use of the word “scheme” in her statement hints at her opinion that marriage is indeed based at least partly on deception, even though she asserts the opposite notion in her argument. Her remark correlates with her own married life: it is obvious that her husband is lacking in many areas, including his treatment of her, his work ethic, and his extreme fondness for alcohol. Her assertion that, when faced with disappointments in marriage, one must look elsewhere to find happiness, is obviously inspired by her experiences in her own marriage. In a way, she is trying to rid Mary and Henry of their ignorance on the trials of married life by giving them a glimpse into her own. In Mrs. Grant’s words, she is trying to “cure” Mary and Henry of their naivete. She sees that Henry is already being deceived by Maria about her motives and that Mary is still unaware of the trials that marriage and courtship bring. In her own words, she wants to “cure [them] both” (35), and believes that Mansfield can assist her in doing so. Later, it becomes obvious that Mansfield will indeed “cure” their ignorance, but only by subjecting them to disappointment and heartache. As the reader knows by the end of the novel, Henry runs off with Maria, only to find it impossible to live with her after their initial facades wear off and they are exposed to one another’s real personalities. Mary’s fate is just as depressing, mainly because her own belief in the importance of deception in courting contrasts directly with Edmund’s (not to mention the fact that she is more interested in his money than anything else). Mary believes that at least some of Edmund’s personality is a disguise, especially in her assumption that his determination to become a clergyman can be easily discouraged. Edmund, however, remains truthful in his words and actions, and as a result Mary ends up digging her own grave, so to speak. In a way, Mansfield Park really does “cure” Henry and Mary of their naivete, but not without subjecting them to instances of disappointment and heartache along the way. The cliche phrase “they learned it the hard way” certainly appears applicable in this situation. This short passage gives the reader a deeper look into Mary and Henry’s motives as they enter into courtship with the Bertram youths, foreshadowing future events and their consequences. It also offers a brief glimpse of Mrs. Grants emotional struggle in her own marriage, and her desire to convince the Crawfords that no marriage can be happy without a great deal of effort. The dramatic irony in the passage is used to set both Henry and Mary up for falls later in the novel, when their initial assumptions are proven wrong and, as a result, they wind up alone.Works CitedAusten, Jane. Mansfield Park. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. New York: Norton, 34-35.Murfin, Ross, and Supryia Ray. “Irony.” The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.
Jane Austen’s Use of Theater in Mansfield Park
“All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players.”-As You Like It II.vii.139A large portion of the plot of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (Austen, 1814) describes the young gentlemen and ladies of the estate preparing a performance of the play Lovers’ Vows (Inchbald, 1798). A play full of controversial subjects, it features ideas of love, illegitimacy, a disgraced woman, class differences, and imprisonment. When Sir Thomas Bertram, the patriarch of Mansfield Park, returns home from the West Indies to find his children and their friends acting out such controversial ideas, he immediately puts a stop to their antics, seeing “all the impropriety of such a scheme among such a party, and at such a time” (Austen 204). Although throughout Mansfield Park the young characters’ participation in the theatrics is portrayed as taboo, overly sexual, and improper, Jane Austen is not condemning the theater or Lover’s Vows. Rather, Austen uses the theater as a forum through which she makes criticisms on society. Similar to her young characters, Austen is able to approach taboo subjects under the guise of theatrics. Mansfield Park examines the weighty subjects of imprisonment, slavery, and sexual misconduct, but does so in a light manner via theatrics, preserving Austen’s own propriety.Fanny emerges the dullest of heroines: meek, quiet, proper, and frightened. She is a surprising choice for Austen, who tends to favor more aggressive, outspoken female leads like Emma Woodhouse, Elizabeth Bennett, and Marianne Dashwood. What Fanny lacks in interest to the reader, however, is more than made up for in the characters of Miss Crawford and Miss Bertrams. Mary Crawford is the anti-heroine; she is equal to Fanny in perception, intelligence, and physical beauty (once Fanny fully blossoms), but the opposite regarding behavior. The Mary-Fanny dichotomy is exemplified in Edmund’s regard for the two of them. He finds them similarly attractive although their personalities branch out in such opposite directions. Where Fanny is timid and submissive, Mary is outspoken and manipulative. Mary is sexually overt and obsessed with money and position. Although Mary is the much more interesting of the two characters, Fanny is presented as the central figure to aid in Austen’s careful critique of society and the aforementioned controversial topics. She provides Fanny as the voice of decorum, modesty, and respectability in the face of constant impropriety; she is the only one guiltless in the performing of Lover’s Vows. Austen exonerates herself from the suggested impropriety of the book by having such a sterile character as the lead.While Mansfield Park centers around Fanny, Lovers’ Vows portrays a more realistic version of who is a heroine and who is a understudy. Fanny waits in the wings and is in service to the other actors, akin to her real station in life. The other characters are the stars acting with unabashed gusto. Fanny and Edmund are the only sincere main characters in Mansfield Park, and this is represented in their reluctance to perform. Maria Bertram, Julia Bertram, Henry Crawford, and Mary Crawford, however, all have hidden agendas involving marriage and wealth which are revealed towards the end of the novel. Since they are constantly performing in life, the transition to the stage is virtually seamless. The book parallels the plot of the play; Maria becomes a fallen woman and is shunned by her family and society (like her character Agatha) when she runs away with Henry Crawford. Edmund, true to his role of Anhalt in Lover’s Vows, falls in love and marries his pupil, Fanny, in the end. Also, the class barrier which Anhalt worries will prevent him from wedding Amelia is indeed what causes the actors of those parts, Edmund and Mary, not to wed.Paralleling the plot aside, the play is used by the actors as an awkward form of sexual indulgence. Maria Bertram and Mr. Crawford’s physical attraction is gratified in front of everyone, including her fiance, camouflaged as rehearsal. Mary Crawford and Edmund are similarly gratified, although their actions are less perverse. Nonetheless Fanny has to witness their mutual attraction and becomes sandwiched between their flirting when they both request her help in rehearsing. In practicing Lover’s Vows, the borders separating real life and the theater are obscured until they are virtually indistinguishable.Austen further drives home this point with the structure and style of Mansfield Park. The book often assumes the tone of a play script. Austen infuses what appear to be stage directions into the dialogue, as in when Crawford is talking while playing cards (note the parentheses), “You think with me, I hope -(turning with a softened voice to Fanny). Have you ever seen the place?” (Austen 255). Also, characters take on speeches that are essentially monologues. Crawford’s exiting speech in chapter 34 is an acted oration, complete with stage directions. Previously in that chapter he reads a speech from Shakespeare, and his words as he leaves the room are Austen’s farce of a Shakespearian monologue. Crawford fancies himself Romeo, saying,”Yes, dearest, sweetest Fanny Nay – (seeing her draw back displeased) forgive me. Perhaps I have as yet no right – but by what other name can I call you? Do you suppose you are ever present to my imagination under any other? No it is ‘Fanny’ that I think of all day and dream of all night. You have given the name such reality of sweetness, that nothing else can now be descriptive of you.” (Austen 348)Not exactly “a rose by any other name”, but it suits Crawford’s ego and grandiose manner (Romeo and Juliet II.ii.45). Shakespeare often removes his characters from society and places them in an isolated setting in order to create a focus on individual human relationships and allow chaos to ensue. For example, in Othello (Shakespeare, 1604) the plot transitions from Venice to the island of Corsica, and in The Tempest (Shakespeare, 1611) the characters are removed from society and washed on the shore of an island. In both cases the drama unfolds in these remote surroundings. Similarly, Austen’s use of Sotherton provides an isolated setting in which illicit behavior becomes excusable. The garden scene at Sotherton is wrought with sexual innuendo and misbehavior by all of the young characters except for Fanny. Mary describes a “serpentine course”, a phrase that alludes to the Garden of Eden and sexual temptation (Austen 120). Edmund and Mary disappear behind the trees promising Fanny “to be back in a few minutes”, but do not emerge again for nearly an hour (Austen 120). Miss Bertram and Mr. Crawford spend the entire day flirting in front of Miss Bertram’s fiance, Mr. Rushworth. Crawford, facetiously referring to Miss Bertram’s engagement, proclaims in a theatrical reference, “You have a very smiling scene before you” (123). When the three happen upon the locked iron gate, Miss Bertram wants so badly to go through to the other side that Mr. Rushworth reluctantly walks back to the house to get the key (a rather phallic reference). Once he is gone, Miss Bertram wriggles over the side of the gate per the suggestion of Mr. Crawford. The two run off into the woods, again leaving Fanny behind to sit in the heat of the sun and the latent heat of sexuality.The hot outdoors contrasts with the coolness of the chapel witnessed in the preceding scene. Here is another episode in which Austen uses theatrics to describe a facet of life; this time, marriage. As the group tours Sotherton’s chapel, Julia exclaims to Mr. Crawford, “Do look at Mr. Rushworth and Maria, standing side by side, exactly as if the ceremony were going to be performed” (Austen 113). Austen comments not only on the acting of Miss Bertram in being engaged to Mr. Rushmore, but on the theatrics of marriage in general; of a man and woman playing parts rather than experiencing genuine emotions. While Austen is not condemning the institution of marriage as completely feigned, she is criticizing the fact that often marriage is not about love but rather fulfilling a role.Austen’s extensive use of the theater in Mansfield Park is not a criticism of theatrics but rather a comment on human nature. People act, and are expected to fulfill specific societal roles. These roles are constraining and a hindrance to freedom, especially to women of Austen’s time. Fanny meets much condemnation from her relatives when she refuses Crawford’s marriage proposal. This is not because he is a great man but because she is expected to accept the role of wealthy wife when it is offered to her, regardless of the factor of love. While the phrase “all the world’s a stage” is pertinent as much now as when Shakespeare composed it, it especially applies to the decorum-obsessed society of Jane Austen (As You Like It II.vii.139). In Mansfield Park Austen tames the dueling beasts of theater and life in a masterpiece assessment.BibliographyAustin, Jane. Mansfield Park. Ed. June Sturrock. Ontario: Broadview, 2001.Inchbald, Elizabeth. Lover’s Vows. Five Romantic Plays 1768- 1821. Ed. Horace Walpole, et al. London: Oxford University Press, 2000.Shakespeare, William. As You Like It. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Wilbur L. Cross & Tucker Brooke. New York: Metrobooks, 2002.Shakespeare, William. Othello. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Wilbur L. Cross & Tucker Brooke. New York: Metrobooks, 2002.Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Wilbur L. Cross & Tucker Brooke. New York: Metrobooks, 2002.Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works2E Ed. Wilbur L. Cross & Tucker Brooke. New York: Metrobooks, 2002.