The Alluring Henry Crawford

I’m starting the third volume of Mansfield Park at the moment, and we’re just getting to Henry Crawford’s most enchanting bits—and easily Fanny Price’s worst moments in the novel.

I’ve got Joseph Beattie from the 2007 Masterpiece Theater production to the left here, because that’s how I’ve been picturing him this reading, though truth be told, I like Alessandro Nivola’s ’99 portrayal of him better—but semantics aside, Henry Crawford is simply a delicious character. I’d be disgusted by him in real life, of course, but then that is an altogether different thing.

I know it’s a bit old hat to make a big deal about Jane Austen’s characters, but there’s a reason why there’s always a deal to be made. While Mansfield Park is not nearly my favorite Austen novel, Henry Crawford is almost decidedly becoming my favorite Austen blackguard. Wickham was never interesting to me, he is a well-played plot point and little more. William Elliot is warmer, but still there’s something left wanting. Willoughby is absolutely delightful by being so barefaced about his cowardice and shame—but those very things also make him fairly pathetic in the end. Henry Crawford, though, is unapologetic about anything and everything. He’s as consciousless as Wickham (whether or not that’s a word), but has all the spark and charm and warmth of Willoughby at his best—with something a little more intelligent, a little more detached and conniving, that just makes him that much more interesting.

The fantastic thing is that we know from the start that he’s a villain—or at least villainous. It’s made clear almost from his introduction that he means to win the attention of the one (already engaged) woman whom he absolutely shouldn’t mess around with, and we proceed to watch as he flatters her, tempts her, and then leaves her in the dust to go on with her life. Not that we can blame him entirely for that—’it takes two to tango,’ etc, etc.

But we see all this, and we know that Fanny, our heroine, is fully right to refuse his proposals, and yet… and yet we root for him anyhow. We want him to win over Fanny’s heart. Edmund certainly isn’t trying very hard for it, Edmund hardly seems to notice her unless he can sweep in to save her from lack of exercise or lack of writing paper or lack of something or other else. He’s busy being beguiled by Henry’s sister, because she’s just as sparkle-and-shine attractive as her brother, whatever her moral shortcomings are.

And even though I know what’s coming, even though I know Henry will prove himself—as he always does—to be completely incapable of the sort of love that Fanny wants and deserves… right at this moment, a part of me still wants him to win. Wants him to have the picturesque life with her that he describes to his sister, where he takes care of Fanny forever and never falls out of love with her and is everything she (this is Fanny Price here) anyone could ever want.

5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I myself happen to have a soft spot for Willoughby, probably because he’s such a truly pathetic man. I wanted so badly to like him as much as Marianne, for her sake, and because their relationship just had such a sense of ‘romance’ to it!

    And then I saw this new BBC version of Mansfield Park and I’ll admit, Henry Crawford caught my eye. For the same reasons you mentioned, no less! The fact that he’s shameless about his conniving intentions and that despite my best intentions to hate him, I started to feel rather warmed up to him and interested in whether or not he would succeed! Ha, ha!

    That is why Jane Austen was so brilliant. Her characters really encompass every type of person and they are fascinating to read.

  2. 2

    tiemeinwords said,

    Well I’ve always had a soft spot for Willoughby. But re-reading the book… the fact that he’s so open about loving her but that just not being enough and knowing he’d rather keep fashionable, etc… well. I can’t help feeling bad for him, I guess is what I mean, and so I can’t think about him without being sorry for it. haha But Crawford is undeniable, and I’m not sorry when I think of him… at least, not until the end of the book. Because then I’m quite ready to go back to disliking him. :-P

  3. 3

    [...] as it feels, I don’t know how much extra wisdom I can add, but since I’ve already made my case for Henry Crawford, I thought it only fair I let Edmund Bertram have his [...]

  4. 4

    Evelyn P Byrd said,

    Actually, I think Mr. Crawford deserves another chance! Yes, he blunders big time and then walks out on a married woman, who thought Henry just might care for her, afterall. I don’t think Henry realizes his own feelings. That maybe he finally sees that childhood and adolescense is over. It is time for him to GROW UP! And even tho he loses Fanny Price to Edmund, he NEVER gets over his unrequited LOVE for her. If anyone ever loved a woman like Henry loves Fanny-and that love is silenced, if only for, lets say, 8 yrs-then most probably it WILL BE rekindled into a raging fire, when the exact time comes forth from the MISTS. I think Henry Crawford still has a chance to win Fanny Price-because he now knows what love embraced means. And most of all, will love her, without thinking of himself as the important one. And when he gets that chance to speak plainly, Fanny Price will know that Henry really DOES and WILL Love her-that he has changed into a very possitive and willing lover.

  5. 5

    drush76 said,

    Perhaps Henry Crawford is better off without Fanny. I think he has the personality who needs a woman who is mature and . . . openly ambiguous enough to understand him. I don’t think Fanny ever understood him, other than he was never able to live up to her ideals on morality.


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