Posts tagged mansfield park

Mansfield Park

Book #1 of 2009 – Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

I went into this book expecting not to care for it much.  I’d read half of it before for a college course, but I’d entered the class late and was behind on the reading, so I never finished it, and what I had read had all been done in a very overview kind of way.  All I really gleaned from it was how unhappy Fanny was as a child, and how selflessly she loved Edmund, who may or may not have deserved it.

Now that I’ve finished it “for real,” 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 moment.

As much as I have a soft spot for him (thanks in large to Jonny Lee Miller) I found it hard to believe that the end of the book would convince me that Edmund really loved Fanny in the way she would have liked him to love her, when even through the penultimate chapter he is talking and sighing over the sparkling eyes of Mary Crawford, who he so fully loved, or at the very least believed himself to love.  Anything else could only be settling, right?

But I’m not so sure.  Once his eyes are opened to her true nature, he realizes that he’s been in love with something built out of his own imagination, not Miss Crawford herself, and as much as I was expecting to, I can’t fault him for that.  After all, Edmund has lived a fairly sheltered life, both thanks to his father’s severities and also thanks to his own nature.  His brother Tom, in comparison, who has lived a bit more loosely (to understate it), is never particularly struck with Mary.  Edmund, on the other hand, has very little experience with such worldly women, and he can’t help but be blindsided.  If we take Edmund at his word, and believe that he didn’t really love Mary Crawford as much as the Mary Crawford he imagined, it’s not too much of a stretch for him to then realize the woman who has always stood by him, counseled with him, and done her best to make him happy.

Still, I don’t know that if the Crawfords hadn’t come into their lives, if Edmund and Fanny ever would have found each other, romantically.  It took Mary to make Edmund want to love, and Henry’s attention to make Fanny believe that she could be loved.  If the Crawfords had never broken up the tranquility of Mansfield Park, it might never have changed.  Edmund and Fanny each in their own way are so good that they had to have been taken by force to move them to action, and ultimately to each other.

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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.

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