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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Jane Austen's 'Mansfield Park': Does Edmund deserve Fanny?

Does Edmund really deserve Fanny?

Fanny could be accused of being far too grateful to Edmund, bearing in mind that he does little to shield her from Mrs. Norris.

And consider the chapter in which Edmund walks with Fanny in the shrubbery to discuss Crawford's proposal. His avowed intention is to listen to her side of the story and give her comfort and support. He starts well by commending Fanny for refusing Crawford. He even assures her: ‘How could you imagine me an advocate for marriage without love?’; but, almost immediately he appeals to her ‘to let him succeed at last’. What sort of comfort and support is that? Her vehement protestations against this possibility are met with an admonition: ‘This is not like yourself, your rational self.’

Fanny's objections, which she sets out clearly and logically, are dismissed with little more than a wave of the hand. ‘We have not one taste in common. We should be miserable’ is countered with ‘You are mistaken, Fanny.’ So it goes on: every argument of Fanny's is firmly countered with a refusal to see or understand her point of view beyond that she needs more time.

Eventually we read:

'“My dear Fanny,” replied Edmund, scarcely hearing her to the end’ ...

- so, by this time he is not even listening!

Why? In a couple of pages, all becomes clear: he wants to talk to Fanny about Mary Crawford. He has written off Fanny's misery as a short-term local difficulty which she will overcome (with a little help from her friends) and wants to concentrate the conversation on what matters to him - his courtship of Mary.

In this chapter, Edmund shows his colours and suffers a serious fall from the reader's grace.