Saturday, 11 June 2016

Modern Mary Crawford in 'Mansfield Park'

Like Mr.Bennet, Mary Crawford has the best lines.

Sir Thomas’s return will make possible two events that Mary considers less than sensible: the marriage of Maria to Rushworth, and the ordination of Edmund. She wittily says Sir Thomas puts her in mind of old heathen heroes, who after performing great exploits in a foreign land, offered sacrifices to the gods on their safe return. After being told that the domestic chaplain has been made redundant at Sotherton, she comments: Every generation has its improvements. Her flippant humour is always amusing but there is nothing malicious in it. As she says herself, I was merely joking.

She also – like Jane Austen herself – obviously enjoys making literary jokes. Her clever poetic parody about Sir Thomas (in Chapter 17) could not have been made up on the spur of the moment. It is well crafted: she must have first worked on it privately and for her own amusement.

Her sharp wit is also exercised in some straightforward, perceptive insights that – however apparent to the reader – seem to need pointing out to the other characters. One such is I fancy Miss Price has been more used to deserve praise than to hear it. Later, Edmund reports that she made the shrewd observation that Fanny seemed almost as fearful of notice and praise as other women were of neglect. 

Both the Crawfords – Mary and her brother Henry – enjoy trying to break down the resistance of attractive members of the opposite sex. Henry, of course, yearns to make Fanny adore him. Similarly, Mary considers the joy ‘exquisite’ when she succeeds in making Edmund yield and take part in the theatricals after all: I never knew such exquisite happiness…. His sturdy spirit to bend as it did. Oh! It was sweet beyond expression

However, Mary is kind and sensitive in her dealings with Fanny, especially in Chapter 15, when she goes to sit by her because Fanny is almost in tears after being attacked from all sides (for declining to take part in the play). She extends this kindness by later persuading Mrs. Grant to take the part in the play that the others were trying to force on Fanny. She performs a further act of kindness when she tries to comfort Rushworth in his jealousy by telling him that Maria looks so maternal. And she is sincerely happy when led to believe Henry will marry Fanny, even though she knows the match would be a little beneath him

But poor good-hearted Mary is condemned in the end, after Henry’s elopement with Maria. She is not allowed to appear in person. Instead, her attitude to the indiscretion is reported starchily by Edmund. Yet, given Mary’s natural good-humour, flippancy, cynicism about marriage and tendency to see the sexes as equally to blame, it is possible to interpret her views as remarkably modern and realistic. 

Wit and flippancy form no part of Fanny’s discourse. Little surprise that Edmund resists Fanny’s temptation to go on to the lawn and study astronomy but prefers to join the sing-song with Mary round the fortepiano.