Mansfield Musings

I finished reading Mansfield Park last night. One Austen down, one more to go before the end of the month. The things I do for student challenges!

Although, really, reading one of my favourite authors is a pleasure, even if I have to bolt her work down faster than I normally would. I had to post some reflections on the student forum as part of the challenge, and I’m going to use what I wrote there as a base for my thoughts here.

Yes, Mansfield Park is a pleasure. But I find the end a little bitter-sweet all the same. I’m happy for Fanny and Edmund that they have each other and I know that they make a good match, yet I can’t help regretting what happens to Henry Crawford. He was a scoundrel to begin with, to be sure, and yet he did come to truly love Fanny, and he did truly try to reform, only to throw his reforms to the wind in the end, and reap a bitter harvest. Part of me wishes that Fanny would have married him, and that they could have been good and happy together.

I admit, however, that Fanny was right to reject him, based on her knowledge of his actions in the past, and also because she loved someone else. But there is sadness in the story of Henry Crawford…. He and Mary are both attracted, to varying degrees, to the virtue they see in people at Mansfield Park (“you have all so much more heart among you, than one finds in the world at large,” said Mary), but being attracted to virtue is not enough. Even reforming for the sake of the woman you love isn’t enough. Change has to go deeper. (And as Eustace found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we cannot “un-dragon” ourselves….)

But while I think of Henry with sadness, I can admire Fanny. She is gentle, pliant, and self-sacrificing, and, in addition, her great outward nervousness and reserve conceals a strength of purpose that enables her to resist all the pressures that are put to bear on her to encourage her to marry Henry Crawford. She sees where others, even good men like Sir Thomas and Edmund, are blinded. Not only does she see, but she often judges wisely. This ability to see and judge where others cannot or will not adds to Fanny’s burdens and difficulties. She grieves, when seeing Edmund deceiving himself about Mary’s true character, not only because she loves him herself but also because she truly wants what is best for Edmund, and she knows that Miss Crawford is far from that. Burdened by what she sees, under-loved and undervalued by most of those closest to her, she has a hard part to play for most of the story and she truly deserves the reward that Austen eventually gives her.

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Lovely in Eyes Not His

Earlier today I came across part of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, and was intrigued enough to search for the whole thing.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

I’ll readily admit that I find some of this opaque (and that wouldn’t be a first for me when it comes to Hopkins’ poetry) but at the same time I was caught by beauty in it (and that wouldn’t be a first with Hopkins’ poetry either). It’s these four lines that attract me:

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

That God sees us – those of us who are His children – as if seeing Christ Himself…. How can that be true? Yet Jesus Himself prays to the Father, “And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26) and Paul tells us that we are “accepted in the beloved”. Can God really see loveliness in me, look at me and see His Son?

It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote in his essay “The Weight of Glory”, speaking of our future glory: “To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

Hard as I find it to believe, this is not just true of our future in glory, but true now. God can look on me with pleasure because He sees Christ reflected in me–and not reflected because I am some sort of super holy Christian (far from it!) but simply because I am, as the theologians say–as Paul himself would say–united to Christ. God can’t see me without seeing His Son in me. And the Father is never anything but well pleased with the Son. God still sees all my ugliness, all my sin, of course, but He can see beyond that, to His lovely Son, and somehow some of Christ’s beauty covers me, and the Father can smile at us both.