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.