Mansfield Park And Mary Crawfo Essay, Research Paper
The Character of Mary Crawford
It can be useful to examine the values and ideas of a novel through the character
and portrayal of one character. Mary Crawford is a character central to the themes and
events of Jane Austen s Mansfield Park. At all significant points in the play, barring only
Fanny s rescue from her parents, she is either present or involved. Through such a
character, a great deal about the morality and ideas so central to this book can be revealed.
However, examination of a character and the way that character is portrayed can become
especially useful when comparing a book to a film based on the same material. Through
the changes, or the similarity, in the portrayal of the character, it becomes again possible
to examine the values behind the production. Patricia Rozema s version of Mansfield
Park, made in 1999, projects modern values onto character living in the early 19th
century. This projection, however, is more appropriate then one might imagine, and is
almost necessary to make the character necessarily despicable.
Mary Crawford is a vitally important part of the story of Mansfield Park. She
provides one of the key complications in the plot and is essential in it s role as a study of
character and morality. She is also key in her role as a contrast to Fanny Price, the more
amiable of the female characters.
Before one can fully understand Mary s vital role in the unfolding of events at
Mansfield Park, it is first important to understand exactly who Mary is and where she fits
in to the story. The story revolves around the family that occupies the vast estate of
Mansfield Park. Years earlier, they had taken into their care the daughter of Lady
Bertram s sister, who had married below herself and now had many children and no
money. The girl, Fanny, had grown from the age of ten, in the household of Sir Thomas
and Lady Bertram, and their children Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia. Some years later,
when Fanny reaches seventeen, the position at the parsonage of Mansfield Park is taken by
a Mr. and Mrs Grant. Mrs Grant, it seems, has two half-siblings by her mother s second
marriage, a Mr. Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford. The Crawfords come to live with
their half-sister, who introduces them to the Mansfield family. They become part of the
Bertram s closest circle of friends. Edmund Bertram, with whom Fanny has forged a
special friendship and has likely fallen in love, quickly finds himself attracted to the charm
and beauty of Miss Crawford. Julia and Maria Bertram, who has lately become engaged to
a rich fool nearby, both find themselves captivated by Henry Crawford. Maria moves
forward her marriage after realising that she has no hope of Henry reciprocating the
Henry, however, feels strongly toward Fanny and eventually proposes. She refuses
him on the basis that she senses certain character flaws. Upon her refusal, Fanny is sent
away from Mansfield to live, once more, with her family in Portsmouth. When she again
refuses Henry, he removes himself to London, where he again meets up with Maria, now
Mrs. Rushworth, with whom he begins an affair. The whole scandal is discovered, and
Edmund goes to see Mary, who claims that it is not the action that is to be reproached, but
rather the discovery; and she largely blames Fanny for not agreeing to marry Henry,
claiming that he would not have acted in such a manner would he know to be risking the
affection of Fanny. Edmund then relinquishes his attachment to Mary, and returns to
Mansfield Park to later marry Fanny.
Mary is of importance for several reasons. One of the more simple and obvious
reasons for her inclusion was as a love interest for Edmund. A major theme in the story is
the struggle Fanny faces in the love she feels for Edmund, who does not reciprocate her
feelings. In order to make this struggle seem acute, Edmund must love another. Thus
Mary is introduced.
Mary is vastly different to Fanny. She is outspoken where Fanny is quiet. She is
sophisticated where Fanny is almost naive. For Edmund to appreciate Fanny s positive
qualities it becomes important for him first to value characteristics opposite to hers. When
Edmund finally discovers the true evil in Mary s character, he had scarcely done
regretting Mary Crawfords and observing to Fanny how impossible it was that he should
ever meet with such another kind of woman, before it began to strike him that a very
different sort of woman might do as well. 1 Therefore it seems that Mary s character is
fixed as she must be the total opposite to Fanny.
But Mary Crawford serves a much greater purpose in the novel then merely as
Fanny s competition for the affection of Edmund- her character also offers a striking
comment on morality. She is used in the novel to illustrate those of a certain moral code
and is utilised in the film to a similar purpose, though in a different manner. As in both
versions of Mansfield Park Mary is used as a character used to illustrate and assess
morality, it is possible to use this to examine the underlying morality of the book and film.
Perhaps the single incident that illustrates Mary as a character that illustrates a
certain school of morality is her reaction to the discovery of Henry and Maria s affair. In
Austen s original, the reader only hears of the incident when Edmund is relaying it to
Fanny. He tells of his visit to Mary upon his discovery of the misconduct of their relations.
Mary, Edmund tells, is more disturbed by the discovery of Maria and Henry s
wrongdoing, rather then the actions themselves. She speaks only of their folly in allowing
such an event to be known, and not of the certain evils of their behaviour. It is to this
Edmund reacts. She reprobated her brother s folly in being drawn in by a woman whom
he had never cared for….Guess what I must have felt. To hear a woman whom- no harsher
name than folly given!- So voluntarily, so freely, so coolly to canvass it! 2
In Rozema s version of this exchange, the Bertram family and Fanny are present.
This major alteration changes the content of what is said dramatically. While in the novel,
Mary condones the folly of their relations to Edmund alone, the film allows Mary to make
her speech to the whole Bertram family. She condones not their relations, to her their
behaviour seems both justified and natural, but the family in their reaction to it. She blames
Fanny for refusing her brother, claiming this largely caused Henry s action. She blames Sir
Thomas, for his overreaction to the situation. But what is most frightening is Mary s
wilfulness to welcome the death of Tom Bertram in order for Edmund to inherit the estate.
It is to this that Edmund reacts, not the lack of morality in Mary s character shown
through her acceptance of Maria and Henry s behaviour. Film critic Roger Ebert has
wrongly assessed Mary Crawford’s chilling analysis of the emergency, and her plan for
what must be , to modern ears, it sounds crass and heartless. In 1806, just such
conversations would have sounded reasonable, to people schooled to think of the family
fortune above any consideration of love or morality. 3 Mary Crawford s speech has been
largely fabricated for the film and was never spoken to the ears of 1806. The very point of
the speech was to make Mary sound cold and crass to a modern audience because the
very source of her character flaws in the novel is not sufficient for a modern audience- one
quite willing generally to accept adultery as a norm as Mary Crawford did. It becomes
necessary then, in order to fix her as an antagonist, that the director makes gives Mary
flaws that a modern audience can recognise- these being arrogance, materialism and a lack
of appreciation for human life.
Mary Crawford is of great importance to Mansfield Park because she provides the
necessary means by which Edmund can fall in love with Fanny. But both the novel and the
play are far more complex that a fairy tale love story. They meditate on the choice of the
individual to make certain decisions relating to their morality and the outworking of such
decisions. In order to suit the vastly different audiences that Rozema and Austen face,
those of 1999 and 1814 respectively, it becomes necessary to adjust the details of their
moral code accordingly. In the preface to a recent edition of Mansfield Park, it is noted
that Mansfield Park is remarkable for the three strands of morality running through it. Sir
Thomas represents the enduring, classical values of the 18th Century, Fanny the
beginnings of nineteenth-century social conscience and morality which are in stark contrast
to the moral ambiguities of Mary Crawford. 4 The moral ambiguities of Mary Crawford
in the novel are not a negative trait to a modern audience as they are common to the
experience of most people. So to compensate, and to maintain Mary s position as an
antagonist, she must be significantly worsened. It is to the same extent that, to cater for a
modern audience, Fanny must be significantly livened to increase her appeal.
One of the interesting aspects of Mary as a character is the fact Austen chose to
give her certain qualities that are admirable to the audience of her day. For instance, her
brazen approach to speech is an admirable quality. She also is a very friendly person, who
does not hesitate to show affection to Fanny, who is so decidedly below herself. These
character traits are exhibited in the 1999 film Mansfield Park, as well as added too.
Mary s homosexual tendencies are suggested by the film, an aspect of her character that
would appeal to an audience that largely embraces homosexuality. Two very provocative
scenes, including one where Mary undresses a very wet Fanny while commenting on her
remarkable beauty, certainly illustrate that Mary has a certain attraction to Fanny. This is
one significant moral adjustment that reflects on the rather significant changes in popular
morality that has come of late.
Mary Crawford herself is not an integral part in Mansfield Park. It is rather what
she represents that is significant. For this reason, it is important to change her moral code
in order to provoke the same feelings in a modern audience that were felt by the original.
It can then be supposed that Mary Crawford is not only a literary character responsible for
the prolonging of Fanny s agony, but represents one of little morality in both cultures.
Through Mary, then, it is possible to examine why and how literary characters must be
changed to suit the moral context to which they are aimed.