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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, February 11, 2011

Did you know that Mary thinks Henry doesn't know she wants to marry Edmund?

Breaking with my long tradition of making claims in these blog posts, I am writing this one because I really do want to hear your respective answers to my Subject Line question.

Here are the two messages I wrote to the Janeites and Austen L groups yesterday, and I now repeat them here (so far, nobody has responded to me in those groups--is it because they are also stunned as I was?):


In Chapter 30 of MP, Mary and Henry have their little tete a tete after Henry returns from London in the aftermath of the Mansfield ball and Henry's driving William back to port. I was just reading it, and I saw something I don't recall EVER noticing before in the following portion of their conversation, after Henry has begun rhapsodizing to Mary about how he plans to marry Fanny:

“The more I think of it,” she cried, “the more am I convinced that you are doing quite right; and though I should never have selected Fanny Price as the girl most likely to attach you, I am now persuaded she is the very one to make you happy. Your wicked project upon her peace turns out a clever thought indeed. You will both find your good in it.”

“It was bad, very bad in me against such a creature; but I did not know her then; and she shall have no reason to lament the hour that first put it into my head. I will make her very happy, Mary; happier than she has ever yet been herself, or ever seen anybody else. I will not take her from Northamptonshire. I shall let Everingham, and rent a place in this neighbourhood; perhaps Stanwix Lodge. I shall let a seven years’ lease of Everingham. I am sure of an excellent tenant at half a word. I could name three people now, who would give me my own terms and thank me.”

“Ha!” cried Mary; “settle in Northamptonshire! That is pleasant! Then we shall be all together.”

When she had spoken it, she recollected herself, and WISHED IT UNSAID; but there was NO NEED OF CONFUSION; FOR HER BROTHER SAW HER ONLY as the supposed inmate of Mansfield parsonage......

What I had not noticed before was that Mary appears to be wishing in this scene to conceal from Henry that Mary wishes to marry Edmund. But I have always been under the impression that Mary had not previously sought to conceal her interest in Edmund from anyone, and that it had been common knowledge at Mansfield Park for many chapters. So why would it be a secret she was glad to keep concealed from Henry in Chapter 30?

Is it that Henry thought that Mary gave up the idea of marrying Edmund when Edmund stayed firmly on his course of taking orders, and was not persuaded by Mary to go into law? Is Mary ashamed to let Henry know that she is willing to bend that far, as to be willing to be the wife of a country clergyman? Or is it possible that Mary's interest in Edmund is as secret as Fanny's interest in Edmund?

And by the way, JA only refers three times in all her novels to a character wishing something unsaid--one is Knightley as he is about to propose to Emma and caveats that " I may wish it unsaid the next moment.", but the other two are both narration about Mary Crawford! One is the example from Chapter 30 I just quoted above, and the other is in Chapter 29, i.e., only one chapter before and also about Mary's desire to marry Edmund, but from another angle, as Mary rues what she had said previously to _Edmund_:

"She was afraid she had used some strong, some contemptuous expressions in speaking of the clergy, and that should not have been. It was ill–bred; it was wrong. She wished such words unsaid with all her heart."


I just had to go back and browse around in MP again, until I could satisfy myself as to Mary's really having tried all along to keep Henry in the dark about her having her cap set at Edmund. I just did so, and now I see that it is so, and that I have been totally taken in, for over 10 years, by Fanny’s having figured it out--as I have always seen Mary as a knowing character, it never occurred to me that Mary might actually think that Henry would not know that she had been trying for Edmund.

This makes Mary even more of a twin of Fanny than I had imagined before, in that not only do they both want to marry Edmund, they also both believe that they have concealed their love from at least some of the other inmates of Mansfield Park! At the very least, I now see that Mary thinks that not only Fanny, but also Henry, is unaware of Mary's feelings for Edmund, and I have not changed my longstanding opinion that Fanny thinks that nobody knows about her own love for Edmund.

The $64,000 question as to both of them is, how accurate is each of them in that regard? Are there people at Mansfield Park who have guessed?

As I believe that Henry was every bit as sharp as Fanny and had guessed as early as Fanny did, that Mary is out to snare Edmund, this changes my sense of Mary significantly--she is avery different character than I thought, much more (strange to use this word to describe Mary Crawford) _naïve_ than I had ever thought--in a way much more naive than Fanny, just as Fanny is much more naive than Mary, in other ways.

Fascinating, and I am sure that I am still not seeing half of what is fascinating in all of this.

Has anyone else been in the dark about this as I have been?



Anonymous said...

I have no touble recollecting that passage from Mansfield Park. I remember puzzling over it. Mary is a mystery to me, as is her creator's treatment of her. Although she has many "first rate qualities" as Mr. Knightley would say, the author treats her harshly. I resolved that the only way to see her is as someone constantly maneuvering. She did not want Henry to suspect that she cared for Edward because Henry would realize that she had a motive to get rid of her rival by placing the rival with her brother. Henry would be just as apt to blow up Mary's plans for mere caprice as he would be to seek his own private happiness with Fanny. There is love between brother and sister, but not strong enough to cause either one of them to devote himself/herself to the other's happiness. I see these two as damaged kids, despite their education and material wealth; their home life was toxic. Nevertheless, Mary is one of the most interesting characters in literature; Henry, only less so.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Those are all remarkably astute comments, Anonymous, do you care to reveal your true identity? ;)

I have my ideas about what Jane Austen had in mind about Mary, and I will crystallize them soon when I finalize the chapter about Mansfield Park in the book I am writing about Jane Austen's shadow stories! This is not accidental, all such strange details are always significant in her novels.

mary cantwell said...

The original comment is mine. I attended your lecture at the Nova and have been reading this blog ever since. After posting, I realized that I sort of missed your main point... not what Mary's motive was in hiding her love for Edward, but that she actually believed she could hide her feelings from Henry... great new incite. Just another mystery surrounding Mary. Keep them coming!

Arnie Perlstein said...


Thank you very much, and yes I will do my best to keep 'em comin'!

Cheers, ARNIE