One of the most fascinating aspects of Jane Austen studies is how sometimes the Austen scholars who usually incline toward conservative orthodox interpretations of JA's novels and biography will suddenly step way outside the box, and surprise everyone with a subversive interpretation that goes strongly against the grain of Austenian orthodoxy.
"Dear Mary Crawford, As one of your warmest admirers, I am always so sorry when you find yourself shut out from Mansfield at the end of the book. Every time I reread I hope it might just turn out differently, but it never does. Two hundred years have now passed and you are still denied a happy ending. I wonder why you should be punished, not rewarded, for your delightful personality?
Elizabeth Bennet, who is so very like you, gets her man, so why can’t you? You two share many traits. You both have sparkling dark eyes, a light tripping figure, a witty tongue and an irreverent attitude. But she is regarded by her author ‘as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print’ while your very similar charms are always slightly suspect. Your author seems to hold you at arm’s length for fear of your subverting her design for her novel.
Of course, some of it is your own fault, for falling in love with a ditherer. If Edmund had proposed to you when he came back from ordination and found you still in the village, ready to speak to him very pleasantly despite his errand, all would have been settled very satisfactorily. Despite his slightly stodgy personality, I think he would have made you a good husband. You two would have settled down together and, as even your author has to admit, you would have grown more like one another as the years went on. You would have adopted some of his opinions, and when he got too serious, he would have benefited from being gently teased by his charming wife, especially as there was never anything coarse or sharp in your verbal repartee. As a couple, you would have been very much like Elizabeth and Darcy, in fact.
It must be galling for you to see little Fanny Price succeed where you failed. You never thought of her as a love rival, and to be quite honest, whatever her own secret desires may have been, I don’t think Edmund ever could love her the way he loved you. It’s not that easy to change cousinly love into conjugal love, despite any amount of sitting under trees and telling yourself that you now prefer light eyes. The physical attraction Edmund felt for you was palpable to all who read your story. He loved to observe the play of your features, and he was thrilled when you took his arm and he felt physical contact with you for the first time. Of course, men are often misled by their eyes into marrying very silly wives, but that would not have been the case with you two. Edmund also appreciated your cleverness, obligingness, quick wits and alluring conversation. He would never have found you boring as a wife. And think how he would have enjoyed listening to you play the harp when he relaxed in the evening after a hard day’s sermonising or sick-visiting his parishioners.
All that held him back from following his heart were some rather ridiculous scruples. You spoke slightly disrespectfully of both your uncle the Admiral and your brother-in-law Dr Grant. But that showed good judgement on your part. Dr Grant was a selfish idle bon vivant and you were perfectly justified in disliking his imperfect treatment of his very amenable wife, your beloved sister. As for the Admiral, again it shows your own warmth of heart and loyal feelings that you resented the failings you observed in him as a husband to your dear aunt, and that when he introduced a mistress under his roof, you fled. Your morality can hardly be in question, and really the worst that Edmund could accuse you of is calling the adultery of Maria and Henry folly instead of suffering those sick shudderings of horror which afflicted Fanny when she heard of it. Edmund can be a little tiresome in that way, and you did try to bring him round with your saucy smile, but unfortunately on that occasion it only made things worse.
The warmth of your heart and loyalty to all those you love is evident in all your close relationships, with your brother and sister and aunt, but most commendably in your growing friendship with Fanny. You befriended and defended her when nobody else did, not in order to make yourself agreeable to Edmund, but because you felt genuine sympathy and pity for someone whom almost everybody else overlooked. Considering that Fanny never showed much gratitude towards you, I think that is evidence of real goodness on your part. You warned Henry not to hurt her by flirting lightly with her, and then, when he had fallen seriously in love with her, you were genuinely delighted for them both. You have a generous spirit, which is more than can be said for Fanny, however correct her opinions may be.
You even have the merit of being loyal to your old friends, though the better taste you acquired at Mansfield has quite properly lessened them in your esteem – another sign of good judgment. You were rather astonished when you found yourself attracted in the first place by a younger son without worldly prospects, but it is to your credit that Edmund’s probity appealed so deeply to you. Your attempts to make him change his mind about his profession were perhaps ill-judged, but you are not to be criticised too severely for trying. You were being true to yourself in staking your last like the woman of spirit that you are. But as it happens, I think your feelings for him were only deepened by his steadfastness on this important point. You would have lost respect for him had he given in to your rather unfocussed persuasions. Like other very feminine women, you like a fundamentally strong man. It is one thing during the days of courtship to enjoy bending his sturdy spirit to yours, and to revel in the delicious proofs of your influence; but you would not have liked a husband who was easily led, by yourself or by anybody else. Although you were first inclined to deplore Sir Thomas’s strict authority as the head of his household, in the end you had to admit to Fanny that he was in fact your model of a good husband.
Well, Mary, it was not to be, and you and Edmund never did teach the world what connubial happiness is. But I hope you find plenty of consolations in your life in London with your sister. Many women would envy your lifestyle. Now that Dr Grant is so conveniently out of the way, you two women can do what you like, especially as you have plenty of money between you. I imagine you in a very charming Georgian town house, going about in your own carriage – perhaps a very pretty landaulette.
There will be the additional pleasure sometimes of Henry’s company, and for variety maybe he will escort you from time to time on holidays by the sea or in the country – although I know you are not fond of sea breezes, and you have never shown much interest in Norfolk. Too flat, perhaps.
If I were you, I would not be in too much of a hurry to let any of those dashing representatives or idle heirs apparent attracted by your beauty get their hands on your twenty thousand pounds. In fact, do you really need to be married at all? You are not cut out for housekeeping, and I can’t see you wanting to endure childbirth too often. In that sense, perhaps you had a lucky escape even from Edmund. Clergymen always have large families.
What you truly need is some engrossing outlet for your abilities, which are very considerable. That was why you took to acting with such relish and such success. You liked to try your powers in something new. Your talents are for the light and lively, your interests are men and women. Edmund said you read character well. It is clear that you have in you the making of a good novelist. Having some serious work to turn to every day, creating your own imaginary world to delight your mind, will surely be the very best way to put Edmund out of your head. And to get your own back on your author, perhaps, dear Mary." END QUOTE BY MAGGIE LANE
My only comment to Maggie Lane re the above is that if she had been able to get a little further outside the box of Austen orthodoxy, and see that Mary is bisexual and in love with Fanny Price, and that Mary's "rears and vices" pun is her blowing the whistle on sexual blackmail in the naval promotions racket, among other things, then she'd realize that Jane Austen really did love Mary Crawford and did not deny her a happy ending after all.
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