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|Maria only imagines she is a professional heartbreaker
Written by Margaret C
(6/27/2013 3:00 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, The Crawfords' motives, penned by Therese
It is she, not Crawford, who contrives to procure the general invitation to Southerton in Ch.6 with her coy "The avenue! Oh! I do not recollect it. I really know very little of Sotherton." and "declaring that, in her opinion, it was infinitely better to consult with friends and disinterested advisers, than immediately to throw the business into the hands of a professional man". Julia and Mrs Norris play a part in the scheme too, but it was Maria who had influence over Rushworth, and "Miss Bertram’s attention and opinion was evidently his chief aim"
Mary Crawford is thrown into the company of Edmund and Fanny by the self-absorption of her other companions. Tom Bertram has left to follow his own selfish pursuits; Julia's attention is directed to Henry; Maria is suspiciously silent, contributing only what she must, as briefly and coolly as she can; Rushworth is full of his own plans; Mrs Norris, full of improvements on Rushworth's plans; Dr Grant primarily occupied by food; what with attending Lady Bertram and Mr Rushworth, appeasing Mrs Norris and Dr Grant, match-making Henry and Julia, Mrs Grant is busy with the demands of the upper end of the table; and Mary can't expect much from Lady Bertram, who is in any case at an inconvenient distance.
(By the way: My idea of the seating plan for this meal, working clockwise from Lady B, is: Dr Grant, Mrs Norris, Henry Crawford, Julia, Mary Crawford, Edmund, Fanny, Maria, Mrs Grant, Mr Rushworth.
But more particularly than any of these friends, Henry has quite forgotten her. She makes increasingly desperate calls for him to rescue her from the conversational quicksands ("Henry is different; he loves to be doing."..."Henry, who is good–nature itself, has offered to fetch it in his barouche."..."What strange creatures brothers are!"...), but this normally attentive brother is unusually taciturn tonight, attending to others only when addressed directly, and herself not at all. (In my version of the story, he is positioned to stare vacantly across the table, silently wrapt in contemplation of the undevoured Happiness before him. Either that, or distracted by a lady's satin slipper stroking his leg.)
Mary did not go to this dinner at all attracted to Edmund. She was determined to miss Tom Bertram and "fully expecting to feel a most melancholy difference in the change of masters." At the beginning of the meal, she is so far from interested in talking to him, that she consciously decides to turn away from him, or rather, to point her nose towards the money. "She must try to find amusement in what was passing at the upper end of the table, and in observing Mr. Rushworth, who was now making his appearance at Mansfield for the first time since the Crawfords’ arrival."
And so she does, but Fanny and Edmund are the only people in striking range, willing to converse with her, although her attempts to spice up the conversation fall flat, and her spirit and wit only baffles and offends them. The effect of this awkward dinner seems to foreshadow her brothers first attempt to amuse Fanny in Ch.24: "I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this."
Luckily for her, Edmund is already "much disposed to admire" Miss Crawford, and it seems his reflections on the impropriety of what she said are hypocritically pursued in the next chapter largely to recall her pretty face and lively manner, and the transcendent fact that she actually noticed him. If Henry had been his normal, attentive self, Edmund would not have had much to reflect upon.
The one thing that Edmund and Mary do seem in tacit agreement on, is Fanny's suggestion that the proposed 'improvements' are unlikely to improve the avenue, and her desire to see it before it is gone, although they both attempt to speak approvingly of renovations. There is foreshadowing here too, as Mary casually mentions that her uncle has an empty love-shack in Twickenham.
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