A comparison between the characters Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park and Darcy of Pride and Prejudice

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This is a lightly-edited version of a posting to the AUSTEN-L mailing list.

Date: Sun, 11 Aug 1996 07:36:33 EDT
From: Bethany Grenald
Subject: Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice -- Structural parallels and oppositions

While rereading Mansfield Park recently, I saw some interesting structural parallels between the developing Fanny / Henry Crawford relationship there, and the developing Lizzy/Darcy relationship in Pride and Prejudice. The differences in the outcomes relate to the differences in the characters, and I think the differences expose a bit about the characters' personalities. So here are the parallels (this may not look good if your WWW browser does not support tables):

1. There is mutual affection between Henry Crawford and Fanny Price's family (the Bertrams) at Mansfield Park.
1. There is mutual antagonism between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet's family at Longbourn.
2. Henry Crawford has manners almost universally admired.
2. Darcy has manners almost universally despised.
3. Henry Crawford's real feelings and behavior are quite different (he is secretly contemptuous of Maria & Julia, and tries to gain their affections just for fun).
3. Darcy's real feelings and behavior are pretty similar ("disguise of every sort is my abhorrence"; he makes no attempt to gain anyone's good opinion).
4. Henry Crawford decides for his own amusement to make Fanny Price fall in love with him.
4. Darcy tries to prevent his falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet.
5. It is hinted that the ball at Mansfield Park is the last straw that makes Henry Crawford decide to propose to Fanny Price.
5. It's hinted that one of the reasons (beyond the Jane/Bingley affair) that makes Darcy resolve to leave Hertford after the Netherfield ball, is that he danced with Elizabeth Bennet for first time there, causing him to fall more deeply in love.
6. The ball at Mansfield Park is followed by the exit of Henry Crawford, so that he can do a good deed for the heroine's sibling (i.e. get William Price made Lieutenant).
6. The ball at Netherfield is followed by the exit of Darcy, so he can do a bad deed for the heroine's sibling (break up Jane & Bingley).
7. Fanny Price dislikes Henry Crawford partly because of his treatment of her "sister" (Maria Bertram).
7. Elizabeth Bennet dislikes Darcy partly because of his treatment of her sister (Jane Bennet).
8. Henry Crawford proposes, and Fanny Price can't believe he would be interested in someone like her. Fanny Price questions Henry Crawford's sincerity.
8. Darcy proposes, and he can't believe he'd be interested in someone like her. Darcy's sincerity is never questioned.
9. After rejection, Henry Crawford becomes more determined, and spends more time with Fanny Price.
9. After rejection, Darcy goes away.
10. Fanny Price tells Henry Crawford why she doesn't like him, and he makes light of it. Neither learns or changes as a result of their interactions.
10. Elizabeth Bennet tells Darcy why she doesn't like him, and he takes the criticism deadly seriously. He issues an explanation (his letter) that starts her on the path of self-discovery, and him similarly.
11. The separation of Fanny Price & Henry Crawford involves a correspondence of questionable propriety (he actually writes in Mary Crawford's letters to her), and continued urgings on his part which demonstrate his continued ill behavior.
11. The separation of Elizabeth Bennet & Darcy involves no communication, but both seriously mull over the comments of the other.
12. Fanny Price goes on vacation to her relatives (her family at Portsmouth).
12. Heroine goes on vacation with her relatives (the Gardiners, to Derbyshire).
13. Her re-encounter with relatives (her parents and siblings at Portsmouth) is supposed to make Fanny Price reconsider her opinion of Henry Crawford, but it doesn't work.
13. Her re-encounter with relatives (her parents and siblings at Longbourn, after her return from Hunsford) makes Elizabeth Bennet see some merit in Darcy's view.
14. Fanny Price & Henry Crawford meet up at her childhood home; his softened manner surprises and pleases Fanny Price. His kind treatment of her low relatives also pleases her. But he refuses a more intimate acquaintance with them. The meeting is by design.
14. Elizabeth Bennet meets up with Darcy at his childhood home; his softened manner surprises and pleases Elizabeth Bennet. His kind treatment of her (in his earlier opinion) low relatives also pleases her. He invites further acquaintance. The meeting is by accident.
15. Henry Crawford is all consideration and politeness to Fanny's extremely low family at Portsmouth; his reaction to meeting Fanny Price's parents is concern for her well-being, so that he wants to "take her away from all this" (and convey her back to Mansfield Park).
[15. This is out of order in the Pride and Prejudice sequence of events: Darcy is all prideful coldness and scorn to Lizzy's ill-behaved but still fairly respectable family at Longbourn. Darcy's reaction to seeing more of Lizzy's family at the Netherfield ball is disgust, and a desire to remove himself from their presence.]
16. Fanny Price hopes his more softened manner will result in Henry Crawford leaving her alone.
16. Elizabeth Bennet starts to hope Darcy will pay her more attention.
17. An old problem comes back to haunt Henry Crawford (his treatment of Maria Bertram).
17. An old problem comes back to haunt Darcy (his treatment of the Wickham-Georgiana affair).
18. Visit to Portsmouth finally ended by an elopement: the elopement of the heroine's "sister" (Maria / Mrs. Rushworth) and the rejected suitor (Henry Crawford) causes the true character of her suitor to be revealed, ending that relationship and helping bring about the marriage of the heroine.
18. Visit to Derbyshire cut short by an elopement: the elopement of the heroine's sister (Lydia) and a jilting suitor (Wickham) seems to end the relationship with rejected suitor Darcy, but really causes Darcy's true character to be revealed, helping bring about the marriage of the heroine.

Those are all the parallels I can think of right now. In short, the parallels show that even though Darcy and Crawford may both be equally devoted and in love, Crawford's lack of anything more than superficial repentance means his love causes only superficial changes in his character. While Darcy faces up to his past misjudgements, Henry Crawford does not (he just continues down his old road of seduction, determined to make women who don't love him come to love him, for his own amusement). It's interesting, because you can see from the parallels how Mansfield Park could have ended differently, if Henry Crawford had behaved differently earlier. But at so many key points, he behaves unlike Darcy, setting the stage for the denoument of Mansfield Park. So the ending is not a surprise, because (unlike mediocre writers who just have events happen, and their characters react to the events like puppets) Austen has events clearly occur due to the flaws in her characters, which you can find evidence of throughout the novel. You can also see how much Henry Crawford's positive qualities are smoke and mirrors, impressing those around him, without deep substance, while Darcy's good qualities are hidden by his inconsiderate manners, and need encouragement to be developed a bit. Darcy doesn't need to be told what is right, just what is considerate, while Henry Crawford is all consideration and politeness, but claims to need Fanny Price to tell him what is right. Also, it should be mentioned that, similar to the way in which Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy help change each other (despite Darcy's rude comments to Lizzy, he does take her seriously, and follows her advice), Fanny Price does deliver some quite pointed comments to Henry Crawford (in spite of her insecure manner and lack of self-worth) -- it's just that despite his love of her, he doesn't take them seriously enough. For that matter, no one takes Fanny seriously -- she expresses her concerns to Edmund, and he doesn't take her seriously, and she knows no one else will, so she doesn't even bother telling others. In that respect, Fanny is a Cassandra (ahem) character, sure how things will turn out, but heeded by no one.

Here's an excerpt from another posting to AUSTEN-L, comparing rejected suitors in Jane Austen's novels (including Henry Crawford and Darcy):

Date: Sun, 21 Apr 1996 18:00:48 EST
From: Carolyn Nelson
Subject: Rejected Suitors

I don't see Mr. Collins [of Pride and Prejudice] as being malicious after Elizabeth's rejection, but behaving rather the way people act whose pride has been wounded (happy to be the first to be engaged, eager to show off his home and position). One of Austen's other rejected suitors, Mr. Elton, goes more out of his way to snub and humiliate Emma. As a first cut, I would put the rejected suitors on the following continuum, purely as regards their behavior towards the rejector:

Henry Crawford (pressure and deception)
John Thorpe (his shenanigans almost ruin everything)
Mr. Elton (he just seems to have a mean streak)
Mr. Collins (too stupid to realize)
Captain Wentworth (he does say some unkind things about Anne Elliot)
Edward Ferrars (the passive)
James Morland (well rid of Isabella Thorpe)
Charles Musgrove (nothing to reproach vis-à-vis Anne Elliot)
Robert Martin (the saint)
...and our overachiever on the heroic side, Mr. Darcy

Have I forgotten anyone? It is interesting that in Pride and Prejudice we get to see the reactions of two suitors rejected by the same heroine side by side. That Mr. Collins rejoices in his escape from the disgrace of being connected with Elizabeth, makes Darcy's efforts on Lydia's behalf -- and the renewal of his proposal to Elizabeth -- all the more touching and "romantic".

Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 02:09:10 -0500
From: Henry Churchyard

Cassia Van Arsdale wrote:

What is your argument to prove Henry Crawford more blame-worthy than Maria?

Well, neither of them is a prizewinner in the ethics and character department, but Henry Crawford is fully emotionally in control of himself at all times as far as Maria and Julia are concerned, and never does anything out pique or spite or sudden impulse; Maria Bertram has nothing like his detachment in self-conciously planning beforehand to play a double game for the cynical amusement of it.

Anyway, to my mind Henry Crawford is really a kind of "anti-rake" (to coin a word on the analogy of anti-hero) -- instead of seducing and ruining in a grand manner, he merely gets all his little kicks and petty triumphs out of flirting with somewhat silly and spiteful Misses whom he doesn't really want to get any more deeply involved with (whom he doesn't even really like, when you get right down to it); and his one great misadventure with Maria / Mrs. Rushworth is the result of something getting much more serious than he had intended it to, and the affair is launched entirely on her initiative, and he weakly allows it to spin out of his control. (If he had resolutely acted to repulse and return Mrs. Rushworth the very minute she arrived on his doorstep, instead of irresolutely or complaisantly delaying, he might have made the Bertrams grateful to him for scotching any public scandal -- though Mrs. Rushworth would have been in private disgrace with her family and in-laws -- and he could have very well have salvaged his chance to marry Fanny, and Mary's to marry Edmund.) I think he cuts a somewhat contemptible (rather than dangerous) figure in the Mrs. Rushworth affair (the rake cut down to size.)

That's the other side of Henry C.'s personality -- he's in full emotional control when he conducts his flirtations, but he's very weak about giving in to the temptations to conduct his flirtations, even when he knows there are good reasons why he shouldn't... I believe someone did say something once about the "freaks of a cold-blooded vanity" ;-)

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