This page contains a passage from Chapter 7 of Mansfield Park on Mary Crawford's harp playing, comments by Ellen Moody of the JANEITES mailing list, and various illustrations of harp-playing Regency ladies.
"Miss Crawford's attractions did not lessen. The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good-humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness, with an expression and taste which were peculiarly becoming, and there was something clever to be said at the close of every air. Edmund was at the Parsonage every day, to be indulged with his favourite instrument: one morning secured an invitation for the next; for the lady could not be unwilling to have a listener, and every thing was soon in a fair train.
A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at. Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love; and to the credit of the lady it may be added that, without his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen, and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule: he talked no nonsense; he paid no compliments; his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself. She did not think very much about it, however: he pleased her for the present; she liked to have him near her; it was enough.
Fanny could not wonder that Edmund was at the Parsonage every morning; she would gladly have been there too, might she have gone in uninvited and unnoticed, to hear the harp; [...]"
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 22:44:01
From: Ellen Moody
Subject: Music and Jane Austen's heroines: Mary Crawford
Mary Crawford's playing on the harp is an erotic image: there are pictures in the period which show a lady in a low-cut white dress looking very sensual as she plays the harp. Edmund is attracted to her as a sexual object more than as a companion; in fact, they don't get along very well once they get to serious talking.
Click on thumbnails to see the full-size images.
Music teacher's "trade card" ca. 1800:
Detail from Rowlandson illustration of a musical party, ca. 1810:
An 1819 fashion plate of an evening dress, from Ackermann's Repository:
A smaller color scan of this same plate is also available.
"Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely", portrait by Thomas Sully, 1818:
Portrait of Mrs. Richard Crowninshield Derby as St. Cecilia, by John Singleton Copely, 1803-1804:
Self-portrait of Rose Adélaïde Ducreux with harp, ca. 1791:
A woodcut illustration by Joan Hassall (even shows Mrs. Grant's tambour frame) -- "A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself... was enough to catch any man's heart."
Turn of the century C.E. Brock illustration of Edmund and Mary (caption: "Indulged with his favourite instrument"):
A larger version of the preceding image:
The harp pic to beat all harp pics (photo from a Busby Berkeley spectacular -- Fashions of 1934? -- nothing to do with Mansfield Park or the Regency period, but still interesting).