Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Six.

June 21, 2007 § Leave a comment

Due to his wealth, status and power, there is little in the way of physical punishment that could be handed down to Henry Crawford for his adulterous affair with Maria. Unlike his unfortunate guilty partner, there is no one with the power to shut him up in a far off cottage for the rest of his life, nor would society want them to. The sexual conduct of men was not judged by the same standards. Indeed, during Mary and Edmund’s final interview, where she hopes for a marriage between the sinners, she only speaks of Maria’s being able to recover her reputation, of her not being admitted into society, of her situation inciting compassion, because Maria’s situation is one of powerlessness and Henry’s is –unchanged. His uncle may well have had some financial power over him but, given the Admiral’s own lechery, it’s not likely that his nephew’s would be a reason for him to exercise it. Crawford’s income, his freedom and his character are preserved, no doubt suffering nothing worse from his fellow man than a few less invitations.

It would have been justifiable however and not entirely unexpected for Sir Thomas or Edmund to challenge Crawford to a duel for his dishonorable conduct with their kinswoman. We know that in Sense & Sensibility there is a meeting between Willoughby & Colonel Brandon after Willoughby’s seduction and abandonment of Eliza and in Pride & Prejudice also, Mrs Bennet expresses a fear that her husband will duel with Wickham, the seducer of their daughter Lydia. But the Bertram men are not the dueling type, decorum weighs more for them than ego, and no such meeting befalls Crawford.

And though he suffers no physical or financial consequences, it is in the narrative’s power to deal a more serious and lasting blow to Henry Crawford, in the loss of Fanny. Had he not acted on motives of vanity and lust, in ‘the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him.’ It is with Fanny as his wife that Crawford would have become the man he had potential to be, and given his lack of respect for any woman but her, there is little chance of marital happiness for him with another. The narrative makes it clear that before the scandal broke publicly, Crawford had hoped to get clear of Maria and marry Fanny, whom he is very much in love with, but in Mansfield Park, consequence must be reaped from sowing so very many seeds. For Henry Crawford there is ‘wretchedness’ in the outcome, and the knowledge that it was he who robbed him of his own future happiness, perhaps for life. Here there is ‘self-approach’, ‘vexation and regret’, and even Mary has the clarity to observe that her brother has ‘thrown away such a woman as he will never see again’.

To be continued


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