I love thoughtful reviews like this one: it critiqued, analyzed, and dissected my book … yet still enjoyed my book and thought it was well written!
Carole in Canada on April 20, 2017:
In order to fully appreciate this book, I re-read Mansfield Park for the second time after many years. I liked the book the first time I read it but didn’t particularly love it. The second reading, just a few weeks ago along with being more cognizant of Jane Austen, her life and her writings, I appreciated it even more for all the nuances and background that an older, dare I say, wiser/mature Jane had written.
Now for an author to take this more serious and some what darker novel and give us the story from Mary Crawford’s point of view was an ambitious endeavor indeed. I sincerely applaud Ms. Kramer for this well researched and well written novel. I am glad I read the paperback version as it allowed me to bend the corner of a page in order to return to the sentence or paragraph that stood out to me or wanted to reference in my review. Little did I know how many pages were going to be bent and there is no way I can capture all of it here. I also think that re-reading Mansfield Park allowed me to ‘see/understand’ even more in this one.
I must say, I did enjoy this story from Mary’s perspective and being inside her head. The strong familial bond between Mary and her brother, Henry, was at the heart of this story. Mary is well-read, intelligent, charming, and vivacious beauty. Some say she is similar to Elizabeth Bennet with her sparkling wit. In my opinion, Mary is a bit bolder and more worldly than Elizabeth and that gave her a harder more seasoned edge.
Mary speaking to her sister Mrs. Grant: “I have read too much; I am a rationalist. It is indelicate for a woman to be as impervious to feeling as I am. I flatter myself that I am sensible rather than sardonic, but I am lacking in that sensibility that is so valued in our sex. I am not romantic. I find nothing to admire in a consumptive poet or bloodthirsty revolutionary. My pragmatism would always triumph over idealism.”
“Her place in society was everything to her. The idea of becoming an object of ridicule, to lose her place as a leader of fashion and conversation among her set, filled her stomach with a cold ball of dread…”
I must insert here one of the many quotes that jumped out at me, but this one made me laugh: Mrs. Grant to Mary: “You are wise to be cautious. They say that if a woman overindulges in scholarly pursuits, it can prevent her from having a family later in life. It can warp the more delicate feminine organs.”
The arrival of the Crawfords to Mansfield Parsonage seriously upsets the quiet life at Mansfield Park and throws it into a tailspin. Between Mary and Henry’s sparkling personalities not only are the women in a flutter but so are the men…Edmund Bertram most of all. Julia and Maria Bertram vie for Henry’s attentions and he decides to flirt with them to make them love him. Fanny at this point is ‘just there’. However, Mary does warn him early on and this continues throughout the book so you know something is going to happen i.e.:
“Lady Stornoway is still in love with you and jealous as the devil of all your amours. You should really be more careful when you make women attached to you, Henry. It might get you into real trouble someday.” and…
“Perhaps, but Maria Bertram’s vanity is not a trivial concern. She is good company, but her conceit is a colossus that could bestride the earth. You may regret having called the giant’s notice to you, Henry.”
Henry Crawford must have all women ‘love’ him and they do. He is intelligent, rich and good looking but also selfish and thoughtless. But Mary describes him best: “Henry is one of the most sought after men in London. Oh! If you knew how many woman – lovely and accomplished women – had set their caps for him you would be astounded. If he were a deer he would be a twelve-point buck that everyone wished to bag.” Another quote I feel explains Henry well is from himself:
“If Mrs. Rushworth, while still Maria Bertram, had acted more liker her cousin Miss Price – if she had shown more resistance to blandishments, and given her fiance the consideration Miss Price always gave the poor man, in short, acted with more real feeling – I would not have toyed with her to such an extent. Her impropriety fed my mischievousness.” In other words, it’s not my fault!
Once he sets his sights on Fanny and she finds him wanting, in my opinion, he sees it as a challenge that he cannot lose. As Fanny says, “I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman’s feelings; and there may often be a great deal more suffered than a stander-by can judge of.” She may be a ‘country mouse’ but Fanny wasn’t ignorant.
Even Mary thinks Henry will have a mistress before his first year of marriage will be over; but she hopes he will keep Fanny in the dark about it. She also believes her future husband will take a mistress. So here I must take my 20th/21st century views and put them on the back burner. This was a common practice in the ‘ton’. It was also a common standard that most of those marriages were more business arrangements than not. In my humble opinion, I do think Miss Austen herself is calling out ‘society’ here. Henry is his own worst enemy, but he will come out smelling like a rose in the end through the efforts of sister, Mary.
Edmund on the other hand is in awe of Mary and pictures her as the ideal woman. However, he never comes to the point of declaring his feelings to her. He finds her intelligent but knows she doesn’t approve of his choice of career to become a man of the cloth. He also feels he can change her opinions.
“While he continued to believe Miss Crawford was completely wrong to have sympathy for the Luddites, Edmund was in love with her and therefore made excuses for her erroneous thinking. Her misunderstandings of right and her inability to comprehend the superiority of English law were doubtlessly the effects of being improperly instructed by her aunt and uncle. She had not been taught that there should be no mercy regarding violence or rebellion in the lower classes. However, Edmund gave Mary credit for having a fine mind, and was sanguine that he could teach her how to think correctly; that over time and with patience all her thoughts and opinions would begin to align with his own.” (Arrogance or Ignorance?)
This book and Mansfield Park are a wealth of information. They made me analyze more the vast gulf of differences between those brought up not only in wealth but in ‘society’ in general and those who lead quiet more reflective lives in the country. The dialogues and descriptions are well executed and seamless as is the story.
There are so many points I could continue to add, but I highly recommend that you read it for yourself so you can decide if Fanny Price’s happily-ever after came at Mary’s expense? Do I like Mary Crawford any more or less after reading this? No, but I do understand her better. I would also love to read where she goes from here.