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Mary Crawford: The Satisfying Heroine Essay

1640 words - 7 pages

In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen presents her readers with a dilemma: Fanny Price is the heroine of the story, but lacks the qualities Jane Austen usually presents in her protagonists, while Mary Crawford, the antihero, has these qualities. Mary is active, effective, and witty, much like Austen’s heroines Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet. Contrasting this is Fanny, who is timid, complacent, and dull. Austen gives Mary passages of quick, sharp, even occasionally shocking, dialogue, while Fanny often does not speak for pages at a time. When she does, her speeches are typically banal and forgettable. In Mansfield Park, Austen largely rests Fanny’s standing as protagonist on the fact that Fanny adheres to the moral standards of Austen’s era. Mary Crawford makes a more satisfying and appealing heroine but due to her modern-era sensibility and uncertain moral fiber, she cannot fulfill this role.
Part of what makes Mary Crawford an appealing candidate as a heroine of the story is her ability to take action. Throughout Mansfield Park, Mary is an energetic participant in the activities of Mansfield Park, such as taking part in many conversations, arguing her own point of view, riding horses, entertaining herself and others with her harp, and acting in Lover’s Vows. Fanny pales in comparison in terms of her level of activity. In regard to riding, Fanny is attended to when she rides, either by a groomsman or her cousins (Mansfield Park, 59). When Edmund decides to procure Fanny a horse, he does so in consideration of her health, not her happiness, as he means to “procure for Fanny the immediate means of exercise, which he could not bear she should be without” (Mansfield Park, 32). Edmund’s concern is that the horse is good for Fanny’s weak constitution, not that Fanny enjoys this method of physical activity. This is a reasonable assumption because Fanny usually “Sat at home the whole day with [Lady Bertram], or walked beyond her strength at the instigation of [Mrs. Norris],” without ever complaining or objecting to the manner in which she spent her days (Mansfield Park, 31). This would never do for Mary for, as she states herself, “Nothing ever fatigues [her] but doing what [she] does not like” (Mansfield Park, 61).
Mary’s willful nature and aversion to what she dislikes makes her an empowering figure because women in the Regency Era were often subjected to do what was proper, rather than what was of interest, and what was ‘proper’ usually meant a domestic activity, such as needlepoint or playing a musical instrument. When the young people at Mansfield Park decide to perform Lover’s Vows, Mary “accept[s] the part very readily,” while Fanny insists she “cannot act” in the play (Mansfield Park, 121, 128). Mary and Fanny’s attitudes towards acting in the play parallel their attitudes towards action in general. Mary is constantly seeking a source entertainment or activity. She also tries to take influence others, for example, attempting to convince...

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