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A character’s views on morality and material gain seem to form the distinction between being a “good” or “bad” character in Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. By conducting a character analysis of Lady Bertram, Mary Crawford, and Sir Thomas, one can glean the true, didactic purpose of Mansfield Park, especially when the values of these characters are contrasted with the pristine morality of Fanny Price. Sir Thomas, for instance (despite his already morally questionable slave plantations in Antigua), magnanimously offers releasing Maria Bertram, his daughter, from her engagement to the dull yet wealthy Rushworth. However, once Maria opts to remain in her engagement, the insincerity of Sir Thomas’ offer becomes apparent, since he feels “happy to escape the embarrassing evils of such a rupture, the wonder, the reflections, the reproach that must attend it, happy to secure a marriage which would bring him such an addition of respectability and influence” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 21). Not only is he relieved to avoid the embarrassment breaking off an engagement would bring, he is also relieved that the wedding will continue because it will bring him influence, power, and money. Thus, Sir Thomas prioritizes material gain over the happiness of his daughter. This mentality strikes again when he tries to force the marriage of Fanny and Henry Crawford. When Fanny says that she could not make Henry happy and that she would be miserable for the rest of her life, Sir Thomas replies:
“… I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper, self-conceit…The advantage or disadvantage of your family…never seems to have had a moment’s share in your thoughts on th is occasion. How they might be benefited… throwing away from you such an opportunity of being settled in life…Fanny, that you may [never be] addressed by a man of half Mr. Crawford’s estate, or a tenth part of his merits” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 32).
Sir Thomas cannot fathom why Fanny would put principles/happiness over material gain, and interprets her refusal as, at best, a bout of ungratefulness and, at worst, a temporary fit of hysteria. When viewed with a contemporary eye, this situation can only be seen in Fanny’s favor. However, one can only wonder whether Fanny putting affection over avarice would indeed be seen as a selfish act during the Victorian era. Sir Thomas’ wife, Lady Bertram, puts this belief much more plainly than her husband does. Lady Bertram, in speaking with Fanny, says “if you were married to a man of such good estate as Mr. Crawford…you must be aware, Fanny, that it is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable o ffer as this” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 33). Even these two opinions could be dismissed as the outdated beliefs of the older generation, but in analyzing the mindset of Mary Crawford, we start to wonder if Fanny might be the only one in the wrong, or the only one in the right. I would argue that Mary Crawford is the main foil character used to highlight Fanny’s pure morality. Mary Crawford, though clearly intellectually superior to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, is a staunch believer in marrying for money; she is of the opinion that “everybody [should] marry if they can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can d o it to advantage” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 4). Mary Crawford seems to be of the opinion that, if marriage does not serve the purpose of material gain, then it has not been done “properly”.
Fanny, however, is unlike all of the Bertrams and Crawfords. After her uncle’s scolding on the matter of marriage to Henry Crawford, her principles are not shaken. In fact, she “trusted, in the first place, that she had done right: that her judgment had not misled her. For the purity of her intentions she could answer; and she was willing to hope, secondly, that her uncle’s displeasure…would abate farther as he…felt, as a good man must feel, how wretched… and how wicked it was to m arry without affection” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 32). She wholeheartedly believes in the direction of her moral compass. Though superior in morality, Fanny’s principles make her dull company: she looks down on her cousins for engaging in theater/entertainment. However, since Fanny ends up in mutual love with Edmund while Mary ends up cast out of Mansfield Park and the Bertrams socially disgraced, perhaps Fanny’s iron-clad morality was the only true path. By giving Fanny her happy ending and the rest of the characters misfortune, Austen seems to support the idea that putting material gain before morality can only end in disaster.
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