Lovers' Vows and the Unmasking of the Actors
"What I find most fascinating about this part of the book is how by playing a part, the characters reveal more about their true selves. " Oh how true!!
We know that God only allows 'evil' for a greater good. I think Edmund falls while Fanny holds firm because this may be the first or greatest test of his fidelity to himself (detachment from other peoples opinions). Edmund has always enjoyed being an accepted member of the family. To overcome his natural affections for Mary and pleasing his family was too much for him. But the experience will strengthen him for future challenges. Fanny, on the other hand loves the family and does want to please them, but is well detached from their opinion of her and is able to stand firm in her convictions. Which also strengthens her for future challenges. Interesting, maybe in a way it doesn't matter if we fail or succeed as long as we learn from the experience 🤔
Edmund gives in because he is infatuated with Mary. I think the reason he gives of keeping the circle from getting larger is a rationalization, and it seems less likely he would have done it if the role hadn’t been Mary’s love interest. I love that Fanny doesn’t give in; it shows that shyness isn’t the same as weakness. It is possible to be a quiet person, and still be firm in your moral convictions.
Edmund gives in because he (like so many before and after him) keep wanting to convince himself that Mary will be the wife he wants her to be - he is already drawn to her, and keeps attempting to overlook her faults or excuse them away. While perhaps having a positive motive in not including others from outside the household in the play, his joining he cannot truly feel at peace with - and acknowledges as much upon his father’s return. “Fanny alone has been blameless throughout.” I think for me, Fanny is who we all aspire to be, in moral uprightness, but we all more or less end up (if we are lucky) in similar situations like Edmund.
Haley, I really appreciated your putting Maria and Julia’s relationship as you did - I had always seen them as competitors for Aunt Norris’ attention, with Maria’s motivation always to be better than Julia, and had subconsciously attributed it to sibling rivalry. But reading that they were simply members of the same club and had no sibling love or bond was eye-opening - it is so true. Maria thinks of no one but herself throughout, and Julia thinks only of Maria as a competitor. Thanks for the food for thought!
I do think there was nothing to be gained by Fanny putting aside her convictions to join in the acting. But Edmund (though not inconsequentially swayed by his feelings toward Mary Crawford) did prevent another male actor from being added into the delicate situation. I think that allowing another into the scheme would have been much more reprehensible to Sir Thomas on his return than it was for Edmund to be involved and take responsibility for his part. I think we can forgive Edmund his inconstancy in the face of allowing a random male acquaintance to see his sisters and female friend in a reputation-compromising situation.
So far, the only characters I've enjoyed in this book have been Edmund and Fanny. I was disappointed when Edmund wasn't able to stop them from putting on the play, but understood his reasoning for deciding to participate after all. He was trying to protect them as much as he possibly could. Your comment re the characters being revealed by the play is spot-on! I've been saddened at everyone's shallowness, at Mrs Norris's meddling because of her control issues, and the complete lack of parenting by Lady Bertram. I am hopeful that Edmund will regain his moral footing and be able to influence his family towards good.
I feel sorry for Henry & Mary Crawford because they have no moral foundation. They each act in whatever way seems best at the time. Both of them use the people around them, which just feels icky. Where is the strong character who is able to encourage those around him to be better?? I miss Mr. Knightley!!
To be vulnerable, this book has been triggering for me in Fanny's character and treatment not only by her immediate family but also these relatives who took her in. I found myself angry and sad last week as I read a lot to catch up, and had to take some time to figure out why. I was considering dropping the book but then decided to read a few good plot summaries to understand the story and where it was going. These discussion posts are so helpful, and I was especially looking forward to commenting on this one :)
Reading the book again this time, I was struck by how differently the movie portrayed Edmund's caving. I thought his reasons were actually pretty well-reasoned in the book--the desire not to bring in even more unmarried men into an already difficult-to-defend situation (difficult for the era at least).
I've only read Mansfield Park once and it was over ten years ago now, but I think the play is the most memorable part of the book. I still remember feeling uncomfortable with it the whole time I was reading. I was so proud of Fanny for sticking to her guns, but was miserable with her too.
I haven't been participating in the Austen book club this year because I had already made a pretty ambitious book list for myself before I found out you'd be doing this, but I've really enjoyed reading your reflections and the discussion in the comments. I was secretly hoping to join in for this one as I've only read it once (as opposed to all of Austen's other novels which I've read multiple times) but alas, you're reading it during the busiest month of the year for me. Haha! I'll definitely be coming back to these posts whenever I finally do get around to re-reading it. 🙂
Edmund’s inconsistency, to me, seems to have to do with romantic interest. Much like his thoughtlessness beforehand regarding Fanny in the woods or Fanny and the horse, when it comes to Mary Edmund seems to develop a little tunnel vision (although whenever things turn to religion, he seems able to right himself). He isn’t totally drawn in by her, but his trying to be near her does seem, at least to me, to be a source of inconsistency: the desire for romance versus his convictions, at least where they conflict.
Another point where acting reveals the inner workings of the characters- Anhalt, played by Edmund, was the tutor to Amelia, played by Mary. Anhalt is acknowledged by the characters the to have had taught Amelia her morals and ethics. She fell in love with him during her lessons.
Thus in the pairing of Edmond and Mary you have a parallel where Edmund has been trying to bring Mary along to a more principled outlook, but is unsuccessful and only compromises his own morals as they fall in infatuation with each other.
But all along there is Fanny. Fanny is the more true parallel to Amelia. Fanny like Amelia, is virtiuse and compassionate. She holds to her morals like Amelia does in offering charity to Frederick. And Fanny, like Amelia to Anhault, was receptive of Edmonds lessons and falls in love along the way.
Edmund does seem a bit concerned about his sisters' reputations, should another non-relative/close friend join in. How big is the threat to their reputations though?