Both Laurie Campbell and Brooke Kolosa Church express dissatisfaction with what they see as the blackening of anti-hero in several of Austen's novels just before he is dismissed from the stage, with, in the cases of Willoughby, Wickham, and William Elliot, an ironic flourish, and, in the case of Henry Crawford, a meditative piece of rueful sympathy qualified by a stern judgement he deserved his loss.
I am not dissatisfied because I don't agree with some of the assumptions behind Laurie's original argument. I don't see the presentation of Willoughby or Wickham or Elliot or Crawford as excessive at all. In my view if anything Austen has been careful to show us those aspects of each of these men (even Elliot where the portrait is truncated, not finished) which humanize them. In other words, I take a darker view of people.
I am also not at all uncomfortable at Austen's reiterated assertion (the narrator repeats this idea in a number of places) that Fanny could have and would have fallen in love with and married Henry Crawford if either he had managed to keep hidden the less "amiable" (in the full 18th century sense of the word-- meaning real sensitivity to the needs of those you are tied to, and action based on this), the less amiable aspects of his character or had not found himself unable to resist Maria's demand he take her off with him away from Rushworth. Austen has never idealized Fanny: Fanny has no crystal ball to look inside Henry Crawford's mind at Portsmouth. She is also a displaced person with no dowry and if you will with no contract signed by Sir Thomas that he will keep her forever, if she wanted to be kept forever. Of course Fanny wants love, children, a place for Susan too. Henry and she are equally intelligent; she sees this. He appreciates her character and values what she values. I think Austen makes it clear that Edmund and Mary Crawford would have been a mismatched couple as the years went by, but, as in the case of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, leaves the imagined future for Henry and Fanny ambiguous.
My sense of it is he would have grown bored, and made Fanny deeply unhappy for their middle years because she is not sufficiently calculating to know how to tie him to her indespite of his roving instincts. (The only heroine in all Austen who seems to know about sexual bonding as way of holding someone to you is Lady Susan; again there are hints in the character of Mrs Clay, but she too is an unfinished portrait.) But that she would have been better off without him is an assertion that depends on a sentimental idea of what makes for happiness. Fanny at 27 would have been in a far worse position than Charlotte Lucas.
I am also puzzled at the problem as Laurie puts it. If Laurie agrees that Austen is not primarily moral or teaching a lesson, why would her shaping a narrative in a realistic way bother her. (Remember I have argued above that the fictions are realistic, that I don't see Austen as either blackening or directing her characters against their natures and circumstances as set up in the novels.) Here I'd like to say that when I said I agreed with Eva Sedgwick that people all too often fall into the language of the schoolmistress I didn't mean I don't think Austen is moral or doesn't mean to teach a lesson sometimes. What is silly is when we talk of characters as directly role models or as if we are closely analogous to them. The deepest pleasures of Austen's text are for me the deep emotional undercurrents of her texts all the more powerful because understated, subtle, true to life; but I would not deny that she often writes as a satirist. The obverse of the sermon is a satire. Moreover, Austen's instinct is to go for the jugular when she does want to bring something home to us about ourselves, though I am not sure she ever thought anyone would really be improved by reading her novels. That is a Victorian thought.
Then I wrote again a little later in response to some objections to the above:
Perhaps I should expatiate on why I wrote "I think Austen makes it clear that Edmund and Mary Crawford would have been a mismatched as the years went by."
I see Mary as growing very restless and bored with, and as increasingly ashamed of her position as a very middling country clergyman's wife. I take all the needling dialogues throughout the novel to be a foreshadowing of what her conversation would have increasingly become as the euphoria of early love wore thin. I see him as equally bored and ashamed, but in the one case with her lack of interest in books or landscape or anything serious (the economy, slavery, whatever), and in the other with her attitudes which as a clergyman would pain and distress him. I find his morality too severe, too narrow, and obtuse, but his views are an important part of him. She might have driven him to reside in London, and he would have been miserable and made her miserable. Had they stayed in the country, it would have been no better.
I have always thought there are a number of analogies between the couples in MP. We have discussed the similarities and contrasts between Henry and Maria and Henry and Fanny. There is also an analogy between Henry and Maria and Mary and Edmund: the attraction in both cases is sexual, physical, and when the first glories dissipate, and one sees clearly, and disillusion sets in, I see Mary and Edmund as at much at odds with one another as Maria and Henry became, with the difference that Mary and Edmund would have been stuck.