The Unloved Maria and Lady Bertram's Cunning Awareness of Her Indifference to Maria

This is another post on how there is sympathy for Maria in Mansfield Park and how Lady Bertram's self-interested perception of what is going on around her and the effect of her own behavior goes unnoticed. In considering Maria's marriage to Mr Rushworth in Vol II, Ch 3 (Penguin Ch 21), found myself thinking about Maria's relationship to her biological or real mother, Lady Bertram and suddenly remembered one of those odd cunning comments of her which which suggest she understands her behavior all too perfectly and is simply herself basically amoral, something very common.

I suddenly remembered that Lady Bertram showed no enthusiasm or interest in Maria's great catch that we know of; that she did not attempt to stop her, and I suddenly remembered her really enthusiastic response to Crawford's proposal to Fanny.

When Sir Thomas tells her of it, she is chuffed, delighted, really pleased. She cannot refrain from speaking of it to Fanny at least "once." In addition she is so eager to see Fanny take the young man, she actually, or so the narrator says, produces the "only rule of conduct" she has offered to Fanny in 8 and one-half years: " And you must be aware, Fanny, that it is every young woman's duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this" (Penguin MP, Ch 32, p 321) . Perhaps seeing in Fanny's silent face a lack of reciprocal enthusiasm, to spur Fanny on she actually offers her a present. Yes. Now many readers will concentrate on the present itself, a pup out of Pug's next litter as part of an on-going sight joke (of sorts), but instead let us think about the reference to Maria and Lady Bertram's own behavior upon the occasion of Maria's marriage to Rushworth:

"'And I will tell you what, Fanny, which is more than I did for Maria: the next time Pug has a litter you shall have a puppy'" (Penguin Ch 33, p 331).

Lady Bertram knew she had evinced no interest in the Rushworths; she was also aware she was harrassed and pushed by Mrs Norris into paying even her own visit. She also knows she never made that match: unlike Mrs Norris, she never boasts of it. I would suggest that a woman so aware of the importance of physical allurements (her sexual beauty won Sir Thomas) would not forget the importance of physical beauty in a partner. Mr Rushworth is an clutz like Mr Collins. Lady Bertram knows her and Sir Thomas's children are handsome; and now here is evidence Fanny is too, and she's marrying a charmer who can read Henry VIII beautifully (Lady Bertram likes to be read to, enjoyed Crawford's performance--if she was there, Mrs Norris wouldn't have noticed it. Crawford's proposal is testimony to Fanny's beauty--and by extension her own. He is also a man worth having and a nephew-in-law one might like having about. Mr Crawford can play her cards for her and read to her regularly then.

Yes to give Fanny a pup, to give Fanny advice is indeed more than Lady Bertram ever did for Maria. And she knows it. So too does our author; in such a remark does Austen again quietly convey to the reader some oblique sympathy for Maria and understanding of how Maria's fatal choice came to be made.

Mansfield Park is the kind of text which repays close and imaginative reading.

Ellen Moody

To the above, Edith Lank replied:

Subject: Lady Bertram

Ellen -- thanks for the insight about Lady Bertram's attitude toward Maria's marriage. It had never struck me before. I just took it as her usual indolence, and never made the connection with her enthusiasm over Henry Crawford's offer for Fanny.

Edith Lank, Rochester NY

"And gladly would he lerne and gladly teche"--Chaucer's Clerke of Oxenforde

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Page Last Update 10 January 2003