Why Doesn't Fanny Simply Explain Her Motives to Sir Thomas

A member of the Austen list had asked why during Sir Thomas's riveting interview with Fanny in which he berates and hurts her so badly because he doesn't know what she knows of Crawford's character, Fanny simply doesn't explain her motives to Sir Thomas.

To this I replied:

Connie, Fanny doesn't explain something of Henry's character and behavior because to do so would expose her cousins. Her dislike of him is based on his treatment of Maria and Julia at Sotherton, and during the play. From one point of view she is protecting them; she is showing loyalty as a woman to other women. This is the more Emma betrays when she tells her somewhat malicious fantasy to Frank Churchill that Jane has a marrie dman sending her gifts. This loyalty of one woman for another was an important more of the period. Mary Crawford betrays it not only when she coldly disdains doing anything on behalf of Julia or Maria in the way of a warning when appraoched by her sister, Mrs Grant, but also when she assumes Fanny must of necessity leap at the first proposal that comes.

From another point of view Fanny does not dare tell her uncle for fear he would thiknk she is blackening her cousins. She is not a Daughter of the House. She is a dependent, and Sir Thoma'ss own rush to judgement against her--for it is a rush to rudgement--shows his lack of patience and sense of superiority over her. It is her status that makes him expect her to accept Henry Crawford immediately. Fanny's position is tenuous. Remember how easily he sends her to Portsouth as salutary medicine. Remember how he doesn't choose to bring her back until after it is shown him how unreliable and indeed treacherous (as Sir Thomas would see it) Henry Crawford's conduct can be.

This is yet another barrier between Sir Thomas and Fanny. Fanny would have to demonstrate the vaidity of her interpretation by describing the scenes of the play-acting in detail. This would mean talking openly about sex. No-one in the book talks openly about sex; Mary Crawford will indulge in a salacious joke, but frank talk is impossible. Education didn't include a subject called sex in Miss Lee's classroom. Can you imagine Fanny even attempting to suggest or explain a sexual innuendo. Could she tell Sir Thomas his daughters had been seduced, had been sexually misbehaving? And Sir Thomas is not subtle. Come to that think about a young girl who is sheltered, a dependent half-servant in a household whose uncle has maintained his distance form her, whom she is in awe of, could she tell him about the sexual misbehavior of his daughters? How many girls today discuss sex with their biological fathers?

Finally to bring out all that happened in the play would be to court Sir Thomas's suspecting Fanny herself to be in love with one of the young men. People suspect one another of selfish motives first--and of jealousy as a prime motive. From the opening of the book we are told Sir Thomas thought first of his sons' falling in love with this cousin and feared it. As he looks down at Fanny in the scene, he speaks of his hopes for Edmund marrying Miss Crawford. Then he watches her. He scrutinizes her for the slightest sign she loves Edmund. She conceals her feelings with great effort. Her strength goes into this concealment. Her talk later with Miss Crawford when she explains why she will not marry Henry is also hampered by her having to conceal her most basic motive: she is wildly in love with Edmund, she worships the ground he walks on. Thus her arguments to Miss Crawford seem weak too. But there she can fall back upon a hint about how she did observe what happened during that month of the play; she said nothing, but she observed his treachery and manipulation of her cousins is what she means. To this Miss Crawford makes two responses:

1) there are many worse faults (though she seems to forget how such a fault in the admiral made her beloved aunt's life a misery;
2) most women don't have any feelings worth troubling oneself about anyway.

Fanny can say nothing more, for were it to come out she loved the younger master of the household she would be out in a minute.

I might mention here her justification to Edmund begins with the idea that people would have been outraged if she had imagined Mr Crawford's intentions were serious; she, a no-one, with no status or money, to imagine he is going to marry her. Edmund seems not to respond to this, but as she talks on it is clear he is satisfied he understands perfectly why she has hesitated all along to let her feelings be touched. She'd be seen as a scheming manipulator. Sir Thomas would have liked Emdund to marry Miss Crawford for the 20,000 pounds too.

And then there's Fanny's nature, her awe of her uncle, her intense gratitude to him--but then this has been the subject of too many intense obsessive discussions for what seems like years on this list.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 10 January 2003