Mansfield Park: Mary Crawford – that peculiarly becoming temptress with a harp

Lady with a harp, Eliza Ridgely, by Thomas Sully (1818)The harp arrived, and rather added to her beauty, wit, and good-humour; for she played with the greatest obligingness, with an expression and taste which were peculiarly becoming, and there was something clever to be said at the close of every air. Edmund was at the Parsonage every day, to be indulged with his favourite instrument: one morning secured an invitation for the next; for the lady could not be unwilling to have a listener, and every thing was soon in a fair train. 

A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at. Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love. The Narrator, Mansfield Park, Chapter 7 

We hear Mary Crawford lament over her wayward harp on rout from London for several pages. It has finally arrived in Northampton, but stalled there for ten days with no cart available to hire for transport during the harvest. This London girl can not comprehend the inconvenient pace of the country. Her haranguing should have been a foreshadowing to Edmund Bertram of her selfish disposition. Instead, he encouragingly tells her that it is his “favourite instrument,” and hopes to be soon allowed to hear her. One wonders at his sincerity since we know from Fanny’s ignorance of ever hearing one before that no harp exists at Mansfield Park. When Mary does finally play for him, it is like a siren song, and within a week, he was good deal in love! 

Wow! What an easy conquest. I’m not sure if this is a complement to her playing, or her skill at the alluring arts. Either way, it is no compliment to his superior judgment. It will take a better woman to straighten out his head so he can discern appearances from reality. Sadly, some men never learn this one! ;-)

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8 thoughts on “Mansfield Park: Mary Crawford – that peculiarly becoming temptress with a harp

  1. Some men never do learn that lesson! I am convinced it is because they are of equal mind, equal selfishness. The truly good natured, like Edward, escape by means of someone or something showing them what’s underneath the pretty features, lace, and satin. ;P

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  2. I always say that there is just something about the writing in Mansfield Park that is so very different in tone from all the rest. I love all of Jane’s books, but this book stands out to me as something special. I can see that entire scene so clearly in my head. I wish more people liked MP.

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    • I love MP. Its complexity is wonderful! Having poor Fanny have to reject Henry while not being able to say anything about his vile disposition {without harming the reputation of her cousins!} is absolutely brilliant! She seems so little able to withstand such an onslaught, but she does! etc etc. It’s wonderful

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  3. Oh, she’s a favorite of mine. Like her or not, Jane Austen gave her some of the BEST-LINES-EVER:
    “Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”
    And of course.
    “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park

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  4. Lauren Ann, you chose a picture of a lady standing beside a harp, but if you took one with her sitting with the instrument between her legs it’d be clear where the allure of it lays. ;)

    Edmund might have heard it elsewhere. After all he used to visit friends while Fanny never moved outside the park. The sad thing though is that not even a better woman would help. Mary had to show her real harpy feathers for him to see clearly, and that nearly didn’t happen at all. I always thought Fanny is too good for him.

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  5. Why do I have such difficulty disliking or even harboring contempt for the Crawfords? Really, I do. Does anyone feel the same?

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  6. Why is it when discussing “MANSFIELD PARK”, people tend to comment upon the Crawfords in such a priggish manner? Why not simply accept that like the other characters in the novel and like people in general, Mary and Henry have both flaws and virtues?

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