Hello, I'm Lona Manning, author of A Contrary Wind: a variation on Mansfield Park. and author of true crime articles available at http://www.crimemagazine.com/category/authors/lona-manning.
And I'm Kyra Kramer, author of Mansfield Parsonage and the nonfictional historical books, Blood Will Tell, The Jezebel Effect, Henry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell, and Edward VI in a Nutshell.
Lona: Please join us for the knock-down drag-out (maybe) Fanny versus Mary debate of the decade/epoch/millennium. We will take turns posing each other questions. Please feel free to join in, in the comments!
Kyra: Everyone who comments will be entered in a draw to win a gift pack of Austen goodies from Bath, England.
Was Mary Crawford Really Fanny Price’s Friend?
Kyra: You have argued that Mary Crawford’s friendship is insincere, while I think Fanny’s false friendship is the gold standard of insincerity. We know from Austen’s original that Fanny doesn’t actually like Mary, but makes you think Mary didn’t really care about Fanny?
Lona: Mary had little time for Fanny until the Bertram girls, her social equals, were gone from Mansfield. (And I will admit to you, Kyra, that based on the samples of Fanny-as-conversationalist we read in Mansfield Park, Mary had to be desperately bored to resort to Fanny as a walking companion! I forestall you, remember, I have forestalled you.) Actually, boredom is the most benign reason for Mary’s friendship with Fanny – and Fanny recognizes the self-serving nature of Mary’s professed friendship. Fanny is simply a conduit for information about Edmund, or a vehicle for sending a message to Edmund when Mary and Edmund are separated.
Kyra: It wasn’t JUST as a conduit to Edmund that she became a friend to Fanny, and in time Mary began to actually love her. Remember that Mary rejoiced when Henry declared his love for Fanny, not only because Fanny would make him a sweet little wife, but because she valued Fanny. She point blank told her brother, "Henry, I think so highly of Fanny Price, that if I could suppose the next Mrs Crawford would have half the reason which my poor ill used aunt had to abhor the very name, I would prevent the marriage, if possible." What is that but sincere concern and affection for Fanny Price?
Lona: Yes, by this time Mary recognized and acknowledged Fanny's good qualities. For that matter she acknowledged Sir Thomas's good qualities, and Lady Bertram's good qualities, etc. But you think Mary really cared about whether Fanny liked her and wanted to maintain a friendship? Or really cared if Fanny expected and wanted a husband who wasn't going to cheat on her down the line?
Kyra: Mary may not have understood that a cheating husband would have been an “issue” for Fanny, but I think she did really care for Fanny. She praised Fanny to Mrs Grant and Henry when none of the Bertrams were around to hear it and give her credit for it. It gained Mary nothing to laud Fanny; she complimented her quiet little friend because that is how she truly felt about her.
Lona: I have been accusing Mary of being insincere, of always having a hidden agenda with the things she says. But you praise her for being an honest person. She knew that her brother planned to make a small 'hole in Fanny Price's heart' and she didn't stop him or warn Fanny, hmmmm? She deceived Fanny about the origin of the necklace, hmmmm? Where is the honesty you keep telling me about?
Kyra: First, I’ll spilt hairs and say that sincerity in friendship and absolute honesty aren’t axiomatically conjoined. Ever told a friend, whom you sincerely care for, that her hair looked fine when you both knew the Bad Hair Day From Hell was upon her? Mary DID tell Henry not to hurt Fanny: “ I do desire that you will not be making her really unhappy; a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good, but I will not have you plunge her deep, for she is as good a little creature as ever lived, and has a great deal of feeling.” She didn’t try harder to dissuade Henry’s flirtation because she didn’t think Fanny could be really hurt by a light flirtation. She also hid the matter of the necklace because she wanted Fanny to have a pretty chain AND flatter Fanny that Henry liked her. Flirtation and secret gifts were so much a part of the Ton they weren’t “serious”, and Mary couldn’t see the harm they could do. That makes Mary ignorant, not callous. From my point of view, Fanny was the most insincere character in the novel. She wasn’t honest with Mary about anything. Even her visits to Mary were a kind of lie; Fanny despised Mary but showed up at the parsonage anyway, as though she were happy to be in Mary’s company.
Lona: Yes, Austen writes about how visits to Mary were always painful and yet Fanny couldn't stay away. "Fanny went to her every two or three days: it seemed a kind of fascination: she could not be easy without going, and yet it was without loving her, without ever thinking like her, without any sense of obligation for being sought after now when nobody else was to be had…" Does that really make Fanny’s visits, as you so harshly put it, ‘lies’? This kind of polite effort to be neighborly is consistent with Fanny’s character. Isn’t it something a girl in Fanny's position would do regardless of her true feelings?
Kyra: It wasn’t just that Fanny showed up at the Parsonage from obligation; she went there on purpose of her own accord to ask Mary’s advice regarding her dress for the ball. Fanny had to have known (having such a fine mind and all) that her visits would be construed as overtures of friendship. That meant Fanny was knowingly (albeit reluctantly and unhappily) misleading Mary, making Mary believe Fanny liked her when in truth she disliked Mary and was jealous of her. In contrast to Fanny’s hidden enmity, at their last meeting Mary embraced Fanny “very affectionately”, and told her, "Good, gentle Fanny! when I think of this being the last time of seeing you; for I do not know how long—I feel it quite impossible to do anything but love you … Who says we shall not be sisters? I know we shall. I feel that we are born to be connected; and those tears convince me that you feel it too, dear Fanny.” Fanny cried crocodile tears but Mary’s friendship was real.
Lona: You place a high value on candour, as you've mentioned, but restraint and diplomacy have their place as well and certainly every Austen heroine, even Elizabeth Bennett, has internalized this principle. When they are upset, they remove themselves from others and go to their bedroom until they can once again present a tranquil face to the world. Fanny is intelligent enough to see her father's faults, but she sees the social and moral value of holding her tongue. Agree or disagree, that is Fanny's worldview. Or perhaps you are pointing out that Fanny is not the goody two-shoes she's made out to be. At times, she hates Henry Crawford, just as she hates and is jealous of Mary. But she is a dependent poor relation. She can't tell people what she really thinks, any more than a waiter would tell his customers that they shouldn’t order the fattening dish. Does that make the waiter a hypocrite?
What do you think, gentle readers? Is Mary actually Fanny’s friend? Is Fanny being disingenuous or is she just being polite?
Lona Manning is the author of A Contrary Wind, a variation on Mansfield Park. She has also written numerous true crime articles, which are available at www.crimemagazine.com. She has worked as a non-profit administrator, a vocational instructor, a market researcher, and a speechwriter for politicians. She currently teaches English as a Second Language. She and her husband now divide their time between mainland China and Canada. Her second novel, A Marriage of Attachment, a sequel to A Contrary Wind, is planned for release in early 2018. You can follow Lona at www.lonamanning.ca where she blogs about China and Jane Austen.
Lona was born in Seoul, South Korea shortly after the Korean War. Her father taught library science and her mother cared for war orphans. She and her husband Ross have two grown sons. They divide their time between their home in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada, and China.
Lona is the author of "The Hurricane Hoax," "The Murder of Madalyn Murray O’Hair" and other true crime stories. "A Contrary Wind" is her first novel.
Kyra Kramer is a medical anthropologist, historian, and devoted bibliophile who lives just outside Cardiff, Wales with her handsome husband and three wonderful young daughters. She has a deep – nearly obsessive – love for Regency Period romances in general and Jane Austen’s work in particular. Ms. Kramer has authored several history books and academic essays, but Mansfield Parsonage is her first foray into fictional writing. You can visit her website at kyrackramer.com to learn more about her life and work.