Janeite Thoughts for an Evening: Mansfield Park III


Hey all, let’s get going. Last time I ended my analysis of Fanny, for the moment, and I’ve moved on to Maria. I made the claim that Maria has been abused as much as Fanny, but I didn’t explain how.

Certainly this isn’t something I would have thought when I first watched the adaptations. Nor even after a few rewatchings/readings. It wasn’t until I sat down and listened to the entirety of Mansfield Park unabridged that it really dawned on me. In fact, Austen herself tells us this, I simply didn’t hear it. She says, and I’m paraphrasing, that the ladies Bertram as well as their older brother Tom have been spoilt but not loved. They have been reprimanded by their father, but not shown real feeling.

Their father doesn’t understand their behavior, and expects his children to love him, when he has been not only physically distant, but emotionally so. Really, he can’t expect anything different. He has neglected their upbringing.

The same is true for their mother, Lady Bertram. Though she has been emotionally distant as well. Neither Fanny’s mother nor her aunt are particularly interested in their children. Both of them are idle and insipid. Mrs. Norris coddles and spoils the Bertram children. I think her feelings for them are as genuine as they can be, but she is blind to their faults. Mrs. Norris has something like Borderline or Narcissistic personality disorder. She projects her own feelings, psoitive or negative onto other people and identifies them either with herself. In this way she can get rid of her feelings of failure, as well as celebrate her feelings of grandiosity. So to the Bertrams her grandiosity. And to Fanny, the scapegoat, her failings. The Bertrams are all good, and Fanny is all bad.

Getting back to Maria, she is the oldest and so she receives the most attention. Particularly from Mrs. Norris now that Tom is away. None of her selfishness is hindered, her family is wealthy, and so she is given all kinds of toys. She cannot get at her parents emotionally. We don’t see this, but one can only guess that this occurred in childhood. All children want parental affection and admiration. Maria’s would have been met with boredom, for the most part from her mother. And her father is frequently away. When he comes back, it’s not hard to imagine that she would be frightened of him or wary. And he would likely have stopped trying to spend time with her, if he ever tried at all. Just a guess.

As I said before, Maria has quite the appetite for consumption. She has a hole inside her, where love ought to be. So she tries to fill it with things. She has a small circle of friends, so she hasn’t ever tried to fill the hole with romance or sex. She finds the richest man she can, and marries him as quickly as possible. Against everyone’s judgment, even her own. Because she knows, subconsciously, she needs access to a large income. Re-modelling a fancy house and shopping as much as she can are the only things she has to distract herself from her internal misery.

Once attached, she meets Henry Crawford. Unlucky for Maria, she enjoys flirtation with married women. They are unlikely to try to get their claws into him, and force him to marry. They’re also more likely to have sex with him. Without birth control, they can pass a child off as their husband’s. Impossible to hide a pregnancy if you’re supposed to be a virgin though.

For the first time, Maria feels something closer to filling her emotional wounds. It’s not perfect, because Henry doesn’t really care about her. But sex is a hell of a lot more exciting than shopping, and Maria falls for it, because she’s never felt so much before in her life. This is probably the first time she’s felt much of anything.

Due to the social mores of Rengency England, Maria is punished as a fallen woman. Nothing happens to Henry of course. He has to disappear from Manfield’s social circles, but he’ll do just fine in London. Maria on the other hand, is ruined socially for life. She will never escape her reputation. And unlike Lydia, she isn’t even able to wed the person who helped destroy it and recoup any of her social standing. She’s sent into outer darkness.

This is the real tragedy of Mansfield Park. Maria isn’t written to be likeable, and so the reader doesn’t even feel much sympathy for her fate. But the truth is, even unlikeable people have hurts–often the deepest hurts of all. Which is what makes them so unlikeable. Fanny, at least, had Edmund and William (her brother). She has people to bolster her, and to help teach her to feel kinship.

Because Maria was never taught how to empathize with her siblings, and to care for other people besides herself, in the end she doesn’t even have Julia by her side.