Hi readers! This is a bit new…Today we have two authors paying us a visit at the same time. But it appears they are engaged in a bit of debate! As you may recall both Kyra Kramer and Lona Manning came out with Mansfield Park inspired books a few months ago. In Lona Manning’s variation – A Contrary Wind – she spotlights Fanny Price and in Kyra Kramer’s retelling – Mansfield Parsonage – she retells Mansfield Park from Mary Crawford’s point-of-view! Now both authors have come together to “duke it out!”
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.
Who Was the More Shallow in Character? Mary Crawford or Fanny Price?
Lona: Have you read C.S. Lewis’ lecture called “The Inner Ring?” I thought about it while reading your novel Mansfield Parsonage. Mary Crawford and her brother are members in good standing of the Ton, that exclusive and glittering upper echelon of Regency society. The Ton, as described in Mansfield Parsonage, is cruel and ruthless, and its members feast on gossip and ruined reputations. It’s the Ton, it’s Vanity Fair, it’s the Cool Crowd at high school, it’s the “Inner Ring,” as Lewis calls it.
The chief attraction of the Ton, as CS Lewis describes the “inner ring,” is that delicious feeling that you are “in,” and the others are “out.” As you wrote: Mary Crawford, “like [her brother] Henry, thought of being cast out of the Ton as a fate worse than death.”
“Cast out”! As though we were describing the Garden of Eden here. In this case it’s the opposite. Those outside of the Ton are the innocent little country rustics, while the members of the Ton have the knowledge of – well if not Good and Evil exactly, but the knowledge of How Things Really Are. Marriage vows are empty words, adultery (or rather, being caught out) is “folly,” and bad taste or bad manners are more unforgiveable than bad actions.
We can plead on Mary’s behalf that, having been orphaned at a young age, and feeling that her home with her uncle the Admiral was never her home, when she found herself accepted into the inner ring of the Ton, she found a place where she was valued. (BTW, I enjoyed the bits of backstory you provided for Mary and perhaps you will provide even more in your forthcoming sequel).
Mary is attracted to Edmund Bertram, she knows good husband material when she sees it, and yet if she marries him, she will live chiefly in the country, in retirement, away from the Ton. Since the Ton is described in such disparaging terms by Mary and Henry, why would this be a fate worse than death? Not everyone, not even in modern times, is going to cheer for Mary here.
Kyra: For me, although perhaps not for Austen, Mary’s love of the “Inner Ring” was her greatest weakness and least attractive quality. Mary not only rejected country life and simple pleasures; she didn’t even understand such things existed. The Upper 10,000 was her universe and her epicenter, and their mores and norms largely formed her conceptions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I would point out, however, that even with this influence her goals for herself were to be both in the Ton AND to live a decent life.
Lona: In Mansfield Parsonage, you provide more scenes with Mary Crawford back in London before and after her brother Henry runs off with Maria, and they rang very true to me – but I still wasn’t convinced that Mary was any better of a person than I had supposed her to be.
Kyra: I tried to stay true to Austen’s implied parable that living in the country among upright people is better for one’s soul than life in the Big Smoke among Society. I also wanted to show that Mary was susceptible to the influence of London society in a way she was completely oblivious to. She was so much cleverer and/or so much better behaved than the average member of the Ton that she was overconfident in her own rectitude. She may have eschewed sexual sins for the reason that such risky actions were “folly”, but she DID avoid those behaviors. Furthermore, Mary’s ‘small’ sins – sins of hubris and pride and cynicism – seemed to be hardly sins at all when compared to the moral transgressions swirling around her. Without Mrs. Grant and Fanny to model unexceptional behavior, Mary saw nothing untoward in her nonchalant attitude toward vice, or that her amusements and witticisms were actually unkindness in a thin disguise. She could therefore easily slip into petty cruelty, just as it had been easy for her to slip into the self-justification that all humans are prone to, and make excuses as to why she ‘could not’ write to Fanny as often as she should.
Lona: Fanny recognized, and so does the reader, that the motive to write to Fanny wasn’t there, until Mary wanted to get some up-to-date information about Edmund. Fanny knows that Mary is being a hypocrite and overstating her friendship for Fanny. Fanny’s just a conduit to Edmund for her. And sure, I’ll concede that there are times I’ve been no better than Mary in this respect!
Kyra: We’ve all been there, I think! I would like to point out, though, that Mary Crawford wasn’t the only one who liked the glitter of the Inner Ring. Fanny Price was much more aware of social status and money than she is commonly thought of as being. Fanny clearly preferred living with her moneyed relatives in Mansfield Park rather than with her lower-class parents. It is Mansfield Park that she thinks of as “home”, and she appears to love her rich relatives more than her parents. She is much more concerned about Aunt Bertram needing her than she is with staying to help her own mother. In fact, sweet, noble, unworldly little Fanny is willing to put up with a whole lot of crap – being her aunt’s dogsbody and unpaid companion, getting affection from no one but Edmund Bertram, being emotionally and verbally abused by Mrs. Norris – just to live in a mansion and walk in fancy shrubbery and wallow in general poshness. She sure doesn’t enjoy living like the lower class, with just one shabby servant and vile housing!
Lona: I think I got most irritated with Fanny when she went to Portsmouth and it appeared that she was incapable of rolling up her sleeves and making a cup of tea. It’s so difficult for us to imagine what it would be like to be so genteel that we couldn’t cook a meal or clean a household. But keeping house was a much rougher and dirtier business back then. Austen stipulates that Fanny was too frail to live in that environment. However, Fanny really loved books and the education she had received, more than the grandeur. In A Contrary Wind, I have Fanny reaching the end of her tether at Mansfield Park and rejecting the deal – if living there means that she has to be perpetually abasing herself while watching Edmund fall for that siren Mary Crawford, then she rejects the deal. No thanks, I’m packing my bags. She has an option, and she takes it.
Kyra: Fanny’s actions made her much more likable in your book than in the original, in my opinion! Also, much less hypocritical.
What do the readers think?
Was Fanny as fond of the Inner Ring as Mary Crawford, when it got right down to it?
Or do they both just show a natural preference for plenty rather than poverty?
Thank you Kyra and Lona for such a stimulating debate! I’ve greatly enjoyed this series! These two characters are quite divisive amongst the Austenesque community! And even if you are #TeamFanny or #TeamMary you may have those moments where you agree with the opposite lady’s actions or beliefs more. I am curious to hear what you all think about this debate of shallowness – is Mary alone more inclined toward this propensity? Or do Fanny’s actions prove she is as well?
~ GIVEAWAY TIME ~
There are some lovely Bath and Jane Austen related items being given away in conjunction with this debate! All you need to do is comment on this post to be entered to win!
(Commenting on the other parts of the debate will increase your chances of winning!)
Day 1 ~ Just Jane 1813
Day 2 ~ Diary of An Eccentric
Day 3 ~ Savvy Verse and Wit
Day 4 ~ My Jane Austen Book Club
- This giveaway is open worldwide! Thank you Kyra and Lona!