The Importance of Deceptions in the Courtship in Mansfield Park

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The importance of deception in courtships during the early nineteenth century cannot be understated. This was a time in which all affection was hidden for the purpose of public decency, and a true courtship consisted of “a number of quiet, gentlemanly attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, not so vague as to be misunderstood.” In Mansfield Park, there are many relationships ranging from the torrid affairs between Maria and Henry Bertram to the innocent love and admiration that Fanny feels for Edmund - yet both relationships incorporate deception into their framework.

Deception around Maria and Henry’s affair is obvious as even in today’s society such liaisons would not be acceptable. However, Fanny who’s love for Edmund is pure, is not allowed to show such affection openly at the time for fear of reprimand. The importance then of keeping up appearances cannot be underestimated and if a Gentleman wished to begin courting a lady “he had to have already met her or finagled an introduction through society’s proper channels”. This highlights the importance of duplicity when courting because some men would have been incapable of attaining such an introduction. Deception is extremely important in the courtship between Lady Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford due to the improper nature of the relationship.

The illicit nature of their courtship is created by Lady Bertram upon meeting Mr Crawford because she had already promised herself to the exceptionally wealthy but tedious Mr Rushworth. This forces their courtship from the onset to be a clandestine affair and it is Henry who uses the play as a pretext to continue their flirtation. This is, furthermore, right underneath Mr Rushworth’s nose as observed when Henry can be seen as colluding with Maria, Julia “saw a glance at Maria, which confirmed the injury to herself; it was a scheme - a trick”. This quote illustrates the length to which Maria and Henry go to hide their relationship from the others. The noun “glance,” implies that the look was hurried, belying the furtive nature of the action. This continues to emphasise the theme of deception in the courtship between Maria and Henry, and is reinforced by Austen’s use of sibilance in, “She saw”-- which is representative of the jealousy that Julia feels, and creates a malicious undertone to how she perceives her sibling.

This exhibits the importance of deceit in their courtship because of the scandalous nature of the Henry’s actions. In addition, a caesura is utilised to draw attention to the extent of hurt that Julia feels as it emphasises the word “trick”. The word connotes pernicious intent and draws attention to the pivotal theme of deception.(How) Deception is, furthermore, vital to women in this androcentric society, as once Maria has returned the affections of a man, she is obligated to stay with him. This meant that women would often pursue the wealthy men to ensure that when they married, they would not lose the lifestyle that they had grown up with, this is evident when Maria pursues the mundane Mr Rushworth with little regard for the failings in his character.which shows... These failings are made clear when the more attractive, yet less wealthy Mr Crawford arrives and Maria begins a surreptitious relationship with him.

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The external observation by Fanny of them “ taking a circuitous, and as it appeared to her, very unreasonable direction to the knoll” already highlights the secretive nature of their relationship demonstrated by Austen’s use of the subordinate clause. The compound adjective “unreasonable” betokens the immoral nature of the relationship between Maria and Mr Crawford, The excessive punctuation of the quote delineates Fanny’s feelings of impropriety about the relationship as it causes the reader to take regular pauses emphasizing her breathy thoughts and the equivocal description of their route further emphasises how improper such behaviour is. This also stresses the importance of deception in the relationship between Henry and Maria because such relations between a single man and an engaged woman would still be scandalous in our day even with the far more relaxed societal rules we have. As demonstrated throughout Mansfield Park, Austen incorporates deception as a main theme.

This concealment is necessary because if there is a difference in status between any two individuals, it is not tolerated by society. This can be seen in the relationship between Edmund and Fanny. Fanny believes that she cannot compete for Edmund’s affections, because she views Edmund as too good for her both in status, and character, and she sees Mary Crawford as superior to her in every way “She could not equal them in their warmth. Her spirits sank under the glow of theirs,” the italicised personal pronoun “her” serves to highlight Fanny’s supposed inability to match the connection that is shared between Edmund and Maria.

This is also validated by Fanny, who is overly critical of herself and overly flattering of Miss Crawford “Fanny could have said a great deal, but it was safer to say nothing, and leave untouched all Miss Crawford’s resources, her accomplishments, her spirits, her importance, her friends, lest it should betray into any observations seemingly unhandsome.” Here Austen uses asyndeton to emphasise the many qualities of Mary Crawford whilst simultaneously clarifying the perceived inferiority that Fanny feels. This inadequacy that Fanny feels causes her to hide her affections for Edmund, despite her character being both good and pure, and her intentions and personality a better suit for Edmund. Austen’s repetition of the pronoun “her,” emphasises the importance of Mary Crawford. The repetition also has implications of the jealousy that Fanny feels in regard to Mary Crawford, who she feels is lacking in moral fibre. She then explores the motif of self-deception with Fanny continually regarding herself as mediocre in comparison to the illustrious Miss Crawford, to as far as Fanny scolding her own feelings of jealousy towards Mary. Austen uses this ruse to both elevate Fanny’s position as the heroine of the novel and to endear her character to the reader. Another indicator of the importance of deception in courtship is the need of it to retain public face. This is shown in the relationship between Edmund and Fanny where Fanny fears that her affection for Edmund is unrequited or at least not returned in the way she wishes it were.

This fear is exacerbated by Edmund’s treatment of Fanny because of the lack of indicators she has given him “Now I must look at you, Fanny,’ said Edmund with the kind smile of an affectionate brother,”. In this quote there is a lexical field of brotherly affection and care seen in the “kind smile,” this adjective ‘kind’ has connotations of a platonic love, and the description of Edmund as a “brother,” emphasises their sibling bond leading Fanny to believe that Edmund does not think of her in her as a potential match. This leads Fanny to instead entertain the prospect of Henry Crawford as a potential suitor and perhaps in hope of igniting a jealousy in Edmund or to assure herself that she will stay close to him even if he marries Miss Crawford. Yet She cannot, and will not, commit to a relationship with Mr Crawford because her feelings for Edmund have not gone away.

This predicament that Fanny faces calls to mind a Freud quote ““Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead.” Fanny utilizes deception to hide the pain that she feels from her unrequited love by deceiving Mr Crawford into thinking that a relationship between the two could exist.

Deception is once again present in the courtship between Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram. Henry Crawford, a known lothario, purposely deceives Maria for his own entertainment, flattering her with affections despite her already being engaged to Mr Rushworth. This behaviour is shown to be even worse when we get some insight into Mr Crawford’s views on marriage “ I know so many who have married in the full expectation and confidence of some one particular advantage in the connexion, or accomplishment, or good quality in the person, who have found themselves entirely deceived, and been obliged to put up with exactly the reverse”. Austen’s use of litany here creates an emphasis on the good qualities of a relationship. This example serves to highlight the contrast between what the characters actually say and their intent, revealing that their intent is actually deception. This shows us that Henry has no plan of marrying Maria yet he still tries to woo her away from a perfectly acceptable suitor in Mr Rushworth.In conclusion, as we analyse the use of deception throughout Mansfield Park we can establish that is is an integral piece of every courtship. This need for deception stems from the patriarchal and priggish nature of society at that time.

Courtship then was less a romantic journey of two soulmates and more a formal process of earning a Father’s approval. This is evident in the courtship between Maria and Henry exhibiting deception on every level, whether it be hiding the relationship from Mr Rushworth or Mr Crawford’s real intentions towards Maria. We can interpret from the novel that because society in the early nineteenth century deemed that governmentality, ie self-government as both individuals and as a group, was not just the fashion, but also instrumental in keeping hierarchy in place, that Austen approved of deception as a means of following one’s heart.

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