I usually read Mansfield Park with a slight yawn and sense of frustration with the character of Fanny Price--wanting to shake her and encourage her to stand up for herself. And I usually read it with a wary eye on the character of Mary Crawford--mesmerized by her vitality but suspicious, and even, I'll admit it, a little fearful of her manipulations.
This got me thinking...why do we always pit these two characters against one another? Fanny vs Mary, virtuous vs decadent, passive vs active. In the past, I always thought that if it came to blows, Mary would win the battle hands-down. But after thinking it through, I'm no longer certain.
In reality, their lives are moving in a similar path, with a similar end-goal of survival in a time when women did not have much power except in their manipulations of connections, wealth, and marriage.
Granted, Mary Crawford is assumed to have been raised in wealth and status, while Fanny Price was brought up in poverty until coming to live with the Bertrams as a dependent. But essentially they are both on the same path--vying for the attention of Edmund, ingratiating themselves into the wealthy Bertram family's lifestyle, encouraging/diverting Henry's behavior. And on top of that, they are both honest and straightforward: Mary in her pursuit of status, income, and marriage, and Fanny in her pursuit of morality, love, and stability.
So I am looking forward to re-reading Mansfield Park, but this time I'll keep an open and admiring mind to how they are both surviving, and thriving, in 19th Century England. And I'll be re-thinking who may win that fight, or even who they may team up against...