Category Archives: Jane Austen Vignettes

Reactions to an Engagement – ‘Mansfield Park’ fanfiction

No, ‘Jane Austen fanfiction’ is not my new replacement for Why Polly?, but it is for this week. I wrote this quite a while ago, but I held off on posting it so it wouldn’t interrupt Why Polly?. This is a short fanfiction of Mansfield Park, from Mary Crawford’s point-of-view (remember – the girl who Edmund was in love with but was so wrong for him?) Mansfield Park is one of the lesser-read novels of Jane Austen, so it’s not a huge surprise if you haven’t read it, though I recommend all of Austen’s novels. If you’ve read it, I also spewed out my thoughts on the book previously, in Rant About Mansfield Park.

Reactions to an Engagement

It is a terrible plague to mean to be rich, yet to have fallen for a man who is not.

Why couldn’t Edmund have been rich? Why couldn’t he have at least been the eldest? Or possessed some yearning to increase his income, or to go into some profession that was guaranteed to raise his prominence and expand his style of living?

I looked out the window, down at the rainy streets of London below. A dull day. Nobody about, nothing going on. There was nothing to do but sit here with my own thoughts, and some of my thoughts were rather too painful.

No, better yet, I ought not to have fallen in love with Edmund in the first place. He was so unlike the usual sort of man that attracted me! So invulnerable to all my teasing, so steady and calm, so contented with the country and the lack of stylish amusements it afforded. Insensitive to my teasing he might’ve been, but he had not been insensitive to my charm. Indeed – the months I had spent at the Parsonage had been some of the happiest of my life. To see his gaze soften with admiration as I played that favourite air of his on my harp… But while I had enjoyed his company, I would’ve been better off not to have fallen in love with him. Why had I?

I truly hadn’t intended for such a thing to happen. Usually I select my conquests with care, and judge whether I will succumb to their charms after much contemplation. Edmund was extraordinary to work his way into my affections before I had half-realized it.

Yet for several briefs moments this past year, I had thought maybe I was more tired of the amusements of the city than I realized. That perhaps wealth and consequence, though I had never had either, were not as engrossingly important as I had always imagined. For several moments I had thought so – thought perhaps I could adjust to Edmund’s quiet country-parson’s way of life. Until I stepped back into the bustle of London, and I knew I could never give such amusements up.

There is nothing more terrible than to love and yet know you yourself are the reason the love must be given up.

Not that I had had such a choice. Edmund had turned away from me with a hard heart and hardened eyes, and nothing I could do could make him change his mind. Perhaps it was best to know that now – to know if I had married him I could never have convinced him to spend some months in London, or drive a more stylish carriage, or to seek more fashionable acquaintances. Still, it stung me to my very soul that he had made the decision to break off the potential of anything between us, not I. I might not care so very much if I had felt I had taken control in the deciding.

Oh, I am a failure even at attempting to fool myself. There is no way I could have convinced myself to give such a man as Edmund up, no matter how miserable I should be.

So could I convince myself things were better this way?

Last that I had heard, Edmund was courting his cousin, Fanny Price. Fanny Price! If nothing else had illustrated the impassable gulf that existed between him and me, this did – the fact that he could be consoled after giving me up by a girl such as Fanny. That insipid, shy, retiring shadow of a girl, whose acquaintance I had persistently pursued for so long because I knew how important she was to Edmund! Long had I pursued the acquaintance, without feeling I knew the girl a whit better than before the acquaintance had begun. Such a quiet girl! Yet one who might speak her opinion on moral matters quite decidedly if pressed, and stick to it to a surprisingly degree – a degree no one would have predicted, from her otherwise obliging temperament. Fanny Price’s fastidiousness had ruined everything for my brother – and perhaps now she would ruin everything for me.

What? Was I still clinging to a shred of hope? It did not matter if Edmund married or did not marry Fanny Price. He’d made it clear he would never come back to me.

It was time for me to fling myself into society again, to distract myself with admirers, to appear light-hearted and charming to all who laid eyes on me. And I had been doing so until this day, and until this moment of dullness and silence I had convinced myself I had forgotten everything that had passed in Mansfield Park. But I knew now that none of the unattached society men would hold a candle to Edmund’s steadiness, his earnest ability to convey to a lady how very much he felt for her by a mere glance of his eyes. There was something in making a man such as him admire you! Fanny Price should know how much she had gained!

Yes, she likely did. I could not accuse her of presumption, but she must’ve at least been in love with Edmund for some time.

I was a fool, but as long as he was single, I did have hope.

At that very moment, my brother, Henry, entered the room.

“It is over, Mary,” he said.

Not his flirtations, that was for certain. He had thrown himself into his usual pattern of behaviour with a vengeance, and without seeming much more contented as a result of it. A certain class of respectable women avoided him, of course, but there were enough willing to associate with him to distract him. Except it looked as if he was as difficult to distract as I was.

He handed me a society paper. “Edmund Bertram has announced his engagement to Fanny Price.”

I lifted my eyes to his face. “She has got him at last, then.”

It was only the anguished look on my brother’s face that convinced me it was true.

“I still love her, Mary,” he said. His hand found the arm of the chair behind him, and he sunk himself down into it. “I didn’t think it was possible – I still love her.”

I had never thought it possible either, that my brother could ever lose at the game he played so well. That there’d every be a soul among all the ladies he juggled that would make him regret he could not convince himself to drop the others. Lost? Oh yes, my brother had lost. He is not the sort to love often, perhaps never more than once. And he knows reforming, even were he able to attempt it, would do nothing to win the heart of Fanny Price, nor raise his character in her eyes.

Oh why, oh why had the Crawfords ever gone in among the Bertrams and the Prices? They exposed the folly we could not stop clinging to. And neither of us were the better for having met them.

My heart twisted inside my chest. Edmund was to be married. Henry and I had both played and lost. Life made it clear we could not have everything we wanted, and we’d learned our priorities well.

If only such priorities did not look so dreary and monotonous on their own.

 

 

If you enjoyed Reactions to an Engagment, I also previously wrote a short piece on Emma – called Not Emma.

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Thoughts of Mr. Knightley, A Missing Chapter From Emma

And now for something completely different…

 

 

Author’s Note: I do not pretend I can write like Jane Austen. Aside from the fact she’s a genius at writing courtship novels, I could never write in that exact style of English, because the language’s changed since then. All the same, I’ve been obsessed with Emma lately, so I had to try something from Mr. Knightley’s point of view. This bit is inspired by the book, and not the movie, so hopefully you won’t be confused about any of the details I’ve included.

Of course, if you wish to know what happens next, read Chapter 49 of Emma.

 

Mr. Knightley’s Thoughts Upon Travelling to London

 “I should like to see Emma in love, and in some doubt of a return; it would do her good…”

He had said that. He, himself, had said that. So why should it be that he was very much in love, and certainly in doubt of a return?
The hooves of his horse thundered over the ground below him. He soon would be far from Hartfield, and all residents therein. Distance at this point in time was desirous and necessary, but he highly doubted any length of distance could fully settle the tumult of his soul…

He had almost kissed her hand – been the merest breath away from doing so, but something had held him back. Something in the way a blush had risen to her cheeks. A blush he’d seen a hundred thousand time before, from her precocious infancy to her full bloom of womanhood, but the last blush before this had been accompanied by a smile and a laugh, and been directed at Frank Churchill.

Frank Churchill – that dog!

He straightened in the saddle. All the bitterness of spirits could not be enough to excuse an uncharacteristic slump to his shoulders. He would learn to be indifferent. He would learn indifference enough that Emma would be free to smile at whomever she wished, without it so thoroughly affecting him.

London was only fifteen miles hence. He should be in there, in Brunswick Square, by evening. Then a pleasant evening with John and Isabella and the children should drive all thoughts of Hartfield from his mind. One could never fully concentrate on anything with those boys of John’s rampaging about.

His upper lip twisted. But now the road was empty. There were no such distractions around.

Emma! – Emma! – Emma, who was so dear to him, so heedless of her own faults, and yet so eager to do better. Always resolving to improve and always forgetting her resolve mere days after making it. How often it had used to amuse him! How far less amusing it was to watch those faults be worsened under the hand of a careless, foppish, flirtatious young man…

Still, at his encouragement, his, she had gone to see Miss Bates today. She put some value in his reproofs, that relieved his mind. Sound counsel had always held weight with her. This proved it still did, though not that she preferred sound counsel from any particular source. Least of all that of an old family friend.

That they could disagree and yet never cease to be friends – that was the pinnacle of it all. Far too many women of his acquaintance could not bear for their opinions to be crossed. Yet he could be irritated with Emma and she bore it with spirit. And he was not always right, he knew he was not always right. He could not support always being agreed with by a woman, or a woman who always needed to be agreed with by him.

Which was why of late he had begun to consider… Donwell Abbey felt very empty and cold despite the number of fire lit… he wished for light, lilting chatter to cheer his long evenings and drown out the thick silence…

But not such chatter as he had endured at Box Hill! Miss Woodhouse demands from each of you one very clever thing, indeed. His ears could not bear the words.

His gaze fell on the very fine stand of trees in the distance. It was far easier to think of a stand of trees than that disastrous party. There must be some good timber yonder in that stand. He wondered who could possibly own the lands hereabout.

Yes, indifference.

For thirty-seven years he had been indifferent. Thirty-seven years he had lived in peace, content with the knowledge he possessed an income which could support him, and could make life easier for his tenants. For a long time being known in the county as a “good landlord” had been enough. He had felt useful. He had contributed to the betterment of people’s lives, including that of his dear neighbours. He had grown used to ignoring the prophecies of the women of Highbury – “I declare, he will be married by midsummer,” or “she surely will not fail to catch his eye!”

He had been content to live by himself and mix with society at his leisure. There was a good amount of silliness in Highbury society, as there was any time one mixed a great number of disparate people together, but the majority of them were worthy souls. He had never seen any reason to be a snob, or hold himself above them. The only failing of the place was the scarcity of suitable companions for Emma.

Again. He would not wish to take back the moment Emma had been laid in his arms as a boy of sixteen, but he most assuredly would have paused if he had known the doubt that darkened his mind right now. The ease in which perfect contentment with his own society in his own house would suddenly turn to disgust at the dull creature he was on his own.

The ease in which a slim figure, the closest approximation of an accomplished young lady Emma could be without ceasing to be Emma, could slip herself into the centre of his daily routine, his conversations, his thoughts.

Those arching black brows over bright eyes, so warm with regard for him…

He’d admit to anyone he was fond of her. He’d sworn he’d do his best by her, the moment he’d heard the news her mother had passed away. She deserved a friendly hand to guide her when her overeager feet led her to stumble, and a neighbourly eye to watch out for her. But this – this prompting in his hear was to do more, far more, and he could not do that now, not while Frank Churchill –

He could wish Frank Churchill at the ends of the earth – at the bottom of the sea, if it meant he would be away from Highbury. He never wished harm against another man before. But now, he hated most of all how this disappointment caused him to be untrue to himself.

He would never be glib, like Frank Churchill.

He would let plain words speak for himself someday.

He could only pray to God that someday he would be granted the chance to say them.

He did not dare to allow himself to hope again, not until a certain letter of Mr. Weston reached him and he had read the postscript. Then he burst out –

“Jane, Jane, you will be a miserable creature!”

But, if he could do anything about it – not Emma.

***

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