The Mary Crawfords of This World

The Mary Crawfords of This World March 29, 2015
Screen cap of Mary Crawford from the film "Mansfield Park"
Screen cap of Mary Crawford from the film “Mansfield Park”

by Nora Woodhouse cross posted from her blog A Heart Like Mine

Editor’s note: The Mary Crawford that Nora is discussing in her blog is a character from Jane Austen’s novel “Mansfield Park” An explanation of the character of Mary Crawford and quotes by Mary for those unfamiliar with the writings of  Jane Austen. An important part of recovery after leaving the world of QF to be able to recognize the toxic people in your path.

I have once again arrived at a place where I am angry at yet another well meaning individual.

Maybe I am not so much angry at them as I am at what they represent in my life. All the years of well meaning people saying and doing incredibly hurtful things because they didn’t understand, didn’t know better or because they thought they did know better. You can usually see the concern, pity or look of “I’ve been there I get this”. You can see that they want to fix things, want to share, and their intentions come from that place. However they are the Mary Crawfords of the world and as Edmund in Mansfield park sensibly says “She does not think evil but she speaks it”. I frequently say that there are many occasions when people with good intentions end of being harbingers of bad things, more so than those that truly intend on doing so.  And the problem is what to do with them? Ideally your are supposed to see the good intentions behind whatever they are saying, obviously ignore the advice but then what? What do adequate boundaries look like when you meet a Mary Crawford?

Boundaries are necessary and Mary Crawford’s good intentions do not excuse them of responsibility for what they say. How you approach things depends on the type of Mary C you have encountered. How solid your relationship is with them will guide your decision in regards to how you  communicate that you see the good intentions, but inform them that some of it caused hurt or is misguided. Be gentle but strong (Christina Enevoldsen words) when dealing with an Mary Crawford. They often have no idea that they have been insensitive, completely misunderstood, or missed some of the greater complexities of things. However it is not your job to educate them or to help change their general lack of awareness; if you have the time and energy to do so great! If not let them be on their way.

A Mary Crawford’s advice is also often reflective of their own story. We are all guilty of this from time to time because we generally try to relate to others through our own experiences. However the difference is that a Mary Crawford is not conscious enough to share things without projecting herself onto you, which is different than a shared experience that serves for understanding or empathy. This projection also tends to be paired with a sense that their experiences have given them answers- the right answers. Somehow they always know best, but they are not drawing on anything outside of themselves. Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park seemed to exist in her own world, and could not incorporate others differences or differences of feeling and thought into her understanding. This is especially true if the Mary C is going through their own difficulties in life, and their expressions to you will be especially influenced by this.

Can a Mary Crawford be a flying monkey? I think there is that potential if they were to meet a Narcissist, to be sucked in, turning their well intended advice towards the narcissists target.

In situations in the past I have played the role of the nice girl (nice girl syndrome), and thought feeling angry at any Mary Crawford was petty because “they didn’t mean it” and that I was just taking it too personally. But just because I understand where someone might be coming from does not mean that I let them walk all over me “unintentionally” like a door mat. I was brought up with the idea that it was my fault if I took something personally, and that when others behaved in a hurtful or bullying manner- to let it go because engaging them would only make it worse. But with bullies and Mary Crawfords who are not conscious of their behaviors (or even if they are) it may take a very firm “stop it” to get their attention. I have learned this with my family when Vaarsuvius went about on a smear campaign. Engaging them on certain points- fruitless. Telling other families members in simple statements that V does not speak for me- priceless. Simple statements that are clear and concise can be key- there is nothing extra to extrapolate from them so no fodder for a narcissists victim campaign.

No more nice girl! I get to say when someone has hurt my feelings or was perhaps not being thoughtful. It doesn’t make me one dimensional- just angry . It makes me gentle and strong; and it makes it so I will not become a  victim of well meaning  persons ie. Mary Crawford.


Nora is a member of the SASBN

More about Nora:

I am a former country girl and abuse survivor. I enjoy blogging because I find it personally therapeutic. It also allows me to share my experiences with others, and bring to light issues of abuse. I am a stay at home writer with a husband and house full of furry critters. I write under a pseudonym for my personal safety as well as to negate any potential legal trouble over sharing my story.

She blogs at A Heart Like Mine


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  • Nea

    I’ve read Mansfield Park, and while I didn’t like the book, have extremely strong feelings about this projection onto Mary Crawford’s character – to the point that I can’t engage with what the author is really trying to say because I feel an overwhelming need to defend her model.

    Mary Crawford frankly is a lot more three-dimensional than a slightly bitchy girl that Pure Edmund had an unthinking crush on. “Mary Crawford is not conscious enough to share things without projecting herself onto you”? Really? Mary Crawford was often the only person who was trying to rein in her shallow brother or standing up for Fanny when the rest of the family (even You Know Who) wasn’t seeing a woman’s point of view. Mary was the only one aside from Fanny in that novel who fell honestly in love! Maria married for money, Julia married for protection and escape, Frank played the field, and Edmund fell for the first unrelated female he found and when that didn’t suit his notions, settled on the only remaining woman his age in the book.

    Mary’s ultimate sin in Edmund’s eyes was that she knew better than he did how society worked and was willing to use that to save her friend and brother from ruin, while Edmund’s propriety meant more to him than his own sister.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    ..and I respectfully disagree. Last night I rewatched the movie and the scene with Mary Crawford telling the family how to reform the reputations of Maria and her brother by spending the money of Thomas, presuming he would die and already mentally spending his money! Awful, sheerly awful.

  • Nea

    I respect your disagreement – but cannot resist pointing out that earlier Tom had been mentally calculating how long until the new curate had a heart attack. To be fair, though, this was presented as awful of Tom.

    ETA: To be honest, there’s no one in the book that I particularly like or consider to be truly moral. Not Mary, not Edmund, and not Fanny.

  • SAO

    I always thought Mary’s fault was that she valued appearances over substance. Maria’s sin was not that she had an affair with Crawford, but that she ran away and made it impossible for the affair to be hushed up and for everyone to pretend it never happened.

    A good deal of Mary’s misguided advice came from the assumption that Fanny liked Crawford, which was a reasonable assumption, given that Fanny hid her real feelings and all other women in the book found Crawford fascinating, not to mention Mary’s own affection for her brother. Further, Crawford was a great “catch” for Fanny and he loved her. Even Austen says that if Maria hadn’t run away, Fanny would have married Crawford and made him a better man and learned to love him.

  • Plain English

    There is no particular value in being nice or making nice if it is not a reflection of true feelings. We bipeds have feelings and being honest with those feelings is part of a personal responsibility among those of us who have departed from belief. One of the verses used to quash basic feelings and lacquer guilt about having hard feelings at all, is Proverbs, the 15th chapter, I think. I came to a place in my journey of leaving blind faith, to realize that this teaching is toxic as practiced in my experience of churching. It may be true that a soft answer has a certain effect but my affect, my need to honestly feel out of my mouth, trumps Proverbs and trumps the effort to stifle feelings and encourage blind suffering. What a load off!
    I remember very clearly the soaring relief of letting go of that false gag in my life and glorying in being able to be simply, sometimes harshly, me. And you know, expressing true anger at ignorance and abuse, is so freeing! When you feel it as strongly as you can and express the heart of your life, you are free to move on. When you eat all the pain and whimper obedience, it is a lifelong festering.
    Thank-you, Suzanne, for reminding me.

  • bekabot

    Speaking as a ‘Mary Crawford’…if I do hurt your feelings please do tell me, and I’ll apologize. I’m good at arguing a point and I’m good at snarking people out and I’m going to keep on doing both of those things as long as I last. (That’s my prediction at this point. This world affords so many deserving targets that one can’t turn them all down.) But I’ve injured people’s feelings along the way (mostly without meaning to) and some of the people whose feelings I’ve injured have been people who were ‘on my side’ whom I did not wish to alienate. Am I sorry I did it, intentionally or not? I sure am.

    Female snarkery is a tightrope to be walked. Your strike has to be hard enough to tell, but you can’t do what some men do, which is pack together a mudbomb and wind up a catapult and then let fly. The closest you can come is to indulge in indiscriminate nastiness (the way Debi Pearl does) and the only way you can get away with that is to be close to some man with an organization behind him, then trust them to defend you. Or, be close to the organization itself. Otherwise there are many verboten modes of combat, and you can get into trouble if you try to use any of them.

    FWIW — in my view the primary sin of Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park is that she’s her brother’s sister. He is closer to her than anyone else is and he’s her own blood (except for him she has no close relatives) and she defends him and tries to clear a path for him — and he’s a real troublemaker. So, of course she gets caught up in the trouble he makes. If she could find a way of discreetly dropping him she might be better off, but she won’t do that because he’s all she’s got. Morally, she’s not incorruptible or spotless, but then few people are, even in groups with pretensions to strict ethics.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Oh I agree with you on some levels. There is only one person in the book/movie that comes across as sympathetic or likable, Fanny’s sister Susie.

    Fanny herself is sharp tongued and judgmental. Sir Thomas tries to portray himself as the benevolent patriarch until he tries to nag Fanny into marrying Mr. Crawford and it comes out during Tom’s illness that he is involved in the torture and sexual assault of slaves in the Caribbean. Tom, for all his emotional torture and semi nervous breakdown, is just another drifting rich boy dilettante without purpose. Crawford has no real purpose but flitting from flirtation to flirtation, he has no passion or interests beyond seducing the opposite sex. Edwin is a moping Milquetoast of a man that seems to be joining the church as clergy because he has no other opportunities and is resigned to his fate. Mary Crawford seems like a female version of her brother, who also doesn’t take into account the feelings of others unless they reflect a glowing reflection of herself. The rest of the female characters are one dimensional characters, taking opium to relief unhappiness, another having an affair for the same reason, another controlling and mean, a mother who sends her eldest away from the grinding poverty at home and Maria’s sister eager to marry to get away from home.

    It’s my least favorite Jane Austen tale because there are no redeeming characters beyond Fanny’s long-suffering sister Susie helping out without complaint at home until she goes to replace Fanny serving the lady of the house at the very end. At least in Pride and Prejudice we later find out that Mr. Darcy has redeeming qualities and is merely reserved. There is none of that in this tale.

    /puts away Jane Austen-themed soap box because she could rattle on all day about Austen

  • Baby_Raptor

    Intent is not magic. This is a lesson humanity would be infinitely better off if we all learned.

  • Nea

    The graphic depictions of rape, slavery, and opium are all from the move and do not appear in the book, where Susan is extremely vocal about her lot in life, not silent.

    /lifetime member, Jane Austen Society of North America and more than happy to rattle on about Austen!

    ETA: okay, rereading this came out way more bitchy than I meant it to be, for which I apologize. It’s just… I can’t judge the characters by the movie, which I heartily disliked. I only merely disliked the book, so that’s where I stay. 🙂

  • Nea

    Come to think of it, I think the movie left out one of Mary Crawford’s most cutting lines – the pun about sodomy in the navy that she whips out their very first dinner together. You just rewatched is the line about “Of rears and vices I have had enough” still in?

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I have only read the book once, at least twenty or more years ago,so I cannot speak for the book, only the movie. It was not one of Austen’s better book.

  • Nea

    No, it certainly wasn’t and again I apologize for coming across as way too judgemental in that comment.

    The last JASNA meeting was honoring Mansfield Park (2014 was the 200th anniversary) and the meeting announcement was peppered with quotes from Austen’s family.

    Turns out none of them liked it much either!

  • Nea

    There’s a really charming audio adaptation – NOT the one with David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch; that one is dire – that’s very hard to find but well worth it if you can. It’s the only version I’ve seen, read, or heard that pulled out the humor and made the book livlier. It comes in a package with adaptations of Emma, Pride & P, and Sense & Sensibility.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I’ll have to look for it and give it a listen. Will make a change from the usual dance music I listen to at the gym.Thanks!

  • Nea

    Judging from the cover, it’s the one in this package. Abridged down to 3 hours, which also helps.

  • ‘Mansfield Park’ is my least favorite of Austen’s work. If she were a modern writer, I’d say she wrote it to fulfill a contract. I love the Regency period, it being one of my favorite moments in history. This is where I have problems with Austen, in general. She is oblivious to the world around her, living in her own little bubble. Her characters basically don’t reflect the era, even though we like to think they do. I think part of her limited vision of the world was to deflect attention away from her situation and the fact that she was involved in what appear to have been a long-term lesbian relationship with a dear friend.

    The woman’s life doesn’t make sense. It never has. She was subjected to the patriarchal dictates of first her father, then her brother, yet women in her world were among the first to start the long road toward equality. When one reads her work, you would think their lives consisted of nothing but getting married, and doing so quite young. Yet, statistics say that women of her era and social caste were around 23 when they married. That’s makes them on par with the women of the 1990s.

    The world was changing. Maybe she was trying to avoid the changes, and write about a world that never would be, ever again. It was a time of war, along with social and cultural revolution. The modern world was being born. She was in the middle of it – yet we never see it in her work. Maybe that’s the charm of it. I don’t think we will ever truly understand her.

  • I am considering my choice of metaphor (Mary), and if it was not as connected with what I was attempting to discuss as I thought. What I was attempting to employ by using Mary Crawford in my piece was to touch on some of her issues in spirit, and less a complete synthesis of her character and the social issues.

    If I were to really tackle Mary Crawford’s character and Mansfield park in a much more academic way, I think I would agree with you that she is not necessarily one dimensional and there would be a lot of thoughtful material to expound upon- especially if making a point by point comparison.

    Edmund’s words and her character have always stood out to me, and I felt a sense of connection between that and things in my life (even if abstractly). And going back to Edmund’s words about her, I always got the sense that he knew she wasn’t simply bitchy, that she was either acting unconsciously or a product of how she was raised.

    I will have to watch the movie again or re-read the book, because I had always come away feeling that Mary’s friendship with Fanny or anyone was always self motivated in some way. I didn’t feel she really saw Fanny or truly understood her. Even when she defended Fanny I always felt that her later actions stripped away those moments of triumph.

    I will certainly think about this some more though, because you bring up some interesting points/ analysis that I had not considered!

    Best wishes,

  • I think you summarized the Crawford’s really well! It really does seem to be that lack of purpose that not only makes them shallow but disconnected. And when you are disconnected you might thoughtlessly say things. I thought this about her too, that she; “Mary Crawford seems like a female version of her brother, who also doesn’t take into account the feelings of others unless they reflect a glowing reflection of herself.”

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Thanks, ordering now.