Cheering for Crawford
If ever Jane Austen set out to depict the moralistic chasm between Regency society and pre-Victorian propriety, she did so with Mansfield Park. To accomplish this, her characters are divided among these diverging ideologies. The majority succumb to their unscrupulous fancies while the few but faithful are governed by their sense of duty. This distinction is as acute as it is unwanted, for the plot revolves around characters labouring to convert one another. Henry Crawford, a wealthy, congenial gentleman, makes this pastime his principal entertainment. As to his methodology, where theatricals end and reality begins is hardly distinguishable. Because Crawford is an outstanding actor with magnificent charisma, it is difficult to discern his sincerity and put off his charms. Austen uses Crawford's person to demonstrate that authenticity determines where conviction is felt and principle is honoured. As such, he embodies one of Austen's greater challenges to her readers, who are left with a moral predicament of whether this very amiable actor should be cheered for or chastised.
Henry Crawford is somewhat of an anomaly as a dashing rogue, for the first description of his mien is that he was "not handsome, but had air and...
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