Still not quite done with Mansfield Park (even though I’m on to Emma now). Have you ever noticed that Mansfield is not only a shadow plot of Pride and Prejudice, but has strong parallels with Sense and Sensibility, too?
This is the story: it’s about two young relatives, growing up close. One of them, the quiet one, falls in love. The person they’re in love with turns out to have a commitment elsewhere, but ultimately that situation resolves and they get their spouse. The other one falls head over heels for a vivacious, handsome, über-attractive person, who seems to return the affection, but then lets them down with a thump – they’re not what they appeared to be, and our person has their heart broken. Then they wake up, and turn to the quiet, steady lover waiting in the wings, who is so much better for them than their first crush, and a happy marriage ensues.
In S&S, the quiet one is Elinor, her crush Edward; Marianne has her heart broken by Willoughby and turns to Colonel Brandon. In MP, Fanny combines the roles of Elinor and Colonel Brandon – the quiet sibling and the steady lover. She has to watch Edmund fall in love with someone much more lively than herself, just like Colonel Brandon does with Marianne. Like Elinor the sister, she sees that the object of that love isn’t quite what they appear to the besotted eyes of her sibling (well, cousin – but Edmund is more of a brother to Fanny than most of her own siblings), but she can’t say anything because she wouldn’t be listened to; and like Elinor the lover, the object of her love becomes unattainable because he’s entangled with another woman (Lucy Steele / Mary Crawford). Then when Edmund has his heart broken, he turns to Fanny for comfort and ultimately falls in love (Marianne <–> Brandon); Fanny gets her lover by faithfully waiting until the other woman has got her claws out of him (Elinor <–> Edward).
Part of Fanny’s love story is so strong because there is that element of sibling love in it, which Elinor and Marianne share (as do Elizabeth and Jane, of course). Edmund is as dear to Fanny as William; she grows into a woman’s love as she grows into a woman’s body. Part of the heartbreak of Edmund’s suffering is that she feels for him as a sister, not just for herself, driven by jealousy. Her first happiness in the end of the book is that Edmund is “no longer the dupe of Miss Crawford” (457); she doesn’t even hope for anything more at that point. But of course, the “more” comes along in time, with copious quantities of “wandering about and sitting under trees with Fanny all the summer evenings” (458. That’s one of my favourite lines from the book; it’s so evocative. It’s also a lovely echo of the episode where Edmund and Mary abandon Fanny in the plantation at Southerton while they sit under a tree in the much-regretted avenue). The Mansfield plot is an interesting blending of the “siblings” storyline with the “lovers” one.