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05 March 2008 @ 11:56 pm
no one has any love for Edmund Bertram...  
(There is actually a little love for him in the comments on this Austenblog post, but not a whole lot.)

Huh. Apparently there's a novel from Edmund's point of view:

Apparently I like the characters that a lot of people don't--Orsino and Orlando come to mind--so it will come as no surprise that I have a soft spot for Edmund. And not just because he has that conversation with Henry Crawford about Shakespeare. :)

Even people who like and respect Fanny Price can have trouble with Edmund--maybe because he isn't as "modern" as heroes like Darcy and Mr. Knightley? I had a conversation once with a friend who stated that she couldn't see Edmund as a hero because he switches his allegiance--falls for the wrong girl, if you like--and that shows a lack of manly decidedness. But I think that's exactly why I like Edmund: he's vulnerable in a way that Darcy and Mr. Knightley could never be, because he's still learning, still working things out. He has to make the choice of a profession, a wife. It may be to the point that Darcy and Mr. Knightley are landowners and landlords, at the top of a very secure hierarchy. Edmund, by contrast, is a second son, and therefore has decisions to make. He's still in process, and therefore (like Fanny herself, perhaps) seems to me to be in need of a certain amount of protection, because he's still open to the possibility of making a grave mistake.

And, from a structural point of view, I like Edmund because he's essentially put into the position that an Austen heroine would normally fill, in choosing between the charming but dangerous woman and the overlooked but morally upright heroine. I've never done a page-by-page analysis, but I always get the sense that we get a lot more from Edmund's own point of view in Mansfield Park (mediated by the narrator, of course) than we get from other heroes in Austen novels--which is why I think I was surprised by the fact that someone has written his "secret diary." It seems to me that it's the least necessary in Edmund's case, because we see so much of that play out in the novel itself. We don't see just infatuation with him, in fact, but genuine temptation (although this is an Austen novel, so it's fairly decorous temptation). Mary Crawford represents a real moral difficulty for Edmund in a way that Wickham never does for Lizzy, or Frank Churchill for Emma. Even Willoughby doesn't represent that same sort of moral quandary for Marianne, because even though he might be a rake, Marianne always thinks he's completely above board because his unfettered emotions so closely resemble her own guileless ones. But with Edmund we get this really troubled sense that he knows something isn't quite right about Mary Crawford, and yet he can't keep himself from being attracted to her; he's always finding excuses for her behavior or letting her smiles soothe his sense that something is wrong, and that just seems so real to me (even when I'm furious with him for trying to clear his own conscience by trying to get Fanny to accept Henry, because if Fanny's upright moral sense can clear the brother, then it'll clear the sister as well). I have a different sort of sympathy for Edmund than I do for Darcy or Mr. Knightley (though of course I love them) because they're never tested or tempted in that way. It's easier to be a steadfast romantic hero when your other main choice is Caroline Bingley, is all I'm saying. With Edmund, I think we see a genuine process of seduction--and we see Edmund, finally, in his last interview with Mary, when the blinkers are finally off, gather the strength to resist that. And I'm so proud of him when it happens.

And, well, here:

"Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love; and to the credit of the lady it may be added, that without his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule, he talked no nonsense, he paid no compliments, his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself." (emphasis mine)

Those are all traits that I find intensely appealing for their own sakes, not just in contrast to a more brilliant but dangerous charm--for me, "steadiness" has always been a very sexy word. But more to the point, these are also traits that Edmund absolutely shares with Darcy and Mr. Knightley ("he paid no compliments" is totally "Emma knows I never flatter her" or "disguise of every sort is my abhorrence"). And yet Edmund seems to get very little credit for his similarities to the more popular Austen heroes, and a lot of scorn for his differences.

ETA: Yes, there is the issue of Edmund's having shaped Fanny in some kind of way, as mentor or teacher. Yes, there's something Pygmalion-like about the way the narrator describes Edmund as having formed Fanny's judgments, etc. And this sets Edmund apart from the other heroes in a major way, as they wouldn't tell their respective heroines what or how to read, even though reading is an issue in all of Austen's novels. (Well, Henry might tell Catherine--or suggest, at any rate--that she might try looking into some history, and he corrects her use of the word "nice.") But I think that this tendency in Edmund is recuperated by the fact that he turns to Fanny for advice; there's a mutuality there that makes it more than just mentor/pupil: " 'If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself.' "
La Reine Noire: Studious Veronicalareinenoire on March 6th, 2008 11:30 am (UTC)
You do make very good points, particularly about Edmund being a second son and therefore having to make his own way in the world. I would actually compare him with Edward Ferrars in S&S, who does more or less the same thing, don't you think? In having to choose between Lucy and Elinor -- although we don't really get his point of view.

Plus, there is the fact that Edmund is presumably quite a bit younger than definitely Knightley and Darcy, and possibly Edward as well. It's difficult to say for certain. And he seems to be more or less stuck in his brother's shadow, which must be difficult.

I wish I liked Mansfield Park more; it's not that I dislike it at all, but if I'm planning to read Austen, I tend to go with something else as a rule.
tempestsarekind: austentempestsarekind on March 6th, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, Edmund and Edward are in very similar quandaries, I think. And both want to be clergymen. I think there is a slight difference in that Edward Ferrars is engaged to Lucy and is forced to keep the engagement for honor's sake (but would choose Elinor in a heartbeat if he could), while Edmund is still in the process of trying to make a choice. But they're both a lot more...liminal, I guess, than Darcy and Mr. Knightley.

I could totally see Edmund as stuck in his brother's shadow--and having to take on a role, as the steady member of the family, that Tom has completely failed to take on.

It was only on my third read of Mansfield Park that I really started to love it.