Sunday, 17 June 2007

Sex in the Park. Mansfield Park. Part Four.

Maria Bertram is of course the character who suffers the worst change of circumstances and the most dire consequences for her sexual misdemeanors in Mansfield Park, and it is with the arrival of these dashing and careless Crawfords that she begins to act on motives of sexual attraction and jealousy. Maria has, rather understandably, no love for her fiancé, the thick-headed and decidedly un-sexy Rushworth, to whom she has become engaged because he is very rich and very manageable. Maria cannot marry her catch until her father’s return and it’s no surprise that a flirtation with ‘the most agreeable’ and ‘so well made’ Henry Crawford is a welcome distraction from the tedious attentions of her dull fiancé. But the kicks she gets out of triumphing over her sister at Crawford’s displayed preference, out of his compliments and insinuations, out of his longing glances and lingering touches, draw Maria past her ability to control her desires and her actions. As their flirtation reaches indecorous and indecent heights, as the time of Sir Thomas’s return to England and thereby, her unwelcome wedding to Rushworth, draws closer, Maria begins to expect a proposal from Crawford that will satisfy her every inappropriate hope, that is, to free her from one cumbersome fiancé and supply her with a sprightlier one. Crawford makes no such proposal, withdraws in fact, on Sir Thomas' arrival, from the neighbourhood and Maria is left to become a hurt and bitter Mrs Rushworth.

Some months after the happy event, when the Crawfords and Rushworths meet in society in London, Henry Crawford finds the woman who so lately could not resist his charms cold and reserved. Unwilling to be got over, however much he does not love her, Crawford persues another, more licentious flirtation with Maria, one that results this time in amoral goings on, a sex scandal and a search party. When Maria leaves her husband’s house in hopes of a life with Crawford, necessitating a search and rescue from sin mission on the part of the Bertram men, she leaves behind her her respectable family life, her wealth, her position in society and even her freedom. With the subsequent media circus, divorce from Rushworth, and with Crawford showing no inclination or intention to marry her, Maria is left with no options, no resources, with an irredeemably muddied reputation and, in the religious views of the era, a soul stripped of virtue and sullied by sin. Though too kind to cast her off into the abyss, Sir Thomas will not tolerate the disgraced Maria in the untainted halls and shrubberies of Mansfield Park. He installs her in a country cottage in a distant county and the unlucky young woman is to pass her life, once so brimming with potential, shunned by her family and former friends, and with the officious Aunt Norris as her constant companion, you can well believe that she would truly feel the punishment doled out for her violation of sexual mores by Mansfield Park.

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