Friday, March 11, 2011

Top 10 Period Drama Villains: #3

3. Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola) - Mansfield Park

Just to warn you in case you haven't read or watched Mansfield Park - there will probably be some spoilers in this post.

Jane Austen created some of the most truly good, honourable, gentlemanly heroes in literature, but she generally didn't write too many charming, conflicted villains - she was too sensible and too realistic for that. Her scoundrels are almost always - well, just plain scoundrels! No romantic illusions here! Mr. Elliot, Mr. Wickham, Frank Churchill, John Thorpe. . . There are two great exceptions, however - John Willoughby and Henry Crawford. Henry Crawford has always been my favourite Jane Austen villain/anti-hero.

But why? Probably because he seemed so close to truly reforming/repenting. Or maybe that was just my romantic fancy, as a 14-year-old girl reading the book for the first time. I loved Henry and Fanny as a couple. They make a much more intriguing combination than Edmund and Fanny, who are arguably the most boring couple in the Austen canon. I desperately wanted Henry to get his act together and mend his ways, so that he could be truly worthy of Fanny. Of course, in the end, he stumbles and throws away every chance of future happiness with Fanny. Stupid, stupid Henry.

Could he have been satisfied with the conquest of one amiable woman’s affections, could he have found sufficient exultation in overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him. His affection had already done something. Her influence over him had already given him some influence over her. Would he have deserved more, there can be no doubt that more would have been obtained. . . Would he have persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed. . .

-Mansfield Park, Chap. XXXXVIII

Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park 2007

In terms of on-screen Henrys - I thought Alessandro Nivola's performance (MP 1999) was the most memorable. Joseph Beattie in the 2007 adaptation was also okay. The Henry in the 1983 adaptation, however, came across as a snivelling, rodent-like idiot, with the none of the necessary charm or charisma.


Your thoughts on Henry Crawford, and Mansfield Park? Did you want Henry and Fanny to end up together, or were you on "Team Edmund"?

Which is your favourite screen adaptation of Mansfield Park? Your favourite Henry Crawford?

Do you have a favourite Austen villain?

Also, whilst preparing this post, I came across this comparison of Henry Crawford's and Fizwilliam Darcy's characters at Interesting. Darcy isn't perfect, either, but his strength of character shows up all the better when compared against Crawford's lack of resolve and self-control. Also, come to think of it, Mansfield Park could almost be seen as a subverted form of P&P. . . but that's a whole other post altogether.


Marian said...

It's been a long time since I read the book, but my favorite Mansfield Park is the 2007 version. Henry Crawford reminds me of some of my own characters, and he certainly makes a charming villain; but I'm Team Edmund all the way! :) As is evident by his running away with a married woman, Crawford would've treated Fanny terribly. Edmund is a great guy, though, and it seems they'll always be happy together.

Enbrethiliel said...


I read Mansfield Park for the first time last year and felt the same way about Fanny and Henry as a couple. Despite his dishonourable intentions at the beginning, he really does seem to see her for what she is--which is more than Edmund does for a long while yet.

The comparison to Mr. Darcy is quite significant. You're right that we see Darcy's strength of character from his very first scene in Pride and Prejudice; there is no similar revelation of character for Henry in Mansfield Park. Which is not to say that Henry could not have changed or amended his life, but to put everything he does for good or for ill in the proper perspective. Darcy becomes a better man primarily because he truly feels shame at his ungentlemanly behaviour; winning Lizzy's heart is secondary. Henry, on the other hand, tries to change because he hopes to have Fanny as his "prize"--but if he could have her while staying a scoundrel, he'd be even happier to do that.

Elise, I think this makes an interesting follow-up to what you said in your post on Sir Guy. If a woman shouldn't enter a relationship with a man just because she wants to redeem him, then a man shouldn't change just because he wants a relationship with a woman. No woman can "save" a man that way--and no man should hope that a woman will "save" him when he wouldn't make the effort on his own.

Theresa said...

I liked Henry when I read the book, but in the film versions the actor is always so off putting (physically, haha) and we never get to see the deep and honest side to his character. But I've always been a little grossed out by the whole Edmund + Fanny thing, they're cousins! And Edmond is so .... useless! Arrgh! You're so right in saying that they're the most boring couple in the Austen canon. But realistically, they probably would stand a pretty good chance of a happy marriage.

Amelia Colleen said...

Enjoyable post! I definitely respect your opinion of Henry Crawford (and it was very interesting to read) but I don't quite agree.
Frankly, I didn't think much of Henry Crawford when I read Mansfield Park--however, I've only read it once, and maybe he's one of those characters who improves with time. From the beginning, I found him to be annoying and far too self-satisfied. I felt that he wasn't right for Fanny, not just becuase of my own personal dislike for him, but because of her dislike for him. I mean, she went to great lengths to convince Sir Thomas that she didn't want to marry him. She went out of her comfort zone in order to speak out against this guy, and consequently I don't have any regrets concerning him. She would never have been happy with him.
That's just my opinion, though. :)

OldFashionedCharm said...

I don't know why but Mansfield Park and Henry Crawford in particular are so controversial. For years I wasn't sure but I finally saw that it was better to err on Edmund's side. Of all of Jane Austen's scoundrels Mr. Wickham and Mr. Crawford are my least favorite because I do see them as irredeemable and unforgivable. For Mr. Crawford I hate how he plays with Fanny and I think she was right to distrust him from the beginning. He may have flirted with the idea of reforming but I don't think he ever would have really changed, not even for sweet Fanny. I feel I know Mr. Crawford especially played by Alessandro Nivola because he reminds me of a couple guys I've known in real life. My favorite actor in the role is probably Joseph Beattie from the 2007 adaptation because he was "dark and black" and "not quite handsome" as Jane Austen describes. I do like the older BBC one too, but probably because I can dislike him all I want and it really captures the entire story.
Edmund isn't my favorite Austen hero but I do love him, especially with Fanny, they are quite a pair and will do very well together. If Fanny had married Henry Crawford I do think he would have quickly lost respect for her and she would have been smothered by his overbearing nature, treated just as she was at Mansfield Park for most of her growing up years.
My favorite Austen "scoundrel" is Willoughby but I know he has many faults too. I wouldn't put Frank Churchill on the scoundrel list, I'd put Mr. Elton instead.

~Miss Laurie
Old-Fashioned Charm

Rebekah said...

I'm finding your villain posts interesting. Generally, I don't have "favorite villains"... :p

Mansfield Park is my absolute favorite Jane Austen - I read it when I was about 17/18 and I loved it! I like the 1983 version the best... I really didn't care for Billie Piper as Fanny. I can't really remember Henry though... I just remember not liking him! lol

I did want Henry to reform in the book, but I didn't want him to end up with Fanny. I would have liked it if he had reformed and ended up with Julia myself...

Side note: I never really thought of Frank Churchill as a villain exactly - maybe because he apologizes in the end and he seemed to think his actions were necessary when he was doing them? Hmm... (No, I'm not condoning his actions, just trying to figure out why I don't think of him as a "villain".)


To the KING be all the glory!

Alexandra said...

Mansfield Park is the only one I have not seen or read. So I need to do that. :-D

Besides the ones you mentioned, Carver Doone is a great villain, I think...and I absolutely *adore* Chauvelin from TSP (not in the same way I absolutely adore Percy, of course :-)). Um, Inspector Javert from Les Miserables is an incredibly complex fact it's a very grey area whether or not he *is* a villain or not.

I'm really enjoying this series. :-D

Anonymous said...

For those who aren't great fans of Edmund and Fanny, could I suggest you try to get a copy of 'Miniatures & Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen' written by Peter J. Leithart. M.P. still isn't one of my favourite Austens, but Dr. Leithart really does a wonderful analysis of it - along with the other Austen masterpieces. On another line - I wouldn't like to have to define all Austen's male characters as either villians or heros. I don't believe she did either. Most of us are a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and our sanctification is the work of weeding out those weaknesses and sowing and growing those strengths. I think Austen's point is often that some of those weaknesses, when not dealt with, become the defining character of the man (or woman).


Melody said...

I'm reading Mansfield Park right now and I admit, I am against Henry Crawford all the way! I think just as badly of him as Fanny does...and this Edmund and Mary relationship I do not like one bit. >.<
Edmund needs to learn his lesson along with David Copperfield and Roger Hamley, about how things turn out when you go for the wrong girl when the right one is in front of your face! Being cousins and all, I suppose he has some excuse (even though cousins marrying was common back then). Other than that I like Edmund all right...but it drives me nuts how he lets Mary control him.

I wouldn't exactly call Frank Churchill a scoundrel....he's no hero, but I don't think he's a villain.