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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Reforming the Rakes: a conversation

I had a lot of fun last year, changing up the way interviews worked during Austen in August, so that it wasn't just a series of static interviews with a variety of authors, but instead, a quirky, inviting (hopefully) conversation between Janeites.  You guys seemed to like it, too, so of course I had to do it again this year.

The way this works is that each author got the same set of questions, and gave me permission to play with their answers a bit, tweaking and rearranging them with the answers of others, so that it's like we're a bunch of Janeites sitting around, chatting. Each question gets its own post, and the hope is that you'll join in the conversation with us, in the comments!

For today's discussion, I asked:
Last year we talked about which Austen character would win the title of "Biggest Rake" - this year, let's discuss which Austen male you'd most like to reform?

MISTY: Alright, ladies - who wants to get the ball rolling? I know one of my biggest disappointments in all of Austen is a certain rake who never was reformed, and I have a feeling I'm not the only one...
ALEXA:  I would reform Henry Crawford -
MISTY: Yep, that's the one.
ALEXA: ...mostly because I'm rather lazy and he shows the most potential for improvement. Mr. Crawford at least wants to be good, unlike his roguish counterparts.
LAURIE: We've all tried to reform a rake, but has any one of us ever succeeded? He'll change for me, we tell ourselves. He'll settle down, commit, stop chasing other women. Yeah, right. Nevertheless, of all the rakes in Austen, Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park is the most likely candidate for reform. See? I'm falling for the idea already.
JESSICA: I’m going to have to go with Henry Crawford, too. I’ve never been a big fan (of really anyone in Mansfield Park if I’m honest), but during Indie Jane’s read through last year I found myself re-examining Henry.
MISTY: I'm sensing a pattern here...
ALEXA: Part of the beauty of Mansfield Park is how Austen plays with our disappointment in him, which is far greater than Fanny's. While I'm not one who wishes these two ended up together, I would like to know he was truly improved by their association.
CASSANDRA: I'd go for Wickham. Simply to save him from life with Lydia Bennet! I would love Darcy's good example and character to have turned him around too.
LAURIE: Anyhow, back to Henry.
MISTY: *laughs*
LAURIE: Although his pursuit of Fanny Price begins as a despicable, ego-driven desire for conquest, he does, to his great surprise, actually fall in love. Part of the attraction is that she is unattainable. But the reason why she is unattainable is what makes her irresistible. She is virtue personified, the perfect woman, the woman he didn't think could ever exist. She is his hope of redemption. If Fanny were more receptive to his love, would he develop more virtue? Or would he tire of his conquest? This is one of the most contested points about Mansfield Park, which, as one of the films very wisely said, "could have all turned out differently."
JESSICA: I think if MP were to be rewritten as a modern romance Fanny would end up reforming Henry somehow - he probably has some deep, dark secret from his childhood/early adolescence that makes him the way he is. Some good therapy, Fanny’s purity, a sufficiently awesome prologue and you’ve got a modern Regency romance hero. Boom.
MISTY: Anyone else?
NANCY: Let’s take them one by one: Frank Churchill isn’t quite rakish enough to warrant reform. George Wickham and William Elliot both use a falsely personable demeanor to get people on their side. Willoughby... He’s almost too bad to be reformed, the opposite of Frank. John Thorpe is entirely superficial--if you reformed him, what would be left? That leaves Henry Crawford, who seems to be a likeable enough bloke once you get past his distressingly lax morals. But isn’t that what reforming is all about?
MISTY: So we all think that Henry has a lot of "potential" for reformation - does that mean we think he's really not all that rakeish?
MONICA: *scoffs* He’s a really bad boy. He plays fast and low with both Julia and Maria, so much so that Maria expects him to propose. He tries to seduce Fanny for his own amusement, and behaves improperly by giving her a gift. Then, when Fanny refuses to marry him, he hooks up with Maria and causes a huge scandal. To top it all, he doesn’t marry Maria even though her husband has divorced her and she is shunned by society for adultery. Could it get any worse?
MISTY: Well...
MONICA: To be honest, it could. At least he didn’t get a young girl pregnant and abandoned her, as Willoughby did (I think he’s the worst of the lot). And he didn’t run away with a young teenager, compromising her completely (as Wickham does with Lydia). What would Lydia’s fate have been if Darcy hadn’t forced him to marry her? I think Jane Austen was sending us a message through their names. W stands for Wicked, but Crawford’s W is in the middle of his name, showing that he is only wicked with a small letter.
MISTY: Mind - blown! *laughs* But seriously, little W means Crawford's got a chance, right?
MONICA: Yes, I think Henry is redeemable. He seems to be genuinely in love with Fanny. After Fanny turns down his proposal twice, he turns to Maria on the rebound. Unlike Willoughby, he doesn’t abandon Fanny to marry a lady with more money. His gesture towards Fanny’s brother William is a Darcy-like gesture, using his powerful connections to improve her brother’s prospects in the navy. We must remember that Henry is willing to marry Fanny despite her background. He doesn’t mind that Fanny is as poor as a dormouse, with her family living in squalor. In fact he travels all the way to Portsmouth to see her. Would he have been a better person if Fanny had been willing to marry him, as Mary Crawford claimed? I think so.
MISTY: But moving on - we've got Henry down, he definitely makes the list. So far, he is the list... Anyone else?
JUNE: Only one? That’s a tough question. May I send Mr. Collins to a charm school? No? Okay, then... I’d say John Dashwood. Here is a young man who inherited an estate and his mother’s fortune, married Fanny Ferrars who presumably had money from her own parents, and yet he couldn’t be bothered to give his stepmother and half-sisters enough money to live on. John had promised his father on his death-bed! He’d known the girls all their lives and was raised by his stepmother. This is a man in serious need of a backbone. Reform school, I say!
CAROL: They’re all such hopeless cases that probably the best course would be for Mr Collins to establish a Rake Reform School, then enroll the lot of them and be done with it.
MISTY: Ooh, so now Collins is heading the charm school... lol! What's on the agenda, Carol?
Course 1: Love them and leave them? It will come back to haunt you.
Course 2: Ask yourself, “Will I be able to leave through the front door?”
Course 3: Beware - The Cuckold may run faster than you.
Course 4: Byron and Casanova – Really unhappy. Really!
MISTY:...I don't know that they'd be very good students, honestly... And under Mr Collins tutelage! Though maybe if Charlotte helped... I could see her putting on a mean schoolmarm.
LAURIE: In truth I do believe that anyone can change, if they are truly motivated and do the work. What never works is when a woman thinks she can reform a man.
DEBORAH: It depends: is this reformation being accomplished with the business end of a pointy stick? If so, I nominate John Dashwood. (“That’s right, John – just sign there. Five thousand pounds for each of your sisters. No, you can’t strike out one of the zeroes. Do I need to introduce you to my stick again?”) On the other hand, if what you had in mind was more Love of a Good Woman-style reformation, Henry Crawford is clearly my guy.
MISTY: And we're back to Henry...
DEBORAH: He's not conventionally good-looking, perhaps, but obviously in possession of the kind of raw sex appeal that makes a girl want to get into the reforming business in the first place. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s got a big estate in Norfolk, and he reads Shakespeare like Olivier. Once I cure him of his monogamy problem, he’ll be the perfect man.
ALYSSA: I wanted to say Henry Crawford, too! (I think he was my vote for "Biggest Rake.") Honestly, I had high hopes for him. I thought, maybe, Fanny could make him want to be a better man.
MISTY: Yes! Even though, as Laurie said, it's a trap we throw ourselves into...couldn't help but want it.
ALYSSA: I suppose that was too optimistic. So, my second choice is Mr. Collins. That man is so cringe-worthy that I have trouble getting through the passages of Pride and Prejudice in which he makes an appearance. He is so obnoxiously obsequious! I just want to shake him (and Charlotte Lucas too for settling!) and say, "My God, man! You're acting like Lady Catherine's lap dog, only worse. Pull yourself together!" I would like him to be sort of like Edmund Bertram, sweet and shy, but with more of a backbone. Elizabeth could still refuse to marry him, even if he was a nice guy. And Charlotte wouldn't have to hide out in the parlor.
MISTY: Hmm... I wonder what we'd think of Elizabeth, if she was turning down "nice" guys before Darcy? That would make for an interesting question... *makes note for next year* I want to leave with just 1 thought: I don't think all of the out-and-out "rakes" are the only ones in need of reformation... *cough*Edward Ferrars*cough*  Thanks for stopping by to chat, ladies!

We'd love to hear YOUR thoughts in the comments - who would you reform, and do you think it would work? CAN these rakes be reformed?  Join the convo below! And stay tuned for more coffee break tea break discussions! 

Participants in this discussion:
Alexa Adams, author of the "A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice" series
Carol Cromlin, author of Fitzwilliam Darcy such as I was
Monica Fairview, author of The Other Mr Darcy, The Darcy Cousins, et al.
Alyssa Goodnight, author of Austentatious, Austensibly Ordinary, et al.
Cassandra Grafton, author of A Fair Prospect
Jessica Grey, author of Attempting Elizabeth
Nancy Kelley, author of the Brides of Pemberely series
Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
June Williams, co-author of Headstrong Girls.
and Deborah Yaffe, author of Among the Janeites
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  1. I'm reeling from the idea of a Mr. Collins charm school. John Dashwood was a great choice. Such fun!

    1. Can you imagine? CAN YOU IMAGINE him leading lessons on "charm"?!

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  3. Henry Crawford would be the only rake that I think is redeemable.

    But yes, Edward Ferrars and, in my opinion, Edmund Bertram could use some help also!!

    1. They're both on my list, and they both have some major 'splaining to do.

  4. Mr. Collins doesn't stand a chance of even getting the rakes through the door. They'll turn and run the moment he starts speaking. It's a great idea, Carol, and the syllabus is just what they need, but I think he'll require the assistance of Lady Catherine to herd them in. She can use the pointy stick Deborah mentions.

    Nancy -- so right about John Thorpe! He *is* the fa├žade. Take that away and poof, off he goes with a puff of wind.

    1. Lady C. with a pointy stick and a room full of captive males in need of advice? She'd be UNSTOPPABLE. ;)

  5. Henry Crawford is definitely the strongest candidate for rake reform. Even his running off with Maria isn't as bad as the other rakes' seductions; since he hadn't quite give up on Fanny I read this as being very much driven by Maria herself. Also, the other rakes seduced unmarried virgins who were expecting marriage to result. Since Maria was already married she couldn't have been expecting to marry him for some time at least. She must have had more idea of what she was doing than the others. In a way I feel quite sorry for Henry because his vanity led him to throwing away the chance of reform with Fanny,

    1. I sometimes feel like it was a little bit of petulance, too, and licking his wounds. And if Maria was willing to help li- okay, that's taking a turn for something there, so I'm just going to stop with that line of thought... ;)

  6. I dunno... Henry Crawford always struck me as having no room for improvememt, as the selfishness at the core of his character is so valuable to him. Giving up that egocentricity would make him an entirely different person. Not a bad thing, but that goes way beyond reformation and into messiah territory.

    Who I would have liked to see reformed would be Robert Ferrars--Edward's twit of a brother. How does a family of such rotten snobbery produce an Edward, anyway? But I would love to see Robert become someone that gold-digging Lucy Steele couldn't get her hands on.

    1. But he's really pretty young, though, and he's never had an example of anything but selfish indulgence. I think his treatment of his sisters and some of the remorse he shows in dealing with Fanny speak volumes as to his potential as a character.

      And yes, how DID they end up with Edward? Not that I'm the biggest Edward fan, mind you, but in that family, he's a saint!

  7. I think the charm school would be great for all those weaker characters that just need a help towing the line, but the rakes would need something a bit more confrontive for their institution. Henry Crawford is a good as choice as any to focus on reformation, but in his case, I think it was just a matter of needing a strong guiding hand at a younger age and not left to the Admiral to learn all his vices.

    Great discussion ladies!

    1. So what would you suggest for the rakes? Boot camp? Hard labor? Being sentenced to wearing stained cravats and fake hairy moles on their faces until they learn to stop letting their vanity lead them? ;)

    2. Boot camp? Yes, I'm down with that and your creative behavior techniques. ;D

  8. A Rake Reform School! Hilarious! I loved this discussion, especially the part about saving Wickham from a life with Lydia. She really is that annoying! ;)

  9. I like the idea of reforming John Dashwood, though I don't really consider him a rake, he's more of a doormat for his wife. Now, if she were to say, fall off a horse or something and die, and The Dashwoods as in Mrs. and the girls could have stayed, what kind of story would that have made? Would they still have met Willoughby? So I guess that isn't really reforming John, but I'd like to kill off his wife and give his sisters the money they were promised even if they did have to move.

    Mr. Collins heading a charm school? I've been watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and it makes me shudder even more to think about that after hearing him and seeing him in action there! The rakes would never be reformed! They might even make a rake out of Mr. Collins!

  10. I don't think Wickham could ever be reformed.

  11. What about Capt. Tilney? Isn't he a rake in need of reforming? He's only a very minor character but he does sort of lead Isabella on.

    1. For a minute I thought you were talking about HENRY Tilney, and I was about to be like, WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY ABOUT MY HENRY?! lol

  12. Why don't we think Charlotte Lucas COULD reform Mr. Collins? She isn't rebellious as Lizzy Bennet is, but her patience and delicate nature might inspire a reformation in her garrulous hubs, slowly and gently setting a better example for him. Especially after Catherine de Burgh kicks the bucket. :)

    1. I think she will MANAGE him quite nicely, but reform? Is there hope for Collins? He seems a lost cause to me because he's completely clueless - you've gotta feel there's something to change in order to change it...


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