by Jane Austen
Henry the Almost-Romantic Hero
Henry would make a fantastic lead in a modern-day romantic comedy movie. As in so many movies, Henry does the classic "I'm going to make this nerdy girl fall in love with me for a laugh" routine, that quickly turns into the equally classic "Oh no, I've actually fallen in love with the nerdy girl and now she doesn't believe I love her" plot. But if things had continued in this vein, Henry would have won the girl and would have taken the role of Prince Charming opposite Fanny's Cinderella. Henry really does seem to want to rescue Fanny, which is a large part of his attraction to Fanny:
"Yes, Mary, my Fanny will feel a difference indeed, a daily, hourly difference, in the beahviour of every being who approaches her; and it will be the completion of my happiness to know that I am the doer of it." (30.32)
Henry's desire to rescue Fanny combines with the fact that Fanny is extremely hard to get – a challenge that makes her irresistible to Henry, who always loves to be doing something.
Unfortunately for Henry, his love story took a really sharp turn...off a cliff. Because Henry doesn't get the girl in the end. Instead, Henry seems to have gotten confused about what sort of plotline he was in, and jumped ship to a Lifetime movie that involves scandals, affairs, and adultery, co-starring Maria Bertram.
Henry, the Man in Need of a Savior
Despite his bad behavior, Henry is extremely likable for the most part. He's so close to being an all-around great guy. He's got potential, but he's not quite there yet. And it's very easy to root for him and to hope that he'll actually win Fanny over. That's not to say Henry doesn't have some serious flaws. He's vain and arrogant and he has way too much fun manipulating other people. As Lady Bertram points out, Henry is a really great actor (34.19). Great actors may be entertaining to watch, but ones like this guy might not be the best people to marry.
Even before the scandal with Maria, Mary Crawford notes her concerns about her brother's behavior. As discussed in Mary's "Character Analysis," the Crawford siblings were raised by Admiral Crawford, who is described as "a man of vicious conduct" who is currently living with his mistress (4.15). Mary considers the Admiral a bad role model for her brother. She states this to Henry clearly:
"My dearest Henry, the advantage to you of getting away from the Admiral before your manners are hurt by the contagion of his, before you have contracted any of his foolish opinions […] You are not sensible of the gain, for your regard for him has blinded you; but, in my estimation, your marrying early may be the saving of you. To have seen you grow like the Admiral in word or deed, look or gesture, would have broken my heart." (30.27)
Notice how Mary says that marrying will be the "saving" of him. She thinks he needs to be rescued, and that Fanny is exactly the woman to do it. She reiterates this sentiment again after the Henry-Maria scandal becomes public, telling Edmund that Fanny "would have fixed [Henry]; she would have made him happy for ever" (47.21). Clearly Fanny is positioned as Henry's savior, but Fanny doesn't want the job.
Both Mary and Mrs. Norris believe that if Fanny hadn't refused Henry, he would have had no reason to end up having an affair with Maria. They blame Fanny. Though the narrator blames Henry's vanity for his disastrous affair with Maria, it seems that Henry's real problem is his restlessness, and maybe even his poor role models. The same energy and desire to be busy that drove him to pursue Fanny in the first place also encouraged him to have an affair with Maria.
[He] went off with her at last, because he could not help it, regretting Fanny, even at the moment, but regretting her infinitely more when all the bustle of the intrigue was over. (48.19).
Do you think that Fanny could have "saved" and improved Henry? Do you wish she had agreed to marry him? Or do you think that after Henry had secured and married Fanny, he would have gotten restless again?