1/ I'm reading a selection of critical essays on Middlemarch, edited by Patrick Swinden, in the Casebook Series. 1 critic complains of the narrator's partiality for Fred and against Rosamond. Both are spoilt, selfish, frivolous, idle, etc.
Indeed, Fred Vincy has lots of faults. He gets up late in the morning, comes down 2 hours after everyone else and demands grilled bone. He wanders, has no resolution and lives an idle life in expectation of inheriting Featherstone's land and money. He indulges himself in games and fun, gets into debt and borrows money irresponsibly without thinking whether he can return it. And when he comes to talk to the Garths about his inability to give the money back, what he fears is his own dishonour rather than the loss it might cause them.
However, what makes Fred different from Rosamond is that he concentrates everything on Mary. This says 3 things. 1st, loving a girl who is neither pretty nor rich means that, eager as he is to inherit money from Featherstone, Fred isn't obsessed with false values, and he's capable of recognising something good and admirable, whereas Rosamond isn't, who marries Lydgate because of his good relations as much as because of her feelings for him, who likes the Captain and wants her husband to be more like him, who wishes Lydgate were not a doctor, who looks down on the Garths, etc. 2nd, Fred always thinks about Mary and fears her disapproval, which makes him choose not to do things that Mary doesn't like, whereas Rosamond thinks about nobody but herself, and never finds herself blameable. 3rd, Fred's love for Mary acts as a drive for him to better himself, and in later chapters he becomes independent, whereas his sister doesn't have such a force.
In short, Rosamond's greatest fault is her egotism. Fred's greatest sin is his weak will, or in Mary's words, his unsteadiness. Mary supplies the strength he needs.
2/ Some blogger I read the other day wrote that she preferred Mary to end up with Farebrother rather than Fred Vincy.
At the time, it made some sense. Farebrother's a very good, admirable man. He makes the best of his situation. And look at the scene in which he talks to Mary on behalf of Fred, in spite of his own feelings.
However, it should be noted that Farebrother has several faults. He sticks to his vocation, despite knowing it's a wrong one. He likes money and plays whist, card games, billiards... He wants a job because of its salary more than because of the job itself. And he doesn't change for Mary, at least it's doubtful that he would do so- instead, he would expect her to accept him the way he is.
George Eliot's view on gambling is very clear in Daniel Deronda.
3/ Am I contradicting myself when I believe in Fred's capability of change, but don't believe that Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park can change?
Some people may think so, but they're mistaken. Henry's greatest sin is his selfishness, thoughtlessness and love of fun. He toys with women's feelings because it's all a game to him and he doesn't care about how they feel. I don't doubt his feelings for Fanny Price, but they aren't strong and deep enough to move him to change for her, and mixed with this love is something else- wounded pride and curiosity because Fanny isn't charmed by him and in love with him as girls usually are, and determination to make the exception cease to be an exception, which results from egotism, conceit and self-love. When Henry seems to improve in manners, it's an act, a temporary thing, a part of the scheme to win her. He's attracted to Fanny because she's different from other women; the more she resists, the more interested he is, the more eager for winning her. Fred doesn't change until later because he has a weak will, Henry, in contrast, has a strong will- sadly he concentrates on winning, on getting his desires realised, on proving that he can get what he wants and nobody can resist him.
Men like that can be found everywhere. They don't change. People who accuse Jane Austen of unrealistically making him hook up with Maria when he almost gets Fanny, are the unrealistic ones, who don't understand the nature of such douchebags and who naively buy the fantasy that bad boys can change for love. Fred can change because he always considers whether he's worthy of and approved by Mary, Henry isn't like that.