Good sense, like hers, will always act when really called upon; and she found that she had been able to name him to her mother, and recall her remembrance of the name, as that of “William’s friend,” though she could not previously have believed herself capable of uttering a syllable at such a moment. The consciousness of his being known there only as William’s friend was some support. Having introduced him, however, and being all reseated, the terrors that occurred of what this visit might lead to were overpowering, and she fancied herself on the point of fainting away. The Narrator, Chapter 41
Henry visits Fanny in Portsmouth and attempts to show her that he has mended his selfish ways, showing concern for his tenants and her health. He asks her for business advice and she responds, “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be”. A chatty letter from Mary Crawford confirms that she only values money and connections. Fanny borrows books from the circulating library so she and Susan can study together. Edmund writes to only talk about Mary, and mentions that he saw Maria and Henry together at a party in town. Tom is seriously ill. Three months pass and Fanny longs to be home. Mary writes quizzing Fanny about the extent of Tom’s illness. If he dies, their will be a better man to inherit Mansfield. Mary writes again, warning Fanny of a rumor about Henry. What does it mean? The newspaper reveals that Henry and Maria have run off together. Scandal! Edmund writes to reveal that Julia and Mr. Yates have eloped. She and Susan are summoned immediately to Mansfield. Everyone there is in a sour mood. Aunt Norris blames Fanny for Henry’s actions. No sign of the couple. Tom improves and will live. Edmund has a falling out with Mary and is done with her. Henry will not marry Maria, so in support of her favorite niece, Mrs. Norris leaves Mansfield to live with her. Edmund realizes he is in love with Fanny and they marry to live in Mansfield parsonage. Sir Thomas finally has the daughter he longed for. The end!
I am continually struck by what good sense Fanny has in the face of pressure and adversity. She often acts as everyone ought, the moral compass of principled decorum. Her visit to Portsmouth is quite an eye opener for the reader and the heroine. Jane Austen does not write about poverty often, but she certainly has the knack for it. I am in no doubt of the shabby condition of the household, the coarseness of her father with his ‘oaths’ and drinking, the unruly ragamuffin siblings, and the indifference of her mother to it all. Sir Thomas may have sent her there to see what a small income means, but I laughed out loud at our dear Fanny’s expense when I read this passage!
After being nursed up at Mansfield, it was too late in the day to be hardened at Portsmouth; and though Sir Thomas, had he known all, might have thought his niece in the most promising way of being starved, both mind and body, into a much juster value for Mr. Crawford’s good company and good fortune, he would probably have feared to push his experiment farther, lest she might die under the cure. The Narrator, Chapter 42
Too true! To torment her further, Henry Crawford arrives and is so civil and genteel, reminding her of her cousins and the more refined life that she has come to appreciate at Mansfield Park. When he begins to tell her of his concern for his tenants, I am a bit suspicious. Austen really starts to lay on the sympathy for Henry to confuse her, and us. Will he truly be reformed by his love of Fanny? He alone seems to be aware of how abominably her cousins treat her at Mansfield, even more so from a distance, as they have forgotten her in Portsmouth and do not write. He sees the change in her health and knows that she must walk and take the air to maintain it. It all starts to add up in Fanny’s mind.
And, if in little things, must it not be so in great? So anxious for her health and comfort, so very feeling as he now expressed himself, and really seemed, might not it be fairly supposed that he would not much longer persevere in a suit so distressing to her? The Narrator, Chapter 42
The story quickly turns to be all about Mary Crawford and her continued hope to mold Edmund into the rich and prominent man she craves. Through a series of letters Fanny is kept informed of the dealings of her cousins. It is her lifeline, and she anxiously awaits word as the news in each letter brings new anxieties and concerns. Foremost on her mind is Edmund and Mary’s relationship. Will he propose? But he is silent and only Mary, who Fanny would rather not correspond with at all writes boasting of her society friend’s approval of him. Mary only values material things; a house in town, parties and praise from society and Fanny is disgusted by it. Mary is being influenced by her environment and friends!
Yet there was no saying what Miss Crawford might not ask. The prospect for her cousin grew worse and worse. The woman who could speak of him, and speak only of his appearance! What an unworthy attachment! To be deriving support from the commendations of Mrs. Fraser! She who had known him intimately half a year! Fanny was ashamed of her. The Narrator, Chapter 43
The long letter that Fanny has been anticipating finally arrives from Edmund. He does see Mary’s faults and her fixation on the values that he has questioned from the very first. She is even more corrupted by her friends and the changes he sees in her from the influence of Mrs. Fraser a cold-hearted, vain woman who married for convenience has altered Mary for the worse. He sees the differences between what she wants (money) and what he can offer more acutely. Still conflicted he shares an important observation with Fanny.
“I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it. I am convinced that she is not without a decided preference.” Edmund Bertram, Chapter 44
Fanny, with her gentle and patient manner exclaims to herself that he should “Fix, commit, condemn yourself “. Bravo! She has had enough vacillation, and wants relief from the prolonged agony of not knowing. When Lady Bertram writes to alert Fanny that Tom is gravely ill, I though that they might send for her, but no. She must continue in her exile with her family, away from all whom she really cares about. Fanny is further appalled when Mary writes to quiz her for information on the extent of Tom’s illness. Material girl that Mary is, Edmund now becomes an even better catch should he become the heir to a Baronet if his brother dies.
She (Fanny) was more inclined to hope than fear for her cousin (Tom), except when she thought of Miss Crawford; but Miss Crawford gave her the idea of being the child of good luck, and to her selfishness and vanity it would be good luck to have Edmund the only son. The Narrator, Chapter 45
The next few chapters of the novel swiftly move to the climax and conclusion packed with so much action and drama that the pages just fly by for me. Fanny will receive two letters that change the entire course of her family and her life. The first letter hastily written and brief, is from Mary warning Fanny of a rumor about Henry. She is puzzled. What does it mean? To learn the whole story by chance is a clever twist by Austen when Fanny’s father discovers the scandalous tidbit in the gossip section of the London newspaper. Henry and Maria have run away together, and the couple’s whereabouts are unknown. Astonishing!
“but so many fine ladies were going to the devil nowadays that way, that there was no answering for anybody.” Mr. Price, Chapter 46
That Austen should give the simple and unrefined Mr. Price the delivery of such an insightful line is hysterical and very effective. Fanny’s reaction is a telling sign of her good nature, always wanting to believe the best of everyone and everything. She does not want to acknowledge it, but pieces the facts together from Mary’s letter and changes her mind. The second letter from Edmund confirms her fears and adds to others in his news that Julia and Mr. Yates have scandalized the family further and eloped to Scotland. Sir Thomas has requested that she return home immediately, and Edmund will arrive tomorrow to fetch her and Susan. Incredible! She has been released from her exile, but has she been forgiven? Edmund and Fanny have a joyful reunion “My Fanny, my only sister; my only comfort now!”, and she sees that Edmund is in low spirits and very quiet. She is very glad to quickly be on their way home!
How her heart swelled with joy and gratitude as she passed the barriers of Portsmouth, and how Susan’s face wore its broadest smiles, may be easily conceived. The Narrator, Chapter 46
How will the rest of the family be when she arrives after a three month absence and under such distressing conditions? Sour and sullen. Amazingly, Mrs. Norris is in the worst state having taken her favorite niece Maria’s impropriety personally since she had recommended the match. She shifts the blame very quickly though, now censuring Fanny for the couple’s wild behavior. If she had accepted Henry’s proposal he would have not looked elsewhere for amusements. Edmund is quiet and distant for some time until he finally confides in Fanny, relaying his final conversation with Mary Crawford and her downfall in his eyes.
“but the manner in which she spoke of the crime itself, giving it every reproach but the right; considering its ill consequences only as they were to be braved or overborne by a defiance of decency and impudence in wrong; and last of all, and above all, recommending to us a compliance, a compromise, an acquiescence in the continuance of the sin, on the chance of a marriage which, thinking as I now thought of her brother, should rather be prevented than sought; all this together most grievously convinced me that I had never understood her before, and that, as far as related to mind, it had been the creature of my own imagination, not Miss Crawford, that I had been too apt to dwell on for many months past. That, perhaps, it was best for me; I had less to regret in sacrificing a friendship, feelings, hopes which must, at any rate, have been torn from me now. And yet, that I must and would confess that, could I have restored her to what she had appeared to me before, I would infinitely prefer any increase of the pain of parting, for the sake of carrying with me the right of tenderness and esteem.’ Edmund Bertram, chapter 47
The final blow in his view against her character and good judgment will be in her seeing the fault not in the deed itself, but that they were not clever enough to hide it and continue clandestinely. Her desire for Henry and Maria to marry and for his family to overlook the ‘sin’ and accept them back is more than he can abide. He now sees that he has never understood her before, and been deluded into overlooking her true nature. Again, Austen allows us to see people’s foibles through adversity, when our true principles are tested. Mary’s final decline in Edmund’s esteem is a great example of this. He is now done with her forever. His fears that he shall never meet another woman so fine again soon change.
Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Crawford, and observing to Fanny how impossible it was that he should ever meet with such another woman, before it began to strike him whether a very different kind of woman might not do just as well, or a great deal better: whether Fanny herself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smiles and all her ways, as Mary Crawford had ever been; and whether it might not be a possible, an hopeful undertaking to persuade her that her warm and sisterly regard for him would be foundation enough for wedded love. The Narrator, Chapter 48
So this is the extent of the romance for Fanny and Edmund? I do admit to feeling a bit cheated, given only a few short passages on the last page, but in looking back on their relationship throughout the novel it had been foreshadowed long ago by Austen through their friendship and mutual regard for each other. Is she slyly telling us that men and women can not be friends. That their is always more in any man – woman realtionship? Sadly, there is no proposal and acceptance scene. Drat! However, just like Edmund I also came to think of their being a couple as a natural thing, and not a reaction to his rejection of Mary. Austen wraps up the novel in a neat package very quickly.
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest. The Narrator, Chapter 48
Those who have erred and behaved badly get their just deserts, hurrah! Henry will not marry Maria and she leaves him to live with Mrs. Norris, who “it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment“, Julia and Mr. Yates are eventually accepted back into the fold (after Sir Thomas comes to understand the extent of his wealth), Dr. Grant is promoted to Westminster and moves to London, dies from a fit of apoplexy from eating three rich dinners in one week, Mary lives with her widowed sister in London unable to find again such a fine man among the dandies in London, and Henry regrets the loss of Fanny forever, and ever! Sir Thomas, the one person who had also acted badly throughout the novel changes – now sees the error of his ways through the neglect of his daughter’s education - and is happy that he has found the daughter that he had always wanted in Fanny. Edmund succeeds to the living of Mansfield, and they live happily ever after in the shadow of Mansfield Park.
On that event they removed to Mansfield; and the Parsonage there, which, under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soon grew as dear to her heart, and as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as everything else within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park had long been. The Narrator, Chapter 48
Online text complements of Molland’s Circulating Library
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Mansfield Park: Broadview Literary Texts Series
Broadview Press (2001). Novel text and introduction and notes by June Sturrock. Trade paperback, 528 pages, ISBN 978-1551110981
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