Edmund informs Tom and Maria of his change-of-heart and agrees to play Anhalt in the play. They privately revel in their final triumph over his moral objections. Mrs. Grant accepts the part of the cottager’s wife, relieving Fanny of the fear of further pressure to act. Everyone is engrossed in the production but Julia and Fanny who have abstained for different reasons; Julia for jealousy and Fanny on principle, and are silent sufferers. Mrs. Grant observes Henry’s preference for Maria over Julia, discusses it with Mary who agrees, but does not think that Mr. Rushworth has a chance if she is Henry’s choice. Henry has divided the Bertram sister’s affection and made them enemies of the heart. Only Fanny sees Julia’s controlled misery and spite. Everyone else is too preoccupied with the play to see the deep cut Henry has inflicted on Julia in preferring Maria, an engaged lady.
The rehearsals for the play continue. What was once unanimity and delight has eroded into vexation among the cast. Against Edmund’s judgment, a scene painter arrives from town (London) increasing the expense and “eclat of their proceedings“. Tom takes it outside the family circle and invites anyone and everyone to the performance of the play angering Edmund further. Fanny secretly thinks Henry is by far the best actor in the bunch. Mr. Rushworth is struggling with his four-and-twenty speeches so Fanny assists him by prompting his lines in an attempt to be his memory. No help. Mrs. Norris puts Fanny to work to sew the costumes and she retreats to her rooms. The rehearsals are now spread out over the house. Mary seeks Fanny’s assistance with some lines that she is uncomfortable saying to Edmund. Edmund arrives at Fanny’s door with the same purpose making Fanny the third wheel. A full rehearsal of the three acts is planned, but at the last Mrs. Grant can not attend. Who will be cottager’s wife? All eyes turn to Fanny and even Edmund encourages her! Under pressure, she agrees. Julia bursts into the room and declares that Sir Thomas is home, and in the other room!
To the absolute horror of many, Sir Thomas arrives home early and unannounced during the rehearsal of the play. “What will become of us? What is to be done now?” Fanny fears her uncle’s arrival for different reasons and is surprised by his warm welcome to her. Sir Thomas is introduced to Mr. Rushworth as Maria’s fiancé. Lady Bertram is moved nearer to agitation than she had been in twenty years on his sudden arrival. Mrs. Norris has no fear of his disapprobation of her involvement in the play, but whisks the pink satin cape away that she was working on just in case. Lady Bertram let’s the cat out of the bag and informs Sir Thomas what the young people are about with the play. Tom tries to minimize the production. Sir Thomas retreats to his study to discover that things are amiss, a stage has been erected in the billiard room, and a stranger (Mr. Yates) is deep in his part rehearsing away. Sir Thomas is surprised by the extent of the production. As Mr. Yates incautiously informs him how it all came about, Sir Thomas’ throws disdainful looks to all of his children, and especially to Edmund. Fanny is the silent witness and fears his wrath against Edmund more than the others. Sir Thomas, feeling benevolent upon his return to his family will be indulgent, but not on rehearsals and subliminally cancels further production.
The next morning Edmund explains to his father their involvement in the theatrical. Fanny remains blameless. She alone abstained in respect to Sir Thomas. The house is cleared of all evidence of the play. The only outward act of his disapproval is the burning of all of the copies of Lovers’ Vows. Sir Thomas does drop a hint to Mrs. Norris that she should have known better. She changes the subject and reminds him that she alone is responsible for the connection to the Rushworth’s. Tom and Mr. Yates get out of the house and go hunting while discussing the deconstruction of their play. Mr. Rushworth departs for Sotherton, much to Maria’s relief. Separated from Henry Crawford, she is anxious that he declare himself to her. Henry arrives, but only to be indifferent and announce his departure for Bath. Julia can rejoice since his presence is odious to her now, and will sadden Maria. Mr. Yates departs. Sir Thomas is genuinely satisfied to see him away from his son Tom and daughter Julia. Mrs. Norris, ever the resourceful one appropriates the green baize curtain from the production for her cottage. All evidence of the play is gone, along with everyone’s spirits.
All gaiety has vanished at Mansfield Park under Sir Thomas’ staid influence. Edmund misses the novelty of a more lively society “feeling as if we had never lived so before.” Fanny is embarrassed by Edmund’s mention that she has grown to be a pretty woman. Mary Crawford remarks to Edmund that Fanny is as fearful of attention as other women are of neglect. Sir Thomas, Tom and Fanny will dine at Sotherton and Edmund observes that after five hours in Mr. Rushworth’s company, his father will like him less. He wishes that Maria was not engaged to him. Edmund is right. Sir Thomas doubts Mr. Rushworth’s worthiness, speaks to Maria and offers a release. She sees no impediment, secretly spiteful of Henry Crawford’s dalliances, and desiring the independence and luxuries of a married woman away from her father’s tyranny. Maria marries, and Sotherton has a new mistress. Julia reconciled with her sister, goes with the couple on their honeymoon to Brighton.
Fanny’s consequence in the household and at the parsonage increases with Julia and Maria’s departure. Sent on an errand to the village by Mrs. Norris, Fanny is caught in a squall, pulled into the parsonage and given dry clothes and attention by Mary and Mrs. Grant. Mary plays her harp for Fanny who is anxious to be away on her errand. Mary entreats her to stay longer now interested in Fanny’s friendship since Julia and Maria are gone. Fanny visits Mary again and they walk in the garder of the parsonage. Fanny rhapsodizes on nature. Mary can see no wonder but seeing herself in it! Edmund joins them pleased in the satisfaction that two so dear to him have become friends. Mary discusses her intensions to only be rich and chides Edmund for his intension only not to be poor. On their departure, Mrs. Grant honors Fanny with an invitation to dine. Uncertain if it will be permitted, Edmund speaks on his mother’s behalf and accepts for Fanny. They rush back to Mansfield, as Lady Bertram is in need of Fanny’s services.
Lady Bertram is puzzled and distressed that Fanny should dine with the Grants. Why would anyone ask Fanny to dine and how can she do without her? Sir Thomas thinks that it proper that Mrs. Grant should honor the niece of Lady Bertram and consents. Edmund informs Fanny who is glad. Her Aunt Norris thinks it indulgent for someone in her station and for her not to expect it repeated. She continues lecturing Fanny on people moving out of their sphere and reminds her that she “must be must be the lowest and last” in there company. Aunt Norris is red faced when Sir Thomas supersedes her plan that Fanny not be allowed the carriage to attend the dinner. Fanny is touched by his consideration. Edmund complements Fanny on her dress. Henry Crawford is the surprise guest at dinner. Edmund is pleased. Fanny is not. In conversation, Henry does not miss the opportunity to put down Mr. Rushworth or extol the pleasures of their theatrical, having never felt so alive. Incensed, Fanny disagrees condemning his “corrupted mind”, putting him in his place. Henry is both taken aback by her boldness and intrigued by her spirit. Henry brings up Edmund’s pending ordination, reminding Mary of her failed attempts to change his profession, and transferring her affection for him to nothing beyond immediate amusement.
Henry Crawford delays his return to London. He sees new amusement now in Mansfield and will make Fanny Price fall in love with him “to tear a small whole in her heart.” Mary sees his motivation. Reproaching that he desires Fanny because she does not desire him, she warns him not to “plunge her deep” into love! He begs off and proclaims that it must all be accomplished in a fortnight, and how much harm can be done by then? Fanny’s dear brother William returns from his duties at sea and visits at Mansfield. Henry observes her animation and true affection for her brother wishing to “be also loved by such a girl“, and extends his stay indefinitely. Henry admires William adventures and longs to be so productive himself, for about one minute, and then reminds himself that he likes the luxuries of wealth more. Henry obliges William with a mount to go hunting with Edmund and himself.
© 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose