William and Henry leave, followed a few days later by Edmund, who is to take orders. Those remaining at Mansfield Park are melancholy, particularly since Julia is delaying her return home to go to London with Maria and Rushworth. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram begin to appreciate Fanny more than ever. Mary Crawford, in the meantime, is beside herself with anxiety. Stuck in the Parsonage by bad weather, she misses Edmund and regrets her behavior. Finally, she braves the rain to visit Fanny, hoping to learn something about Edmund. She finds out that he is staying with a friend who has two attractive sisters, and this distresses her. Her feelings for Edmund become clear to Fanny, who is again conflicted.
That night, Henry returns from London. He visits Fanny, then returns to the Parsonage to tell Mary that he has decided to marry Fanny. Mary, seeing that the marriage would only help her chances with Edmund, is delighted, but wonders what Maria and Julia will say. Henry seems glad that they will be disappointed. Both Henry and Mary are sure that Fanny will accept the proposal.
The next morning, Henry goes to Mansfield Park. He has news for Fanny: William has been made a lieutenant through the influence of Henry's uncle the Admiral. Fanny is overjoyed and grateful to Henry for his involvement. Henry then makes his own proposal. Fanny is embarrassed and disappointed that he would mix a good deed--William's promotion--with an evil one---his lovemaking. Henry also brings a letter from his sister, which congratulates her on the match. Fanny writes her a brief note refuting her intentions; she also unequivocally rejects Henry's proposal.
Henry's proposal is the climactic event of Volume II, just as Sir Thomas's return was the climax of Volume I. In both situations, we find Fanny resisting the entreaties of her friends; in the first case, to act in the play, here to marry. Austen puts her reader in a rather curious position. Privy to the conversations between Henry and Mary, we are fully aware of the justice of Fanny's position. Because she is forming her conclusions without as much information as the reader has, we can see what an excellent judge of character she is. The additional information makes Edmund's misguided love for Mary all the more vexing to the reader. Austen typically does not allow her reader this kind of access; in her other novels, the "truth" about characters other than the female protagonist is kept hidden until the end. Here the additional information lets us see the education of the characters, particularly Edmund, taking place.
Once again, Fanny is in jeopardy thanks to her position within the Bertram family. Sir Thomas is pleased with Henry's attentions to Fanny, and she will have a difficult time opposing his wishes. The criteria by which the family evaluates Fanny's suitor will be quite different from the criteria used to evaluate Maria's suitor, and these differences will speak to the possibilities for social mobility and for women's autonomy within this society. For now, Fanny thinks that Henry is her only adversary; this will soon change. Henry's attentions to William are a reminder that Fanny and her siblings owe their success to other people, who may at any time demand repayment.
The state of Edmund and Mary's relationship is also in flux. Edmund's absence increases Mary's feelings for him, but instead of leading to sincerity and resignation to being a clergyman's wife, it only provokes Mary into assisting Henry in his dubious pursuit of Fanny. Henry's marriage to Fanny would have a double purpose: it would eliminate an undeclared rival, and the additional family connection would throw Edmund and Mary together frequently. Both Mary and Henry are wise in their choice of mates; it is in their romantic strategies that they display their essential immorality.
Take a Study Break!