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Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

Chapters 32-36

Chapters 29-31

Chapters 37-42

Summary

Fanny hopes that she has discouraged Henry Crawford permanently. To her dismay, though, he comes to see her uncle, Sir Thomas, to plead his case. Fanny is upstairs in the nursery when her uncle comes to talk to her. He is startled that she has no fire in the cold upstairs room (Mrs. Norris had previously forbidden it) and tells her that she will have one from now on. He also asks her to come downstairs with him to talk to Henry, who is waiting. Fanny cannot believe Henry has had the nerve to repeat his proposals after her denial the night before. Sir Thomas does not understand why Fanny is rejecting such a charming and wealthy young man, and she does not want to tell him about Henry's dalliances with Maria and Julia. He is a bit worried that her affections are directed elsewhere--towards Edmund--but she tells him she loves no other. Sir Thomas accuses her of ingratitude, and her tears and pleading convince him she may be softened towards Henry. He tells her that she will meet with Henry the following day to explain herself.

Henry does indeed show up the next day to try once again. His expressions of sincerity make an impression on Sir Thomas. Again he reminds Fanny of his role in William's promotion, and Fanny is hard-pressed to deny him given this fact. But deny him she does. Sir Thomas tells her that he will respect her wishes, but that he will inform Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram of the proposal; he also tells her that she will receive Henry for as long as he stays in the neighborhood of Mansfield Park. Mrs. Norris is enraged and barely speaks to Fanny; Lady Bertram tells her she ought to have accepted the proposal. Lady Bertram's vanity is flattered by the proposal, though, and she compliments herself both on sending her own maid to dress Fanny the night of the ball (which is surely when Henry must have fallen in love with her) and on having such a good-looking family.

Edmund returns to Mansfield after his ordination. He is disconcerted to see Mary Crawford still at the Parsonage; he had stayed away longer in hopes that she would leave before he returned. Sir Thomas informs Edmund of Henry's proposal to Fanny; Edmund is gentle with her but, as a friend of Henry's, encourages her to accept the proposal. The night after Edmund's return, Henry comes to Mansfield Park for dinner. After dinner, he reads from Shakespeare for the entertainment of Lady Bertram. Although he claims that Shakespeare is not one of his favorites, he reads exquisitely, and the group is impressed with his dramatic skills. Fanny is reminded of the play that was to be put on in Sir Thomas's absence. Edmund and Henry have a conversation about delivering sermons, and Henry lavishes Fanny with unwanted attention. Edmund hopes Fanny will be able to get rid of him, but he does nothing to help her.

The Crawfords are to leave Mansfield, and Sir Thomas is eager for Fanny to change her mind. He asks Edmund to intervene. Edmund reluctantly agrees. Fanny's emotions are turbulent as she talks to Edmund about the situation. He tells her that he agrees with her conduct, but he urges her to reconsider. She becomes quite passionate, clearly moved by her feelings for Edmund himself, in her refusals even to think of Henry Crawford. She reminds Edmund of Henry's attention to Maria; he brushes her concerns off. So, of course, on the subject turns to Mary Crawford. Edmund is pleased that Mary seems so eager to see her brother marry Fanny. Fanny is moved to make a declaration of near-feminist principles: "I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself." Unfortunately, Edmund misinterprets Fanny's words and tells her that he has told Mary and Mrs. Grant that Henry simply needs to be persistent in his addresses to earn her love.

Mary comes to see Fanny before she leaves Mansfield. She jestingly scolds Fanny for rejecting Henry's proposals, but cannot keep from talking about Edmund. She reminisces about the scene from the play that she and Edmund rehearsed with Fanny's help, and she tells Fanny that she does not want to leave Mansfield. She gives Fanny a brief account of the friends she is going to visit; they seem to be a corrupted, overly sophisticated lot--all unhappily married, and all at one time or another conveniently in love with Henry Crawford. She then gives Fanny a piece of shocking news: the necklace she gave to Fanny was intended as a gift from Henry; Fanny was duped into taking it. Again Mary attests to Henry's sincerity, and again Fanny is reminded of Henry's aid to William's career. That night, the Crawfords take leave of Mansfield. Henry seems miserable, and Fanny softens toward him for a moment, but not enough to consider accepting him. The next morning, the Crawfords leave.

Commentary

Henry's little game has quickly become serious business. Fanny's natural reticence and her reluctance to disobey Sir Thomas directly get her into trouble. Fanny is contrasted implicitly with Maria, the first woman to marry in the novel. While Maria is secure in her position in the family and therefore has a right to consult her feelings in deciding whom she will marry, Fanny is a guest; never has this been so obvious as it is now. Sir Thomas accuses her first of having designs on Edmund (which, of course, she does, although they are innocent and she can't even admit them to herself), then of ingratitude. Mrs. Norris's constant comments on the money needed to support the Price children are a reminder that Fanny is literally indebted to her uncle. In essence, she has been enslaved in exchange for her upbringing. She must either wait on Lady Bertram or else marry--for money--as her uncle sees fit. Again we see Fanny trapped: she cannot speak the truth. Were she to expose Maria and Julia's behavior during Sir Thomas's absence, she would most likely not be believed, and would probably be kicked out of Mansfield. Fanny is good-hearted, too, and realizes that it would not be ethical to sacrifice her cousins to relieve her own discomfort.

It is more obvious than ever that Henry is not the man Fanny should marry. These chapters are constantly interrupted by references to the play that was to be put on at Mansfield. That the play was a bad thing has been well-established by Sir Thomas's reaction to it. The constant reminders of the play are meant to remind the reader, and Fanny, of Henry's essential amorality. While it is more difficult to attack him for his interference in William's career, since it has done William good, Henry is still clearly culpable for his behavior toward Maria and Julia at the time of the play. The play is also what drew Edmund and Mary together. Edmund, aware of this, makes excuses for the play and tries to clear everyone involved of blame. The fact that it was the setting for his initial contact with Mary reminds us that theirs, too, would be a bad match. Most of all, though, the references to Lovers' Vows suggest that most of the people in this world are "acting," that sincerity is not necessarily a given. Henry's reading of Shakespeare is a dramatic reminder of this; he can mimic every character perfectly, although Shakespeare has no intellectual or aesthetic attraction for him. While the rest of the group sees this as a reflection of Henry's tastes and talents, Fanny sees it as a sign of his essential insincerity and emotional dishonesty.

It seems that Edmund and Fanny have both been saved by the Crawfords' departure. Fanny has triumphed through persistence and gentle reasoning; Edmund has gotten away through luck and a battle for self-control. Each benefits from the other's counsel, although neither is honest in their feelings for the other (which do not yet seem to be openly romantic on Edmund's part). Yet forces seem still to be aligned against them, in the form of Sir Thomas and the plotting Crawfords.

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Regarding Maria Bertram and Mrs. Norris in the last chapter

by baerro, March 14, 2013

Regarding Maria Bertram and Mrs. Norris in the last chapter, neither leaves England. When Austen writes that "an establishment [is] being formed for them in another country," she does not mean continental Europe. Here, "country" simply means another part of the same country (most likely somewhere in the countryside). They are still in England.

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