Mansfield Park

by: Jane Austen

Chapters 32-36

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.