After a great deal of selfish haranguing, Mary Crawford finally has her harp delivered. The harp is Edmund's favorite instrument, and he falls even deeper under Mary's spell: "a young woman, pretty, lively with a harp...was enough to catch any man's heart." Fanny is taken aback by Mary's selfish attitude, but as usual she keeps her feelings to herself. Edmund arranges for Mary to ride Fanny's horse so that he can accompany her and neglects Fanny, who must ride for her health. Fanny, however, remains passive, and keeps running errands for both of her aunts. When she becomes ill, Edmund takes the older women to task and ensures that Fanny continues to ride.
While plans are being made for the excursion to Sotherton, Mr. Rushworth's estate, it is decided that Fanny should stay at home to attend Lady Bertram: "Oh no," her aunt declares, "I cannot do without Fanny." Edmund insists, however, that he will stay with his mother so Fanny can have the rare opportunity of an outing. When Mrs. Grant volunteers to stay in his place, Fanny is allowed to go along with the group. In the carriage, Maria and Julia vie for the open seat next to Henry Crawford, and Julia wins out - much to Maria's consternation. Fanny is simply delighted to be seeing something new, while Maria brags about the extent of her fiance's property. At Sotherton, the Bertrams, the Crawfords, and Fanny Price are welcomed by the well-meaning but excruciatingly boring Mrs. Rushworth, who provides them with a tour of the estate. Fanny voices her disappointment with the sparse chapel to Edmund and Mary, but they both disagree with her. Mary sneers at the idea of the whole family traipsing to chapel twice a day, having no idea that Edmund plans to become a clergyman upon his father's return from Antigua. Julia remarks that it is too bad that Edmund cannot marry Maria and Mr. Rushworth right then and there. At this point, Mary realizes Edmund's choice of vocation, and assures him that had she known she would have spoken with more respect.
Next, they go outside to view the grounds, and break into two groups: Henry Crawford, Mary Bertram, Mr. Rushworth and Fanny make up one group, and Edmund, Mary and Julia Bertram, Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Rushworth make up the other. Fanny is, as usual, generally ignored while Mary attempts to talk Edmund out of his choice of profession: "a clergyman is nothing," she declares. After a short time Fanny becomes tired, and they sit in the shade, but the lively Mary wants to continue on, and the two leave Fanny alone to rest. Just as she begins to feel abandoned, Henry Crawford, Rushworth and Maria arrive, but are stopped by a locked gate from which they view a knoll that Henry maintains would improve the approach to Sotherton. Rushworth must return to the house to get the key. While he is gone, Maria and Henry find they cannot wait and slip through the gate. Fanny is left behind once more. Julia arrives, and similarly passes through the gate after she becomes angry to learn that Maria and Henry are alone together. When Rushworth arrives with the key, he likewise becomes angry and begins to insult Henry, but Fanny calms him down. Finally, the reunited group goes back to the house. On the way home, Julia once again shares the open seat with Henry. The women are crowded and uncomfortable, surrounded with the packages of produce Mrs. Norris has managed to acquire from the Sotherton servants.
Shortly after the excursion to Sotherton, a letter arrives informing the family that Sir Thomas will return in November. Maria becomes agitated because she realizes that for her "the father [brings] a husband." She will have to marry Rushworth when her father comes home. The rest of the group realizes that their father's return will put an end to their frivolity: "November was the black month fixed for his return." When Sir Thomas returns, Edmund will take orders to become a clergyman. Mary continues to harangue Edmund about his choice of occupation, stating that clergymen are fat and lazy. She also makes disparaging remarks about her brother-in-law, Mr. Grant, in whose house she resides. Fanny and Edmund look out at the sunset and the encroaching stars, but just as they decide to go outside, Edmund is called to rejoin the party. He joins Mary and the others, who are singing. Fanny sighs, alone once more.
Tom Bertram reappears in chapter twelve. Although Mary Crawford has been hoping to make a match with Tom, the oldest son and the heir to Mansfield Park, she finds that she likes Edmund far more. Henry leaves to visit his Norfolk estate, Everingham, and is gone for two weeks - much to the dismay of the young people, who miss his lively personality and ability to entertain them. After he returns, a ball is hastily put together. It is Fanny's first ball, and she is excited and eager to dance. While waiting to be asked, Fanny overhears Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Rushworth discussing how Maria and Henry look so happy dancing together and Mrs. Norris practically announces a match between Henry and Julia Bertram. Tom Bertram walks over to Fanny and she very much hopes that he will ask her to dance, but he thinks of her merely as a sister and just plops down next to her. After a while, Tom says that if Fanny really wants to dance he will oblige her. She politely refuses. Then, when Mrs. Norris attempts to get Tom involved in a card game with some tiresome older people, he jumps up and says that he has to dance with a dismayed Fanny.
The improvements that are to be made to Rushworth's Sotherton estate are a symbol of the encroachment of the "new ways" on traditional country values. Mr. Rushworth and the Bertrams (with the exception of Edmund) seem content to change everything about the estate, even if it means knocking down buildings and cutting down avenues of trees. Fanny appreciates the natural feel of Sotherton, while Maria, Mary and Henry are eager to change the estate just for the sake of doing so. Meanwhile, the young group has courtship on their minds. Maria, who is marrying Rushworth solely for his fortune, is sexually attracted to Henry Crawford, to the dismay of her unattached sister Julia. Edmund has fallen into the clutches of Mary Crawford, and sets his own values aside in an effort to win her attention. Fanny doesn't yet realize that the love she feels for Edmund goes beyond brotherly affection, and that the negative feelings she has toward Mary Crawford are in part based on jealousy. While readers might become frustrated with Fanny's passivity, it is important to remember that any action on her part could mean her removal from Mansfield Park. In this world, she has absolutely no power. Here, Austen also refers to - and perhaps pokes fun at - the social construct of "outing." Before making their social debut, or "coming out", young girls were expected to act modestly, keep quiet, and remain more or less invisible. Depending upon the family, girls of high social rank came out during their mid-teenage years, at which point they were considered marriage prospects, were permitted to socially engage with members of the opposite sex, and began attending balls. Although Fanny is chronologically beyond the years during which a young lady traditionally came out, she has never been formally debuted in society and is thus considered "not out." This could be construed as the Bertram's way of keeping her in a lowly social standing. However, things change dramatically at Fanny's first ball. Although not much is made of the affair because of Fanny's low social status, this social celebration signifies that Fanny is now considered a young woman of marriageable age.
Sotherton brings to light the "improvements" trend that was a characteristic of the era. More modern, forward-looking people want to tear down the old, or change it to suit their own tastes, while the more traditional conservatives want to maintain the status quo. The chapel scene at Sotherton brings this conflict to light. The conservative Fanny wants to see a more traditional chapel with aisles and arches, the practical Edmund maintains that such architectural elements are not necessary in a private chapel, and the city-dwelling Mary Crawford doesn't at all seem interested in aesthetics - indeed, she doesn't even see the point in having a chapel at all. The grounds at Sotherton, which Mr. Rushworth is interested in "improving", symbolize man's continual battle with nature. Although it contains a "wilderness", the area has been artificially created. This pseudo-wilderness is the setting for the action that ensues, providing the ideal locale for Edmund and Mary to be alone. It is unclear whether they purposefully abandon Fanny so that they can be alone. Similarly, breaching the locked gate in the natural setting allows Henry and Maria to enjoy some privacy. Entering this forbidden territory suggests a sexual liaison, and Julia's distress is unsurprising. The comings and goings of the couples and the running back and forth by the possibly soon-to-be-cuckolded Mr. Rushworth provide comic relief. Fanny's willingness to wait without complaining demonstrates her helpless social position, while Julia's attempts to embarrass Maria by reminding the others of her sister's engagement to Mr. Rushworth brings to light the battle erupting between the two sisters for Henry's attention. Henry appears to take pleasure in the conflict he is causing between the two.
Although they are very different types of people, Edmund is blinded by Mary's beauty. Mary is clearly an unsuitable match for Edmund: she has the audacity to denigrate the career to which he aspires, and tells him that he should go into law - an occupation he detests - instead. Mary is rude and hurtful at every opportunity, yet Edmund continues to be drawn to her. The meekly passive Fanny is distressed by Edmund's attraction to Mary. She realizes that he is the ideal man for her because they have similar sensibilities. For instance, Edmund and Fanny are the only ones who pause to look at the setting sun and the rising stars. While the others remain blind to nature, they have a mutual appreciation for its tranquility and beauty. However, to Fanny's frustration, Edmund is drawn back to Mary and the group of raucous singers. Some scholars have argued that Edmund, like Henry (who uses Julia to make Maria jealous), uses Mary to make Fanny jealous, but there is little evidence in the text itself to support this premise.
The heir to Mansfield Park, Tom Bertram, is a selfish boor who, when juxtaposed with the sensible Edmund, is revealed as severely wanting. Austen uses the character of Tom Bertram to illustrate the evils of primogeniture, the social system that designates the first-born son as the sole heir to his parents' estate. It is the oldest son who benefits, regardless of how much he may be lacking in character or morals. Austen also illustrates how the Bertrams use Fanny without consideration of her feelings. Take, for example, Edmund's concern for Fanny's health, which contrasts sharply with Tom's complete disregard for Fanny at the ball. Not once does it enter Tom's mind that Fanny might like to be asked to dance at her very first ball. He is only concerned with his own comfort, and when he realizes that he might be stuck for the evening playing cards with the older people, he uses Fanny as a prop to support his own desires.