Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park Summary and Analysis of Chapters 37-42

Sir Thomas believes that if Fanny returns to Portsmouth for a family visit, she will come to understand the difference between a poor life and a rich life, and will accept Henry Crawford's proposal: "Sir Thomas...went on with his own hopes and his own observations, still feeling a right, by all his knowledge of human nature, to see the loss of power and consequence on his niece's spirits." Edmund wonders why Fanny doesn't miss her friend Mary more, but fails to realize that Fanny is deeply disturbed by the prospect of a marriage between Edmund and Mary. William again returns to Mansfield, but Fanny is disappointed by the fact that he cannot appear in his new lieutenant's uniform. It is decided that Fanny should join William when he returns to Portsmouth so that she will be able to see her brother in all his finery and pay a long overdue visit to her parents and siblings. She is delighted about the trip, and believes that a two or three month separation from Edmund will give her the opportunity to "reason herself into a proper state." She also believes that she can be a help to her mother. William explains that there is a great deal of confusion within the crude Price household and that she might find it disturbing. Edmund remains at Mansfield so that his parents won't be without company, aware of how much they will miss Fanny. He has intimated to Fanny that during his upcoming trip to London he plans to propose to Mary.

The trip to Portsmouth is enjoyable for the siblings. Fanny enjoys the novelty of traveling. William, however, keeps his positive attitude towards Henry, who was the one responsible for his promotion, to himself. Although Fanny's mother seems happy to see Fanny, she is clearly far happier to see her son, and doesn't have time to spend with the daughter she hasn't seen for nine years. The Price house is disorganized: the children are dirty, loud, and disobedient. Fanny's father drinks and ignores her even though he hasn't seen her for a very long time. Fanny is, to say the least, shocked by her family's behavior. She cannot imagine how they can all live in such a small house: "She was then taken into a parlour, so small that her first conviction was of its being a passage room to something better; but then she saw there was no other door." In this regard, it appears, Sir Thomas was right. While Fanny feels bad for disparaging her family - especially her mother, who is overwhelmed and hardly capable of coping with the demands of running a household - she cannot help but compare her present surroundings to her former life at the tranquil, elegant, and clean Mansfield Park. She is hopelessly homesick, and wishes to return to what has now become her home.

William leaves immediately, to Fanny's great dismay. His ship, the Thrush "had had her orders, the wind had changed, and he was sailed." She loves William beyond description, and doesn't find anything appealing about her "new" brothers and sisters, with the exception of fourteen year-old Susan, who shows promise despite her rough manners. Fanny feels desperately homesick for Mansfield, and even misses her little attic room, which seems so large in comparison to the tiny room she has to share with Susan: "there was nothing to raise her spirits in the confined and scantily-furnished chamber that she was to share." However, she subscribes to the circulating library to forward Susan's education, and allows herself the pleasure of reading books. Fanny feels glad, for once, to receive a letter from Mary in London. Mary has seen Maria, who appears none too happy despite the fact that she is living in one of the finest houses in the city. She is sad that Edmund has not written to her, and although Fanny is glad for her sister's company, she clearly misses all her friends at Mansfield Park.

To Fanny's absolute dismay, Henry Crawford arrives unannounced at the Price household. Her mother warmly welcomes him after Fanny introduces him as the friend of William who was responsible for his promotion. Henry tells Fanny that Edmund has recently arrived in London, and Fanny realizes that by now he and Mary are most likely engaged. Henry insists on an outing with Fanny and Susan, and the three encounter Fanny's father, who to Fanny's great relief behaves civilly and insists on showing Henry the dockyards. When they are alone, Henry tells Fanny that he has come only to see her. He had been to his estate to help a family with a lease, and while there he met some of his renters. He was able to help them, and Fanny finds him much improved. Soon, however, Henry hints that he hopes to return to his estate - with her - but even in this he seems insincere: "this was aimed and well aimed, at Fanny. It was pleasing to hear him speak so well; hear he had been acting as he ought to do. To be the friend of the poor and oppressed. Nothing could be more grateful to her." Fanny is thankful when Henry declines an invitation to dinner because she is deeply ashamed of her family. The next morning, however, Henry shows up once more, and accompanies the Price family to church. During a walk afterwards, he is struck by Fanny's failing looks. She has not taken the exercise she is used to at Mansfield, and her diet has suffered, making her look faded. He offers to take her back to Mansfield, but she refuses, saying she will remain in Portsmouth a month longer - and possibly more. She has no choice in the matter, as the date of her return is entirely up to Sir Thomas. After Henry leaves Fanny finds herself desolate, and thinks that Henry might not be as bad as she had earlier believed.


Fanny's trip to Portsmouth could be construed as banishment for her disobedience to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, but Sir Thomas, it should be remembered, cares deeply for Fanny - perhaps more so than for anyone at Mansfield, with the exception of Edmund. He realizes that Fanny doesn't see the reality of her situation, and what a life lived in poverty would mean for her. Perhaps, he thinks, some time spent in her parents' home will enable her to comphrened the importance of accepting Henry's marriage proposal. And, in fact, he is correct in this matter: Fanny does indeed come to understand just how reliant she has become upon the Bertram family's generosity. The way her family lives demonstrates clearly what her future life might be if she continues to refuse Henry. Her father, a drunk who cannot control his family, contrasts with the imposing patriarch Sir Thomas, who runs his family with a steady but loving hand. Although Fanny's mother, Mrs. Price, looks very much like her older sister Lady Bertram, her rough life makes her appear slatternly and many years older than she is. Fanny's brothers and sisters are also utilized to demonstrate the effects of poor conditions on children with otherwise good looks and minds. As they are now, without strict and loving guidance, they will grow up to be like Mary and Henry, focused only on their own pleasures. Had it not been for the education she received at Mansfield Park, Fanny might not have grown into the lady she has become, and she could still be doomed to follow in her mother's footsteps if she refuses Henry.

Letters play an enormous role in all of Austen's novels, and Mansfield Park is no exception. In her long letter to Fanny, Mary remains in control; Fanny is in the dark and totally reliant on this single, biased source due to "her present exile from good society" (380). Nor can she count on facial gestures and the intuitive insights such expressions inherently contribute to conversations in order to get at the truth of what is happening in London while she remains cooped up, miserable, lonely, and essentially out of the loop: "Portsmouth was a sad place. They did not get out much." In a post-script, at Henry's suggestion, Mary offers to take Fanny back to Mansfield and on the way stop at Henry's estate. Here, one can read Henry's manipulative nature. By having his sister bring Fanny to his home, he will be given the opportunity to show off to Fanny what she has been missing, and will thus be cast in a far more positive light. Ultimately, despite her avowals of undying friendship, Mary Crawford cares little for Fanny Price. She is simply writing at her brother's directive (and thus implicitly condoning his actions) because in this era it would be socially unacceptable for a lady to receive letters from a gentleman to whom she wasn't at least engaged. This harkens back to the scene before the ball, when Fanny is tricked into taking a chain from Mary for her cross, only to find out - much to her chagrin - that it is actually from Henry Crawford. Mary Crawford, in a sense, is Henry's mouthpiece, while he is her puppet master.

Fanny's fascination with Susan foreshadows the events to come: Fanny remarks to herself that if Susan had been given the same opportunities she had received in Mansfield Park, the fifteen-year-old could no doubt be turned into a lady. She spends much of her time educating her in the ways of being a lady, and makes sure she receives the bare minimum of education required for a lady of some breeding by subscribing to the library (a common practice during the eighteenth-century for all those wishing to make inroads in high society). Readers, at this point, may be left wondering: why Susan? Will the young woman come to replace Fanny at Mansfield? And if so, what will happen to Fanny Price? Will she wed Henry Crawford after all, or does Austen have other plans in mind for this delightful character?