Mansfield Park | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park | Chapters 24–26 (Volume 2, Chapters 6–8) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 24

At the Parsonage, Henry explains to Mary his intention to stay a few weeks and amuse himself by making Fanny, who is maturing into a pretty young woman, fall in love with him. He does not deny Mary's accusations that his motives are self-centered. With Julia and Maria gone, Henry has only Fanny to flirt with, and her steadfast resistance to his trifling manner challenges him to make "a small hole in Fanny Price's heart," as he phrases it. Mary asks him not to hurt Fanny but then, in her careless way, drops the subject. The narrator quickly assures readers that Fanny's love for Edmund protects her heart from Henry's assault. Also, William is arriving soon for a rare visit with his beloved sister, diverting Fanny's attention from Henry's ploys. Fanny and William are delighted to see each other and spend much time in long conversations; Sir Thomas and Edmund observe them with shared joy for Fanny. William expresses his gratitude for Sir Thomas's assistance in his career; Sir Thomas comes to like William and enjoys hearing stories of his travels. Henry, for his part, enjoys seeing Fanny's countenance glow with love and pride and, for a little while, imagines he would like to live as William does, making his way bravely in the world. Brief reflection, however, reminds Henry that it is "well to be a man of fortune"—that is, of independent wealth—with horses and servants at his beck. Henry earns Fanny's gratitude by inviting William on hunts and riding expeditions.

Chapter 25

As Sir Thomas gets to know the Grants and the Crawfords better, he notices Henry's attentions to Fanny. After dinner one evening at the Parsonage, the families sit down to play cards, and Henry positions himself near Fanny to advise her (needlessly) on the rules. Henry tells the group how he lost his way, leading his horse home after it threw a shoe during a ride, and ended up in Thornton Lacey, a village about eight miles from Mansfield Park with a pretty church and parsonage—the living Edmund will soon fill. Henry describes improvements needed on the house and grounds, while Mary pretends not to listen. Henry's suggestions for renovations are extensive and costly, yet he pushes them on Edmund, demanding he transform the house into a "place ... the residence of a man of education, taste, modern manners, good connections." When Henry asks Fanny for her opinion of the house she has likely imagined the joy of living in, as Edmund's wife, she focuses on her cards. And when Mary reminds Edmund of Henry's brilliant suggestions for improving Sotherton, Henry sees Fanny's stern look and asks her not to remember him as he was on the day of their visit, when he so improperly sought Maria's attention at her fiancé's estate. After cards, Sir Thomas observes Henry telling Fanny of a new plan, to rent the parsonage at Thornton Lacey so he can stay near Mansfield Park without troubling the Grants. But Sir Thomas objects politely: Edmund intends to live there to be available to his parishioners every day. Edmund welcomes Henry to stay with him any time, and Henry drops the plan. Fanny listens sadly, knowing soon she will no longer see Edmund every day. Mary nurses bitter feelings as Sir Thomas describes Edmund's future home and life, so different from what she wants, despite her love for Edmund.

Later, Fanny and William talk separately about his promotion worries. As a midshipman he is a nobody, but without patronage, promotion is unlikely. When the siblings become aware of Sir Thomas listening, they speak of lighter topics instead—of balls and dancing. Sir Thomas has never seen Fanny dance, but Henry praises her as an excellent dancer despite having no memory, in fact, of her abilities. The coachman arrives, and Mrs. Norris scolds Fanny for holding up their departure. Edmund picks up Fanny's shawl to put it around her, but to her disappointment Henry grabs it and does the favor himself.

Chapter 26

Generous Sir Thomas decides to hold a small ball at Mansfield Park before William leaves, despite Mrs. Norris's objections to a dance while Julia and Maria are away. He enjoys planning all the details—usually Mrs. Norris's task—and sends out invitations for November 22. Fanny frets in her excitement about wearing the amber cross William brought her from Sicily, which she wears on a ribbon because he could not afford a gold chain as well. Her worries are trivial compared to Edmund's thoughts as he makes his final preparations for ordination in December. As a clergyman, he is expected to marry a woman to share in parish duties. He loves Mary, but does she love him enough to be happy as a country clergyman's wife? Mary plans to stay with a London friend after Christmas and looks forward to social events, yet she is ambivalent about leaving the Parsonage, a feeling that gives Edmund hope.

On the day before the ball, Fanny walks to the Parsonage to ask Mary's advice on dresses, and meets her just leaving for Mansfield Park. They retreat to Mary's room and talk about the ball, Mary pleased to offer her expertise. Then she opens a small box of necklaces and offers one to Fanny to go with the amber cross. With difficulty she persuades Fanny to choose a necklace as a gift; she has so many necklaces herself and won't miss one. Fanny finally chooses what she thinks is the least expensive chain, only to learn Henry gave it to his sister. Fanny must remember them both, Mary says, when she wears it. Fanny blushes when Mary teases her of suspecting "a confederacy" between her and Henry so he can see the chain around Fanny's throat. Mary refuses to take the necklace back, so Fanny leaves with it. As she walks home, she acknowledges Henry's increased attentions, and suspects Mary of being "careless as a woman and a friend."

Analysis

In Chapter 24, Henry and Mary talk, with no one else around—not even Mrs. Grant—for the first time. Their conversation reveals who they are when their social masks are not in place. Sister and brother know each other well. Mary immediately divines Henry's real motivations for courting Fanny. He craves attention and adoration; he enjoys the novelty of conquest. Having already wrung these pleasures from Julia and Maria, Henry wants to add Fanny to his list of triumphs and is not shy about his goals. Fanny has matured—blossomed, even—and Henry's description of her is sensual. He admires "soft skin ... so frequently tinged with a blush," her expressive eyes and mouth, and her "tout ensemble" (her everything). Furthermore, Fanny is "solemn" and "prudish"—not easy prey. Henry assures Mary he will make Fanny love him only enough to think she will be sad when he leaves in a couple of weeks. For her part, Mary lets Henry brush off her passing concerns about Fanny "as good a little creature as ever lived," and she colludes in his conquest in the next chapter, causing Fanny pain. Their frank conversation develops the novel's motif of the poisonous attitudes of the city invading the quiet country estate at Mansfield.

Another brother and sister provide a contrast to Henry and Mary. William and Fanny show their genuine, supportive affection for each other. Only with William does Fanny enjoy "unchecked, equal, fearless" conversation as William tells her all his hopes and plans. All who see them, even cynical Henry, notice the "affection so amiable" that causes brother and sister to rejoice in each other's happiness and empathize with each other's worries. It may be Jane Austen's own love for her brothers in the Navy, whom she saw less often than she liked, echoes in these scenes.

William's attentions to Fanny, such as his praise of her dancing, are for her and about her. Henry's attentions, in contrast, are pestering at best and predatory at worst. They please him, not her, as when he insists on guiding her in the card game in Chapter 25, even though the rules are so easy that Fanny learns them in minutes. Henry is always the center of his own conversations, although he may seem to be speaking of someone else. When he happens upon Thornton Lacey, he is not sure where he is, but he doesn't ask. "I never inquire," he says. "But I told a man ... that it was Thornton Lacy, and he agreed to it." Funny, witty words—and yet they reveal Henry's insistence on being in control, at the center of every scene. He cannot talk about the living at Thornton Lacey without lecturing Edmund on how to manage it; he interferes as the women play their hands at cards; he claims to know how Fanny dances though "he could not for the life of him recall what her dancing had been." Henry is the expert on everything as he preens for Fanny who, recalling how he preened for Maria at Sotherton, is repelled by his antics.

Love (or facsimiles of love) leads to confusion and doubt in many minds in these chapters. Mary wonders whether she could bear life at Thornton Lacey and carry out the duties expected of the parish clergyman's wife. Edmund despairs, as he prepares for ordination, over whether Mary loves him "enough to forego" the fulfillment of her dreams of a wealthy marriage. And poor Fanny can no longer deny, after the incident with the necklace, Henry's attentions to her, sometimes irritating and frantic, but other times kind and gallant. He is determined, she decides, to "cheat her of her tranquility" as he did her cousins, and she resents Mary, "complaisant as a sister" and "careless as a woman, and a friend," for her collusion.

As for the adults, Chapter 26 continues to develop Sir Thomas's character positively. The joy he takes in planning Fanny's coming-out ball is clear, but the more control he exerts over his household and family, the more Mrs. Norris, who once attended to these matters, is pushed to the side. "A ball at such a time!" she fumes. "His daughters absent and herself not consulted!" Sir Thomas kindly but decisively cuts Mrs. Norris out of the plans, perhaps a delayed slap on the wrist for her lack of oversight during the theatricals, and certainly a gesture that protects Fanny somewhat from her aunt's sharp, resentful comments.

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