Mansfield Park | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park | Chapters 7–9 (Volume 1, Chapters 7–9) | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

The next day, Edmund asks Fanny what she thinks of Mary's freeness of speech. Though Fanny assumes Edmund's sincere interest, Edmund is, in fact, trying to excuse Mary's impropriety. After Mary's harp finally arrives at the Parsonage, Edmund goes often to hear her play. Mary's opinion of Edmund improves as she comes to know his dependable, attentive nature, although she discounts her feelings. Fanny, perplexed by how much time Edmund spends with Mary, would also like to hear the harp, but her duties to Lady Bertram keep her home. Then Edmund devises a plan to teach Mary to ride. Fanny's mare is pressed into service, but not at times when Fanny usually rides for exercise.

Mary learns quickly, and soon brief rides turn into longer excursions as Edmund eagerly instructs her. Fanny then finds her riding schedule disrupted by Mary's enjoyment, which Fanny can observe in the distance as she walks daily in the garden around the house, because the house and the Parsonage are separated only by a meadow. She feels ill used but complains only of the mare's treatment. Mary feigns an apology when she and Edmund finally surrender the mare but jokingly excuses herself: "Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure."

The Bertrams, the Grants, and even the coachman marvel at Mary's equestrian abilities, with the coachman making slight slaps at Fanny's timid first attempts at riding when she was 12. After dinner, Edmund tells Fanny that Mary hopes to take a long ride the next day, and Fanny cedes the mare. For the next four days, the young people ride and spend time at the Parsonage while Fanny attends Lady Bertram. On the fourth day, Maria, Julia, and Edmund return to Mansfield Park to find Fanny on the sofa, sick with a headache. Mrs. Norris blames Fanny for overexerting herself in the garden, but Edmund ferrets out the facts: Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris have been treating Fanny like a servant, overworking her in the heat. When Lady Bertram observes that Fanny's strength has suffered since she has not been able to ride, Edmund rightly blames himself. Not only has he deprived Fanny of her morning rides, he has cut her off from companionship and left her to the company of stern Mrs. Norris and indolent Lady Bertram. Feeling excluded and jealous, Fanny feels restored by Edmund's sudden kind defense.

Chapter 8

Fanny's rides resume the next day, and Rushworth arrives with his mother to plan the excursion to Sotherton. Mrs. Rushworth regrets Lady Bertram and Fanny won't be able to come, but Mrs. Norris insists the trip would exhaust her sister, who can't spare Fanny for a day. Then the group discusses who will ride where in the closed carriage. Kindhearted Edmund wants Fanny to join the group; if Julia rides with Henry in the coveted outside seat, Edmund observes, Fanny could ride in the carriage. Mrs. Norris attempts a new objection to Fanny's joining the party: Mrs. Rushworth is not expecting her. Finally, arrangements are settled in Fanny's favor, and Fanny loves Edmund all the more for insisting she go.

They set out in the carriages and on horseback. Julia and Henry enjoy the scenery, Maria fights jealousy of her sister, and Mary and Fanny try to glimpse Edmund, riding alongside on horseback. As they approach Sotherton, Maria feels pride at its acreage and resources, of which she will soon be mistress; Mary admires everything for Maria's sake (and in hope of future favors).

Chapter 9

The party arrives at Sotherton and dines; afterward, Mrs. Rushworth offers a tour of the spacious home. Having seen many great homes, Mary is politely bored, while Fanny is astonished and attentive. When they come to the simple chapel, Fanny is disappointed that it is more like a room than a chapel, and Mary expresses cynical opinions of religion that shock Fanny, who regrets families and staff no longer pray together daily. Mary objects, commenting that even when people, especially young people, are at prayer, their thoughts are elsewhere. Meanwhile, Rushworth and Maria stand near the altar (over Henry's murmured objections), and Julia exclaims that if Edmund had already been ordained, he could marry them that moment. Mary is taken aback, for she had no idea Edmund was training for the clergy.

The guests and hosts walk outdoors to tour the estate's sprawling grounds, breaking into smaller groups that soon separate among the paths and plantings. Julia gets stuck with Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Rushworth and must watch, unable to detach herself politely, as the younger people stroll off in delight. Mary confesses her surprise at Edmund's future career and is even more surprised to learn he himself chose it. She maligns London preachers, whose sermons attract and inspire few, but Edmund offers a vision of clergymen as public servants and exemplars of behavior to their parish, a view Fanny whole-heartedly supports. Still, Mary tells Edmund, "You really are fit for something better," such as the law. Fanny asks to rest on a bench, causing Edmund to apologize for failing to notice her fatigue and Mary to brag that she, in contrast, is not tired. The two banter a bit, Mary getting in little digs about Fanny's lack of sophistication and stamina, until Mary insists "resting fatigues me" and proposes walking on into the woods. Fanny feels rested, but Edmund insists she wait for them on the bench, so she listens, excluded again, until the couple is out of earshot.

Analysis

Edmund's character has already been well established by Chapter 7. Though still a young man, he demonstrates mature traits: self-discipline, good judgment, compassion, and adaptability. Readers know he is educated and have ample evidence of his kind friendship with Fanny. Therefore, when Mary Crawford enters the story, readers observe how she influences Edmund, for better and worse. Edmund's conversation with Fanny opens Chapter 7, and is the first of many conversations in which he causes Fanny pain because he assumes she thinks of him as a brother. These conversations also reveal the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of a very human character, among the most fully developed of the novel's cast.

The conversation in Chapter 7 exposes how vulnerable Edmund's integrity is to Mary's charms. Behaviors he would normally condemn summon up clever excuses instead. After leading Fanny to criticize Mary's comments about her uncle as immodest and, Fanny adds, ungrateful, Edmund works through a series of rationalizations: Mary is only defending her aunt's memory; Mary has the "right of a lively mind" to speak wittily for the entertainment of others; no hint of "ill humor or roughness" marred her sparkling feminine conversation. Edmund soothes his concerns about the woman he is attracted to, explaining away her faults—a pattern of behavior he continues for many chapters. He is young, inexperienced, infatuated, and prone to love's blindness to faults. But he is not blind enough to let her faults go—he has to explain them. Love's blindness is a recurring issue, not only for Edmund but for Maria, too, later in the novel. For days, it keeps Edmund from realizing that Mary is exploiting Fanny's self-effacing manner (in the matter of the mare, for example). But Edmund readily recognizes and corrects his mistakes. His insistence that Fanny, too, visit Sotherton shows his willingness to learn and change. From this point in the novel forward, the question is whose influence will win with Edmund: Mary's or Fanny's.

Chapter 8 contrasts characters sharply, revealing cultural expectations of women in Jane Austen's day. Sisters Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris both depend on Sir Thomas's income. Neither has much authority or agency, even over the family's children (except for Fanny). Because marriage and motherhood define most 19th-century women's lives, women not involved in these tasks have undefined roles. So Lady Bertram, married but more like a child than a mother or wife, depends on her husband's estate and Fanny's help; she writes letters, pets her lapdog, and sews, though even that task seems never to yield results unless Fanny takes it over. Passive and pitiful, she quickly agrees she "cannot do without Fanny," even for a day. But at least Lady Bertram is content, because she is naturally indolent. Mrs. Norris needs outlets for her active mind and desire to participate, yet she has outlived her service to her husband and has no children. Now that Maria and Julia are too old to care what their aunt advises, Fanny is the target of Mrs. Norris's ungracious interference. In this chapter, for example, with "numerous words and louder tone" she first tries to keep Fanny from visiting Sotherton, and then tries to arrange seating in the carriage, but is overridden in both cases. The narrator is clear: Mrs. Norris is not motivated so much by her resentment of Fanny as by "partiality for her own scheme because it was her own ... She felt that she had arranged everything very well." When her advice is ignored, she can only pretend not to care.

Chapter 8 also contrasts Fanny and Mary, young women whose social value derives from their eventual roles as wives and mothers. Rivals for Edmund's love, whether or not they know it yet, they are confined together during the carriage ride. The narrator reveals their thoughts as they view the countryside but does not judge who is better suited to Edmund. Attuned to nature, Fanny finds the passing scenery delightful and muses happily and quietly on its peacefulness. On the other hand, lacking Fanny's "delicacy of taste, of mind, of feeling" for nature, Mary likes a "light and lively" scene populated by people to observe and interact with. Both women, however, strain to glimpse Edmund as he rides alongside the carriage.

Chapter 9 brings the young people to Sotherton, where one scene in particular sets Maria's and Henry's inappropriate behavior against social and moral expectations. During Mrs. Rushworth's tour of the home, the young people view the now-unused chapel where Fanny—the only young person to behave modestly and properly while at Sotherton—praises the old practice of households praying together often. Mary disparages regular chapel services as boring, irritating rituals that "nobody likes," as people would rather sleep late. Fanny blushes at such speech, and Edmund curbs his anger by excusing the comments as spirited banter. But the conversation begins a disagreement Edmund and Mary will pursue throughout the novel. In addition, this scene, with its emphasis on the need for moral examples and guidance, sets up the young people's escape to Sotherton's spacious grounds where, while properly in groups of three—no pair is left alone—they walk without adult chaperones.

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