Fanny Price is the novel's quiet center. She is timid and shy, upright and obedient, demanding much of herself and less of others. She is often reminded of her status as a poor relation, or simply ignored. However, as she matures, she grows into a very attractive and gracious young woman who falls deeply in love with her cousin, yet supports him in his pursuit of someone else. Fanny rarely asserts her will, expresses her opinion only when pressed, and prefers to observe from the perimeter of every scene. Yet Fanny's integrity and loyalty draw others to her, from fickle Henry Crawford to needy Lady Bertram. Neither changing circumstances nor frustrated hopes cause Fanny to compromise her honesty or values.
Edmund Bertram's intelligence, education, and empathy would serve him well as heir of Mansfield Park, but as the second son, he channels these assets into his friendships and preparation for church work. Of his siblings, Edmund is the one who pays attention to the timid Fanny as a child at Mansfield Park. He tries to see the best in people, but his affection sometimes blinds him to others' motivations and goals.
Mary Crawford is a socially adept young woman whose beauty, charm, and fortune should help her marry into even greater wealth. Fearless and lively, Mary seems especially attractive as a potential wife. Her upbringing is suspect, as she and her brother have lived with their uncle, who lives openly with his mistress. She is portrayed as shallow in her feelings, somewhat easy with her morals, and suspect in her motives, with greed at their center. She never quite breaks away from "habits of wealth" to grasp the chance at happiness she finds at Mansfield Park.
Henry Crawford, already owner of a fine estate while still a young man, is capable, lively, and engaging. Much like Edmund, he enjoys stimulating company and conversation. But having grown up in the lax care of an irresponsible and socially reprehensible uncle, Henry has absorbed many of his uncle's behaviors. He displays little moral fiber and less control, showing himself shallow and selfish as he trifles with others' affections. Such behavior accounts for Maria Bertram's ultimate ruin. His pursuit of Fanny is at first a game for himself, but later he comes to love her.
Tom Bertram, heir to Mansfield Park, is an almost stereotypical bad boy (at least, for Austen's time). A selfish gambler and partyer who feels entitled to an inheritance he's not prepared to manage, Tom encourages his sisters' improper behavior and risks Edmund's financial future. Tom and Edmund are a study in contrasts, but by the novel's end, the brothers understand each other better.
Maria Bertram is the pretty, proud, older daughter in the Bertram family. To get the attention she craves, Maria willingly sacrifices her sister's heart, betrays her husband, and shames her family. But in all these actions, Maria behaves exactly as Mrs. Norris has raised her spoiled niece to act. Mrs. Norris spent years encouraging Maria to think highly of herself and never checked Maria's flighty, entitled attitudes. Maria's betrayals serve as a warning against irresponsible parenting, and her punishment is severe.
Julia Bertram, the younger Bertram daughter, is pretty and vain like her older sister, but she's also observant. She discerns others' motivations quickly and protects herself when necessary, as when she sees Maria's promotion of the theatricals for what they are—a venue for flirting with Henry—and when she removes herself from the path of Maria's destruction in London. Julia isn't kind, but she is clever and adaptable.