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Mansfield Park | Plot Summary

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Summary

When Maria Ward marries Sir Thomas Bertram, her fortunate marriage makes her a baronet whose influence helps a younger sister marry a respectable clergyman, Mr. Norris. But their youngest sister marries against the family's desires and grows poor as she and her husband, Mr. Price, a former naval officer, have child after child on very little income. When Mrs. Norris suggests Sir Thomas foster one of the Price children (Fanny Price, then 10 years old), Fanny arrives at Mansfield Park to be raised with her cousins. Her pretty cousins Maria and Julia snub her, her uncle's loud voice frightens her, and Mrs. Norris reminds her often of her shortcomings. But her 16-year-old cousin Edmund, the younger Bertram son, treats Fanny kindly, earning her gratitude and later her love.

Tom, the dissolute older son and heir, wastes much of the family's money with gambling debts that cause Sir Thomas to sell the living at Mansfield, which was to be Edmund's, to Dr. Grant. Sir Thomas then travels to Antigua with Tom to manage his plantations. During his long absence, Mrs. Norris helps Maria and Julia debut in society and arranges a marriage between Maria and James Rushworth, a rich but dreary young heir. Mrs. Grant, the wife of the Reverend Dr. Grant, welcomes her half-siblings, Mary and Henry Crawford, to stay with her at the Parsonage. Their lively manners and London sophistication charm the Bertrams. Charismatic Henry flirts openly with both Maria, who is engaged, and Julia, to whom he is less attracted. Mary at first is interested in Tom, who returns from Antigua before his father, but she finds Edmund pleasanter, smarter, and more interested in her. Mary expects to marry a wealthy man and enjoy London's social life; however, Edmund has chosen a church position in the country, a decision Mary scorns. In the meantime, Fanny has fallen in love with Edmund.

During Sir Thomas's absence, Tom's friend John Yates visits Mansfield Park, his head full of dreams of acting. Led by Tom, and against Edmund's advice, the young people have a modest stage built and learn parts for a play, Lovers' Vows, which contains risqué scenes. Even Edmund is co-opted into acting, driven by a desire to play the lover of Mary's character. Fanny stands steadfastly against the theatricals, knowing Sir Thomas would disapprove, and his early return ends the questionable activity. Yates leaves Mansfield Park, followed soon by Henry, leaving Maria with a broken heart. She tells her father (who is willing to release her from her engagement to her dimwitted fiancé) that she does indeed want to marry Rushworth, and the wedding takes place soon after. Julia accompanies the newlyweds on their honeymoon and remains with them in London, so Fanny and Mary are thrown together often in the small circle at Mansfield Park.

Edmund nearly proposes to Mary during this time but hesitates, sure she will reject him because of his commitment to the church. He confides in Fanny, now in love with him. Henry Crawford, returning to Mansfield Park, discovers Fanny's quiet charms and plans to court her, at first for the fun of the conquest but later because he comes to admire and perhaps love her.

When Fanny's brother William, a midshipman in the Navy, arrives for a visit at Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram give a ball in Fanny's honor, as she has become an integral part of their family. Henry persuades his uncle, an admiral, to arrange a promotion for William, hoping to impress Fanny. Henry then proposes to her—for the first time. However, remembering his caddish behavior around Maria and Rushworth, Fanny is appalled by Henry's proposal but torn by gratitude for his assisting William. Both Edmund and Sir Thomas, who sees Henry admiring Fanny, pressure Fanny to marry Henry. Out of loyalty to Maria, however, Fanny cannot explain her deep-seated objections. Not understanding Fanny's motives and thinking his action for the best, Sir Thomas sends Fanny on an extended visit to her family in Portsmouth. He hopes she will realize the benefits of marriage to a wealthy man after she spends time with her uncouth family in cramped, squalid quarters.

Meanwhile, against Mary's wishes, Edmund takes his vows. Mary goes to stay with friends in London, where her views on marrying a clergyman with a modest income harden, with encouragement from discontented, snobbish friends. Henry, after visiting his estate to manage a problem, appears in Portsmouth to press his suit again, much to Fanny's embarrassment. After Fanny refuses him again, he returns to London where he meets Maria at social events and renews their flirtation. Although sad and wanting to return to Mansfield Park, which she now considers home, Fanny remains in Portsmouth. She creates a bond there with her sister Susan, who is intelligent, kind, and in need of guidance.

News reaches Fanny in Portsmouth that Tom is very ill and has been brought from London to Mansfield Park to recover. Shortly after, she learns that Maria and Henry have absconded together—infuriating Rushworth, bringing devastating shame to the family, and destroying Edmund's hopes of marrying Mary.

Edmund brings Fanny and Susan home to Mansfield Park; he is heartbroken over Mary's reaction to Henry's running off with Maria because Mary is merely irked, not shamed. She even thinks Henry and Maria should marry after her divorce from Rushworth—a shocking and disgraceful plan at that time. Julia, too, has shamed the family by eloping with John Yates. In time, Henry and Maria come to loathe each other, but Sir Thomas will not allow his unrepentant daughter to come home. He provides a comfortable house for her and Mrs. Norris far from Mansfield. Julia and Yates seek forgiveness and return to the family fold, while Edmund, recovering from his disappointment over Mary, finds that he loves Fanny. They marry, move into the Parsonage after Dr. Grant's departure to London and subsequent death, and live happily together.

Mansfield Park Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Three sisters marry—two well, one poorly. Children are born.

Rising Action

2 Shy, sweet Fanny grows up with her four wealthy cousins.

3 Sir Thomas travels to Antigua to oversee his plantations.

4 Maria, engaged to Rushworth, flirts with newcomer Henry.

5 Edmund falls in love with Mary, who scorns his vocation.

6 Sir Thomas returns and stops inappropriate theatricals.

7 Maria marries; Julia goes with her on her honeymoon.

8 Henry returns to Mansfield and courts Fanny.

9 Fanny rejects Henry's repeated proposals, irking Sir Thomas.

10 Fanny is sent to Portsmouth to learn to appreciate wealth.

Climax

11 Tom is ill; Maria and Henry abscond; Julia and Yates elope.

Falling Action

12 Edmund finds Mary vexed, not shamed, by Henry's actions.

13 Edmund, heartbroken over Mary, brings Fanny and Susan home.

14 Maria is sent away; Julia repents. Fanny comforts Edmund.

Resolution

15 Fanny and Edmund marry and happily move into the Parsonage.

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