Mansfield Park: Novel summary: Chapter 17 - 24
Summary – Chapter Seventeen, Chapter Eighteen and Chapter Nineteen
Tom and Maria are delighted at Edmund’s decision. Mrs Grant takes the part which Fanny had been offered on Miss Crawford’s request and this is the only thing to gladden Fanny’s heart. She feels safe but not peaceful and is ‘full of jealousy and agitation’ and has no share in anything.
Miss Crawford and Mrs Grant talk of Henry, and Mary says coldly she thinks both sisters are in love with him. Mrs Grant says they should talk to him after the play has finished and ‘“make him know his own mind”’ and send him off for a time ‘“if he means nothing”’.
Julia suffers and still loves Mr Crawford and her sister is now ‘her greatest enemy’. Fanny notices and pities her, but they are ‘solitary sufferers’.
Over the next few days, in Chapter Eighteen, Fanny sees rising vexations between the actors. She is the recipient of many complaints as she is ‘a very courteous listener’. She enjoys watching the rehearsals and although she does not like Mr Crawford ‘as a man’, she recognizes him to be the best actor.
She is co-opted into the sewing by Mrs Norris, and Lady Bertram asks about the play. Fanny tells her about the full rehearsal, but does not say how she is both longing and dreading to see Edmund and Miss Crawford act together in the third act as the whole subject is love and marriage and the lady comes close to making a declaration of love.
Fanny goes to the East room (which is the old school room) when the first act is being rehearsed yet again and Miss Crawford comes to her to practice her lines. Fanny agrees to help and half way through Edmund appears for the same reason. Edmund and Miss Crawford rehearse together and Fanny is only wanted to ‘prompt and observe them’.
At the full rehearsal that night Mrs Grant has to stay at home to care for her husband. Everyone including Edmund asks Fanny if she could read the part of the Cottager’s Wife. Fanny thinks she knew it was her duty to stay away and now she is being punished. She agrees and they begin. They are interrupted, however, by Julia telling them their father has returned.
In Chapter Nineteen, Sir Thomas’s return is described as being ‘a moment of absolute horror’ for many. There is ‘a terrible pause’. His children and Mr Rushworth go through to him and Fanny is left with the Crawfords and Mr Yates. The Crawfords believe this will be the end of the play and decide to leave.
Fanny goes to the drawing room to appear before her uncle. He greets her with affection when she comes in and she is struck by his kindness. She sees his face has changed and has ‘the burnt, fagged, worn look of fatigue and a hot climate’.
He talks about his travels and Lady Bertram brings up the subject of the play, but Tom changes the subject. Sir Thomas leaves the room and when he goes into the room converted into a theatre he finds himself on stage with Mr Yates who is rehearsing. Sir Thomas is bewildered but remains cordial. Tom follows and all three return to the others. Mr Yates continues to talk about the theatre and misses Sir Thomas’s uncomfortable feelings. Fanny notices a look of reproach from Sir Thomas to Edmund and she is upset by this. Sir Thomas asks about the Crawfords and shows his approval of Mr Rushworth when he says he has had enough of rehearsing.
Analysis – Chapter Seventeen, Chapter Eighteen and Chapter Nineteen.
The return of the patriarch, Sir Thomas, unhinges the proceedings of the rehearsal. His children are shocked rather than pleased at his return, as this now spells the end of the relative freedom they have enjoyed. It would appear that with his presence, the rule of the father is back in place and the children must once more behave according to his expectations. The look of reproach he gives Edmund is a signal of his disapproval.
Prior to his return, the rehearsals for the play dominate proceedings and even Fanny is engaged to become a player. Her pleasure in the theater, and in seeing Mr Crawford perform, reveals an aspect of her character that has otherwise been omitted. Despite her reservations and moral outlook, she is seen to enjoy the spectacle before her.
Summary – Chapter Twenty, Chapter Twenty One and Chapter Twenty Two
The next day Edmund tells his father that only Fanny considered his (Sir Thomas’s) feelings from first to last and was steadily against the play.
Sir Thomas avoids speaking of his disapproval to his children, but gives a hint to Mrs Norris that her advice might have prevented ‘“what her judgement must certainly have disapproved”’. She changes the subject as quickly as possible and highlights the connections she has strengthened with Sotherton. She exaggerates the journey and how harsh it was.
Sir Thomas is busy around the estate that morning and sets the carpenter to pull down the stage and dismisses the scene painter. Even the unbound copies of the play are burned.
Mr Yates feels the ‘very severe ill-luck’ of now twice not being able to play his role. He says nothing of this to Sir Thomas, but thinks he has never seen a father so ‘infamously tyrannical’ as him. Sir Thomas asks his daughter to play music that evening and this gives a surface harmony. Maria, though, is agitated and hopes Mr Crawford will waste no time in declaring himself. Mr Rushworth left that morning and she ‘fondly’ hopes he might not have to come back again. Mr Crawford comes the next day and says he will perform anytime if they let him know as he is going to set off to see his uncle. Tom says there is no chance of it being reinstated. Mr Crawford leaves and in another day or two Mr Yates goes too.
In Chapter Twenty One, it is explained that with Sir Thomas back the house is more sombre and there is little intercourse with the parsonage. Edmund speaks to Fanny alone and says how his father admires her and she should speak to him more. She says she asked him of the slave trade and he says it would have pleased his father if she had enquired further. She replies she wanted to, but while her cousins said nothing she did not want to set herself off at their expense.
He says Miss Crawford told him she is right in thinking Fanny is ‘“almost as fearful of notice and praise as other women were of neglect”’. He goes on to say how remarkable Miss Crawford is for her ‘“great discernment”’ of character. He also wonders what Miss Crawford thinks of his father and that if they were together more he is sure they would like each other despite his father’s reserve.
The narrative cuts to Sir Thomas and his decision to address Maria about Mr Rushworth. He tells her his fears of her unhappiness if they marry and entreats her to be open and sincere. She struggles only for a moment and reassures him, and he presses no further, perhaps in relief. She does not want Mr Crawford to know he has destroyed her happiness or to think of her pining for him. The arrangements for the marriage are put into place and they marry in November.
Julia leaves with Maria and Mr Rushworth on their travels to Brighton in Chapter Twenty Two and Fanny is the only young woman left in the drawing room. She has more attention and is also invited more often to the parsonage to see Miss Crawford and Mrs Grant. Miss Crawford tells Fanny she has never spent such a quiet five months before, but also says the summer has been the happiest. Fanny’s heart beats quicker, but feels unequal to ask why. Miss Crawford continues and says she is more reconciled to spending half the year in a country residence.
Edmund appears and when Mrs Grant speaks of housekeeping matters, Miss Crawford says how she means to be too rich to be concerned with these matters: ‘“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.”’ Edmund asks if she means to be very rich and to Fanny he looks serious. She says everybody does and he says his intentions are only to not be poor. To Fanny, they both have ‘a look of consciousness’ and this is ‘sorrowful food’ for her.
Fanny decides it is time to leave and Edmund comes with her. Dr Grant invites him to dine the next day and Mrs Grant invites Fanny too. This is a new occurrence and Fanny is surprised, but Edmund encourages her to accept.
Analysis – Chapter Twenty, Chapter Twenty One and Chapter Twenty Two
Before the marriage of Maria and Mr Rushworth, Sir Thomas attempts to offer her a way out of the commitment. His relief at her decision to still marry compounds the view of him being happy to marry off his daughters at the right price of eligibility. Although he has doubts over her happiness, and these are enough for him to broach the subject, he is, nevertheless satisfied when after hesitating she still agrees to go ahead.
The relationship between Miss Crawford and Edmund continues to be referred to, as she remains as flippant as he is serious. Fanny’s jealousy also re-surfaces intermittently and this is apparent when their shared look of ‘consciousness’ is ‘sorrowful food’ for her.
Summary – Chapter Twenty Two, Chapter Twenty Three and Chapter Twenty Four
On hearing of the invitation, Lady Bertram asks why Mrs Grant invited Fanny and does not know if she can spare her. Edmund reminds her she has his father for company and to ask him if Fanny may go. When Lady Bertram does so, Sir Thomas is only surprised that Fanny has not been asked sooner and consent is given.
Fanny is glad when given the news, although she worries she will see something that will pain her. Mrs Norris is asked to come to Mansfield Park while Fanny is at dinner and beforehand she reminds Fanny how lucky she is to go, and tells her she would not have been asked if her cousin Julia was at home. She also speaks of ‘“the nonsense and folly of people’s stepping out of their rank and trying to appear above themselves”’. She beseeches her to not put herself forward: ‘“Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last.”’ Her uncle insists on her going by carriage despite Mrs Norris’s protests. Fanny is grateful for his kindness.
They have dinner, where Fanny is quiet, and the Bertram sisters are mentioned later in the drawing room when Mr Crawford says Maria is too good for Mr Rushworth. He changes tack and says to Fanny how kind she was in helping Mr Rushworth with his lines and she colors and says nothing. He says he looks back to the theatricals as a dream and was never happier. In silent indignation, Fanny thinks he has a corrupted mind. He is unaware of her feelings and says in a lowered voice, if they had had another week ‘“there would have been a difference”’.
She responds by saying she is pleased her uncle returned when he did and he is surprised at her tone. He supposes she is right and cannot draw her in further conversation on other subjects.
Miss Crawford wonders what Dr Grant and Edmund are discussing and Mr Crawford explains they are talking about Edmund taking his orders in a few weeks and that he will have an income of around 700 a year.
Later, Fanny listens to Miss Crawford play the harp while the others play whist. Miss Crawford considers Edmund’s decision and thinks how she believed her influence to have been stronger than this. She sees him as commanding his affections and she will do the same to save her from harm.
Mr Crawford decides to stay for two weeks in Chapter Twenty Four and asks his sister alone how she thinks he will amuse himself. She says to walk and ride and he says no, as his plan is to make Fanny love him. She says this is nonsense and he should be satisfied with her cousins. He says he cannot be satisfied ‘“without making a small hole”’ in Fanny’s heart. She does not want him to hurt her and he says he will only be here for two weeks and wants nothing more than her never being happy again when he goes away. She comments on his moderation and that he will have opportunity enough to recommend himself, and leaves Fanny to her fate.
After a few days, Fanny is civil in return to him. He comes to tell her of news of her brother William’s ship, and hopes to be the ‘excitor’ of her feelings, but she has already heard of its return.
William visits on leave and Fanny’s apparent love and affection increase Mr Crawford’ interest in her. His stay at the parsonage is lengthened for an indefinite period.
William has been at sea for seven years and Sir Thomas calls on him to talk about his adventures. His stories make Mr Crawford long to have been at sea too and he has the highest respect for him. William joins Mr Crawford on his hunt and Fanny allows for some kindness toward Mr Crawford for loaning him a horse at this and other times.
Analysis – Chapter Twenty Two, Chapter Twenty Three and Chapter Twenty Four
Mr Crawford’s plan to make Fanny fall in love with, and his sister’s final thought of leaving Fanny to her fate, reveals an emotionally withdrawn facet of both of these siblings. This is characteristic of their flippancy, but is perhaps the first example of the dangers of such a lack of depth. Up to this point, they have been portrayed as likeable (except to Fanny) and have been useful in offsetting the piety of others such as Edmund and Fanny. The arrival of the Crawfords had meant an introduction of a liberty of sorts that has its foundation in city life. Now Mr Crawford tells of his idea of making Fanny fall in love with him, the flippancy turns to manipulation and his sister reveals a self-centeredness that has so far been partially hidden.