Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 41–48)

Whoa, what?

And things were going so well . . .

Mr Crawford goes to Portsmouth to see Fanny. He notices that her health is suffering for lack of good food and fresh air, and he entreats her to let him take her home to Mansfield. But though Fanny is slowly thawing, she continues to have reservations about Crawford (probably at least in part biased by the knowledge that her beloved cousin Edmund loves Miss Crawford). And so despite wanting very much to return to Mansfield, Fanny declines Crawford's invitation.

Crawford leaves and Miss Crawford writes to Fanny. With every letter from Miss Crawford or Edmund, Fanny lives in exquisite pain of hearing her fears realized: that they are engaged. And yet there is never any such news. Painful enough, one supposes, to have to read Edmund's rhapsodic ramblings of Miss Crawford's sterling nature tarnished only by the influences of bad society. Ugh.

At this point it seems things must have a predetermined end. Fanny will eventually accept Crawford and Edmund and Miss Crawford will "hook up." Right? Because though Fanny is an excellent observer, surely many of her conclusions are colored by her own feelings, particularly those she has for Edmund?

But no! The plot twists! For one, Tom (eldest son of Sir Thomas) suffers an injury that may be life-threatening! Could it be that Edmund will inherit Mansfield? Will that remove the last of Miss Crawford's obstacles? (And if it did . . . Isn't that almost worse for Edmund? To be accepted only on the strength of a dead brother's legacy? Not wanted enough for himself—he is not enough for Miss Crawford, she must have the money and lifestyle too.) A letter from Miss Crawford to Fanny suggests that Miss Crawford's mind runs exactly on such lines, reaffirming Fanny's suspicions of Miss Crawford's singularly mercenary nature.

And then! That old flirtation between Mr Crawford and the now Mrs Rushworth springs forth anew! Indeed, they run away together! Such shame on the family . . . And now there is no question of Fanny marrying Crawford or Edmund marrying Miss Crawford. The connection must be severed. Fanny is upheld again.

Miss Crawford blames Fanny in part for the drama. If she'd simply agreed to marry Mr Crawford, none of this would have happened. But one must wonder how much worse it might have been if Fanny had married him, how much more miserable she might have been. Because who is to say that Mrs Rushworth and Mr Crawford wouldn't still have had an affair? And they'd have been thrown together so much at family gatherings that it would have been that much easier. Would Mr Crawford's love for Fanny—if it's to be believed he really did love her—been stronger than his vanity? Would Mrs Rushworth have succeeded in wooing him anyway? If only to soothe her own vanity and pride at having her inferior cousin chosen by the man she loved?

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

But the game of What If? has no place in the real world of fiction.

Finally, Julia elopes with Tom's friend Yates. Though in the bigger scheme of things, this is hardly irreconcilable.

In the aftermath of family ruin, Fanny is fetched from Portsmouth back to Mansfield, and she brings along Susan as well. Paradoxically, Fanny's greatest happiness is nested in the deterioration of the Bertrams. She is treasured now in contrast to her cousins who have failed the family. She is safe now from any fear that Edmund might marry Miss Crawford. Nor is she frowned upon for having refused Mr Crawford; instead it appears as great good sense on her part. And so while she is sensible of the sad situation, she is quite satisfied with the outcomes. The pride of the Bertrams heralded their fall. Fanny's enduring humility lifts her up.

Tom survives, and not only that but becomes a much better person for having come through such personal peril. Julia and her husband are welcomed back into the fold of the family. Maria is sent abroad to live in disgrace under the care of Mrs Norris (of whom Mansfield is well rid). Edmund nurses his broken heart and hopes and eventually comes to see the kind of woman he's searched for all along has been right in front of him. He and Fanny are happily married and Susan takes Fanny's place as Lady Bertram's companion.

All's well and all that jazz.

And good things come to those who wait. Patience pays off. Good is rewarded in the end. &c. &c.

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