The child, named Fanny like her mother, travels safely to Mansfield Park (the home of the Bertrams). The narrator describes Fanny as a fragile, shy, unremarkable ten-year-old with a sweet voice and an awkward air. Sir Thomas attempts to make her comfortable, but his stoic manner prevents his success. Lady Bertram, meanwhile, makes no effort to do so, but her smile and calmness appeal to Fanny.
In this section, the reader meets Fanny, the protagonist, for the first time. Her meek character contrasts with the grandeur of Mansfield park. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas’s failed attempt to be kind to Fanny shows how manners can get in the way of human connection and create discomfort.
Fanny meets the Bertram children: two teenaged sons, Edmund and Tom, aged sixteen and seventeen, and two daughters, Maria and Julia, three and two years older than Fanny respectively. The girls’ fine manners and good looks contrast with Fanny’s discomfort and plainness.
Here, Austen introduces both the reader and Fanny to the Bertram children. Well-bred Maria and Julia serve as foils (characters that contrast with another character in order to highlight certain qualities in them) to Fanny.
Fanny, who is frightened, homesick, and tired, is quiet and avoids eye contact. Mrs. Norris scolds Fanny for being insufficiently grateful, leaving Fanny feeling uncomfortable and guilty. She begins to cry and then is taken to bed. Later, Mrs. Norris complains that Fanny was sulky and rude, thinking her sadness was excessive. The narrator acknowledges that no one tried especially hard to make Fanny comfortable.
Mrs. Norris cements her hypocrisy and the gap between her manners and her morals when she harangues Fanny for being insufficiently grateful, undermining the fact that adopting Fanny was meant to be a kind gesture and totally failing to empathize with Fanny’s situation.
The following day, Julia and Maria are perplexed by Fanny’s lack of knowledge of French, her limited amount of clothing, and other differences that arise from Fanny’s less privileged upbringing. Fanny, meanwhile, feels unwelcome among the Bertram family and their servants, especially due to their critical comments about her manners, appearance, and general inferiority. The grand house and its lavish furnishings make her anxious.
Clearly, Julia, Maria, and the adults in their lives believe Fanny lacks knowledge of certain subjects because she is stupid, not because she hasn’t had access to education. This shows how the aristocracy attributes its success to inherent superiority, rather than to the benefits of its immense privilege.
After one week of Fanny’s severe discomfort, her cousin Edmund finds her crying on the stairs. Edmund consoles Fanny, and then, changing tactics, asks Fanny to tell him about her siblings. Fanny describes them, focusing on her brother William, the oldest, with whom she is closest. Edmund supplies Fanny with paper and postage to write to him. Fanny is extremely touched by Edmund’s kindness, and Edmund, realizing how challenging the move is for Fanny, resolves to treat Fanny with active kindness and pay special attention to his forlorn little cousin.
In contrast to Mrs. Norris’s actions, Edmund’s attention to Fanny is the first real kind deed that occurs in the novel without an ulterior motive. Moreover, letters appear here as a force that comforts and creates human connection— not just between the letter writers, William and Fanny, but also between Fanny and Edmund, who helps her find the necessary materials.
Fanny begins to feel more comfortable in her new home and with her new companions. She plays with Maria and Julia. Edmund continues to be extra kind to her, while Tom, the oldest, teases her jovially and brings her presents.
As Fanny adjusts, Edmund’s attention is portrayed as more meaningful and genuinely kind than the physical gifts that Tom gives to Fanny.
Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris are satisfied with their scheme to adopt Fanny. However, Fanny’s education is somewhat difficult, because she is so far behind her cousins. The girls are shocked the Fanny does not know where Isle of Wight is, the names of Roman Emperors, etc. Mrs. Norris explains to the girls that Fanny is not as smart as they are.
Once again, Austen shows how the adults in Fanny’s life see her lack of an education as a personal failing. This ironic incapacity to grasp the real reason (that is, unequal opportunity) for this “achievement gap” makes the adults look stupid rather than Fanny.
Lady Bertram, meanwhile, has no interest in the girls’ education. Austen mockingly describes her as a person who “spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa.” Lady Bertram expresses sympathy for Fanny, however—she likes her because Fanny fetches her letters.
Lady Bertram’s languidness is a source of comedy throughout the book, and her inattention to her daughters leads to their later mistakes. Once again, letters help foster a sense of closeness between people, this time Lady Bertram and Fanny.
Sir Thomas helps Mrs. Price find employment for William. The two siblings spend an extremely happy week together before William, now a sailor, sets out on a journey. William’s new career path worries Fanny, but Edmund sets her mind at ease by telling stories of sailing adventures.
William, who is around the same age as Edmund, serves as a foil to his cousin, showing the different paths that young men may take depending on their status: to university to read about adventure, or straight to work to live it.
Edmund continues to be especially kind to Fanny. He gives her attention and books that she loves. Because of his affection toward her, Edmund rises in Fanny’s opinion until he is second only to William in Fanny’s heart.
The reader sees Fanny’s affections for Edmund increasing, which will lead to her later romantic interest in him.