Henry goes to Mansfield Park the next morning. Lady Bertram leaves Fanny alone with Henry. Henry announces to Fanny that William has been made a lieutenant, thanks to his influence with the Admiral, and shows her the letters to prove it. He describes the networking he did to accomplish William’s promotion. Fanny, shocked and happy, thanks Henry profusely and expresses her deep gratitude for his kindness.
That Henry orchestrates the promotion through his letters shows the importance both of social connections and of letters for communication and business. That he then uses the letters to prove the promotion shows how letters have meaning not only as pieces of writing, but also as physical proof. It’s also somewhat frustrating that a simple letter from a well-born and well-connected man like Henry is more effective than any amount of hard work and merit from a poorer man like William.
Fanny is then about to leave to tell Sir Thomas when Henry stops her, and tells her that everything he did for William he did because he is in love with her. Fanny asks him to stop his proclamation, but he keeps on describing the intensity of his affection for her, and asks her to marry him. Fanny, upset, and thinking that Henry’s affections are not genuine, says she is thankful for what he did for William, but that he must stop. She then hurries out of the room.
Henry gets William a promotion to impress Fanny, trying to fulfill his promise that he will do more for Fanny than Edmund or Sir Thomas has done. Without knowing it, he is competing with Edmund not just for Fanny’s care, but also her love. Fanny, however, cannot trust Henry’s confession.
Fanny goes to the East Room and thinks over the events that just occurred, from William’s promotion to Henry’s proposal, until she is sure that Henry has left. She then goes down from her room to talk with Sir Thomas about the happy news of the promotion. Sir Thomas tells her Henry is coming to dinner that night, which distresses Fanny.
Fanny, totally shocked by the confession, leaves Henry for the space she is most comfortable in to think over his proposal. Her shock is due in part to the fact that Henry never proposed to either Maria or Julia, though they are of a higher status than she is.
At dinner, Henry gives Fanny a note from Mary, which Fanny opens and reads immediately. The note expresses Mary’s approval of a match between Henry and Fanny. This confuses Fanny, because it makes it seem that Henry’s proposal was serious. Fanny is so anxious she cannot eat and doesn’t speak. At last, they retire to the drawing room.
Mary’s note to Fanny again shows the preeminence of letters in the novel. Mary wrote a letter because she is in London, but the letter form also makes Mary’s approval, and thus Henry’s proposal, seem more official.
Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram discuss the promotion, on which Mrs. Norris’s thoughts are money-focused as usual, and Lady Bertram self-centered and flighty as usual as well. Fanny, meanwhile, continues to ponder Henry’s declaration and Mary’s note. She debates the possibility that Henry’s love is authentic, flip-flopping and avoiding Henry all night. Henry finally corners her and asks if she has a reply for Mary. Fanny goes to the table to write, explaining her rejection. Henry approaches her and she gives him the note.
Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram’s shallow, narcissistic reactions to William’s promotion provide comic relief after Henry’s love declaration. Henry’s request for a reply to Mary shows again how the letter form affects the situation’s dynamics and possibilities, forcing Fanny to write a reply that Henry could open and see word for word.