Without Sir Thomas, the family gets along fine. Edmund takes care of the logistics of managing Mansfield Park to Lady Bertram’s satisfaction.
Austen shows Edmund managing the family estate, suggesting that he would be a better heir than Tom.
Mrs. Norris indulges in obsessive, neurotic fantasies of the men’s journey resulting in disaster. She pictures herself as the center of attention as she breaks the news to the others. When the family learns that Sir Thomas and Tom have arrived in Antigua safely, Mrs. Norris is sad her imaginings are ruined.
Mrs. Norris’s inner vanity and cruelty continue to be a source of frustration and comedy, as the narrator suggests that she would like Sir Thomas and Tom’s ship to sink just to get more attention for herself.
Winter passes without incident. Mrs. Norris pays lots of attention to Maria and Julia, who have blossomed into young women renowned in the area for their accomplishments, their good manners, and their beauty.
Maria and Julia are evaluated on the traits (manners, accomplishments, beauty) that make them desirable as wives, showing how female identity becomes centered on marriage.
Unlike Mrs. Norris, who takes a great interest in the girls’ social engagements, Lady Bertram is too lazy to socialize. Fanny stays in and keeps Lady Bertram company when the other girls go out. She loves to hear about the balls that Maria and Julia attend. She also looks forward to her brother William’s impending visit.
Fanny’s obligation to stay at home with Lady Bertram allows her to form an identity that is not centered on marriage, since she is being groomed for other things. Still, she longs for the romance, balls, and courtship that her cousins experience.
In the spring, Fanny’s beloved pony dies. As a result, Fanny feels her health suffering from lack of exercise. Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris tell Fanny to ride Maria or Julia’s horses when they do not want them, but Fanny has few opportunities to do so.
This section shows how not just Mrs, Norris, but also Lady Bertram, who is usually relatively nice to Fanny, neglects her needs due to her lower status.
When Edmund returns to Mansfield and sees that Fanny has no opportunities to ride, he insists that Fanny get a horse. Mrs. Norris, ever frugal and mean, believes that Fanny owning her own horse would be improper since it would elevate her to the status of her cousins. She insists that Sir Thomas would think the same, and to purchase a horse without his permission and given his financial troubles would not be appropriate.
Mrs. Norris’s insistence that Fanny owning a horse would be improper shows how class divides her from her cousins, and also shows how arbitrary and cruel those class distinctions can be. The birthright of her cousins appears to be maintained only for the sake of appearances and as an excuse to neglect Fanny and maintain a sense of superiority.
Edmund rejects all of these arguments. Lady Bertram sides with her son, but thinks they should wait until Sir Thomas returns to make the purchase. Edmund concedes that point, and so he exchanges one of his own horses for one suitable for Fanny, and lets Fanny use it whenever she wants. Fanny is thrilled and extremely touched by Edmund’s kindness.
Edmund, unlike Mrs. Norris or even Lady Bertram, exhibits genuine kindness to Fanny, even sacrificing one of his own possessions for her comfort. Edmund becomes a standard for genuine kindness in the novel, always being good without ulterior motive.
Sir Thomas, who intended to return in September, sends word that he must stay in Antigua longer, but will be sending Tom home. Tom arrives back in England and reports that Sir Thomas is in good health, but Mrs. Norris, ever dramatic, returns to her obsessive worrying and fatalist fantasies.
Mrs. Norris returns to her fantasies of disaster, once again showing her love of sick, self-centered drama masquerading as concern for her loved ones.
Once social events start up again, Mrs. Norris becomes preoccupied with marrying off Maria. Mr. Rushworth, a rich man, is courting her. Maria, age 21, is satisfied with Mr. Rushworth’s interest in her, since he is rich and has a house in London. Mrs. Norris approves of the match, and tries to manipulate social situations in order to make the couple’s success more likely.
Maria’s desire to marry Mr. Rushworth comes not from a love connection between them, but rather from his material wealth and access to the city. This shows how marriage is primarily a transactional institution in the novel rather than a romantic and emotional one.
To this end, Mrs. Norris befriends Mr. Rushworth’s mother. Mrs. Rushworth is also in favor of the match, and the two make it clear that they have a mutual understanding. After dancing together at several balls, Maria and Mr. Rushworth enter into a tentative engagement, contingent on Sir Thomas’s consent.
Mrs. Norris showcases her two-faced personality when she strategically befriends Mr. Rushworth’s mother. That Maria and Mr. Rushworth’s romance is boiled down to a few dances shows the shallowness of their engagement.
Edmund is the only family member who is skeptical of the arrangement, as he is concerned that the match seems to be, on his sister’s end, more about money than love. Edmund also thinks Mr. Rushworth is rather stupid.
Edmund’s skepticism towards the match between Maria and Rushworth indicates his resistance to the monetization marriage, and his generally upright moral principles.
Sir Thomas, though, indicates via letter that he is thrilled by the match. He insists that Maria wait until he returns home to hold the wedding so that he can attend. Sir Thomas tells them he hopes to leave Antigua by the end of the summer.
Sir Thomas, meanwhile, supports the match without ever even having met Maria’s fiancé, underlining the fact that marriage is a numbers game in his aristocratic world.
In July, Mrs. Grant wealthy, charming, and attractive half siblings, Henry and Mary Crawford, come to stay with her. Henry and Mary previously lived with an uncle, the Admiral, and his wife. Mary was close with Mrs. Crawford but did not like her uncle, while Henry had a lot of affection for him. When the Admiral’s wife died, Mary moved out of his house and in with Mrs. Grant. Mrs. Grant, being childless, was happy to accept the company.
In addition to introducing the reader to the very important characters Henry and Mary, this section also shows how Mary, as an unmarried woman, must be shuffled around between her relatives because she is unable to possess any fortune of her own, despite her parents’ wealth and her pedigree.
Mrs. Grant does, however, worry that Mary, who is used to the excitements of life in London, will be bored in the country. Mary shares these fears, which is why she previously tried to get Henry to move in to his own country house and take her with him. But Henry, who does not like stay in one place, refused. Instead, to help her settle in, her accompanies her to the Grants’ house, and promises to come get her if she dislikes it there. Mary, however, finds Mrs. Grant and the house satisfactory. Mrs. Grant, likewise, is thrilled to reconnect with her half-siblings, who fell out of touch with her after their uncle’s remarriage.
Austen’s characters here describe London and city life as fast-paced and stimulating, coding the environment as more exciting than a countryside environment like Mansfield Park. This section also shows how marriage can destroy nonromantic relationships, when it discusses how, after the Admiral remarried, Mrs. Grant was unable to see her beloved half-siblings for a long time.