At last, Edmund’s long-awaited letter arrives. Fanny reads it warily, afraid it will carry the news that he and Mary are engaged. Edmund writes that he has returned to Mansfield. He describes how Mary’s friends are a bad influence on her character. However, he insists that he cannot give up on her. Edmund worries that Mary will reject his proposal due to his lack of money or profession, but insists he will propose anyway. He considers proposing by letter.
Edmund’s letter, which Fanny has been anticipating and dreading, turns out to be less eventful than expected. That Edmund considers proposing by letter shows how not only do letters allow for long-distance communication, but also their form, which allows the author to be absent, might be helpful for emotionally charged conversations.
Edmund then tells Fanny about seeing Henry and Maria interact at a recent party. He describes the coolness between them, and says that Maria and Mr. Rushworth’s marriage seems to be going fine. Edmund tells Fanny that the Grants are moving to Bath, and that Sir Thomas will not be able to pick her up when he intended to. He sends love from everyone at Mansfield and signs off. Fanny is upset and angry, both at Edmund’s declarations of love for Mary and the fact that she must stay at Portsmouth longer than expected.
Edmund’s letter also describes the interactions between Maria and Henry. While their affair has not yet occurred, the fragments of letters from Mary and Edmund describing Maria and Henry’s interactions serve as evidence of their impending transgression, clues that Fanny and the reader can later return to and parse. As we will learn, it is this seeming “coolness” between Maria and Henry that makes Henry want to make Maria fall for him again.
A few days later, Fanny receives a letter from Lady Bertram. She tells her that Tom has fallen gravely ill after a night of drinking in Newcastle, and returned home to Mansfield to recover. Fanny feels great sympathy for everyone at Mansfield. Lady Bertram continues to write Fanny daily letters, updating her on Tom’s worsening illness and the family’s fright. Fanny confides her fears for Tom in Susan, who is very sympathetic.
While Tom did not fall ill in London itself, his trip to Newcastle was from London, and with his city friends. The association of the city with Tom’s deathly illness and the partying and drinking that led to it add to the city’s aura of sickness and moral depravity.