Fanny, back at Mansfield Park and totally certain that Edmund will never marry Mary, is very happy. Edmund, meanwhile, is very upset, and Sir Thomas even more so, as he blames himself for his daughters’ disgraces.
Sir Thomas’s concern that his parenting is responsible for Julia and Maria’s downfalls suggests how nurture, not good breeding, may be a crucial reason for quality of morality and manners—an idea that would have been controversial in Austen’s time.
Julia returns to Mansfield and begs the family’s forgiveness, and Mr. Yates, wanting to be approved of, tries hard to appease the family. Tom regains his health, and following his illness he is much more considerate and responsible. Edmund’s spirits improve, and Sir Thomas slowly begins to blame himself less, but he does think that Maria and Julia’s upbringing was the cause for their bad choices.
Julia’s mistake is forgivable, and her reputation salvageable, since although she eloped, she at least transgressed within the system of marriage. Though her marriage is not desirable and does not benefit her financially or socially, it does not carry the taboo that adultery does.
Mr. Rushworth divorces Maria. Once Henry eventually leaves her (it is unclear in the text why or when he does so), Maria returns to Mansfield and the family wonders what exactly to do with her. Mrs. Norris blames Fanny for Maria’s downfall, an accusation that Sir Thomas rejects. Mrs. Norris and Maria move far away and live together, their income provided for by Sir Thomas. Sir Thomas is very happy to have Mrs. Norris gone, as his opinion of her has been lowering since his return from Antigua. No one, it turns out, misses Mrs. Norris very much.
When Maria’s affair with Henry ends, society has little space for her as an unmarried, unmarriageable (because “disgraced”) woman of the upper class. That Mrs. Norris and Maria must move away shows how damning sexual transgression is for women. However, for Maria, marriage itself was so confining that it’s unclear whether her suffocating marriage to Mr. Rushworth was much better than social exile.
Julia having fared better than Maria, the narrator notes, is perhaps due to the fact that she was always less spoiled than her sister. She never forgave Henry for favoring Maria over her at Mansfield, and so rejected his company in London. The narrator also states that Julia’s elopement with Mr. Yates was catalyzed by Maria’s affair, because Julia feared going home and dealing with her father’s anger at his eldest daughter.
The narrator, like Sir Thomas, attributes Maria’s fall from grace to her upbringing, as evidenced by the fact that the narrator thinks Julia got by thanks to the fact that she was less spoiled. That Julia’s elopement was catalyzed by Maria’s affair also recalls the earlier metaphor of Julia going after Maria over the iron gate.
The narrator then describes Henry’s mistake, suggesting that, had Henry kept trying, he might have eventually succeeded in securing Fanny’s affections. After Maria’s coldness to him at a party, his vanity made him pursue Maria once more. Henry greatly regretted it, because he did truly love Fanny.
The narrator confirms definitively that Henry did love Fanny, but unfortunately his underlying bad qualities (his fickleness, his vanity) got the best of him, despite his charm and sincere feelings.
The Grants, who luckily had gone away before all the drama, move to London permanently. Mary moves in with them, and resumes her city lifestyle. Dr. Grant eventually dies. Mary resolves never to love a younger brother again, but has trouble finding anyone she likes as much as Edmund.
The Grants and Mary return to London, where it’s suggested that Mary’s lack of principled morals fits in with the surroundings. She decides to pursue wealth in marriage (by avoiding younger brothers), but this prevents her from finding a love like Edmund.
Edmund, for his part, finally begins to notice Fanny, and falls in love with her. He begins to act romantically towards her, and Fanny admits that she has been in love with him the whole time. Sir Thomas approves of the match, finally getting the kind and good daughter he’d wanted.
Although the narrator assures the reader that Edmund’s love for Fanny is legitimate, when they finally get together the moment is glossed over, disappointing the reader and rendering the supposed “happy ending” of the marriage plot quite unfulfilling.
Lady Bertram is unhappy about the marriage because it means she will lose Fanny’s company, but Susan, who is thriving at Mansfield, takes Fanny’s place as Lady Bertram’s companion.
It seems that Fanny’s upward mobility will be repeated in her sister, suggesting that Fanny’s movement up the social ladder was not an isolated incident.
Sir Thomas, observing how good Fanny, William, and Susan are, thinks that struggle in early childhood yields good morals and responsibility. He compares the Price children to his own children, and sees how his children’s good pedigree has done little to make them good people and obedient children.
In this important passage, Sir Thomas, who began the book with a rigid sense of class hierarchy, begins to see how merit, rather than birth, might be the best way to judge people. Furthermore, he sees how the hardship of the lower classes can build character.
Edmund and Fanny are extremely happy once they are married, and after Dr. Grant’s death they move into the Parsonage to be close to Mansfield Park.
Edmund and Fanny’s married life goes under-described, failing to give the reader a last happy image of marriage.