Jane Austen, Mansfield Park: Ch. 48

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Chapter XLVIII

Let other pens dwell on guilt and miseryd. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

My Fanny, indeed, at this very time, I have the satisfaction of knowing, must have been happy in spite of everything. She must have been a happy creature in spite of all that she felt, or thought she felt, for the distress of those around her. She had sources of delight that must force their way. She was returned to Mansfield Park, she was useful, she was beloved; she was safe from Mr. Crawford; and when Sir Thomas came back she had every proof that could be given in his then melancholy state of spirits, of his perfect approbation and increased regard; and happy as all this must make her, she would still have been happy without any of it, for Edmund was no longer the dupe of Miss Crawford.

It is true that Edmund was very far from happy himself. He was suffering from disappointment and regret, grieving over what was, and wishing for what could never be. She knew it was so, and was sorry; but it was with a sorrow so founded on satisfaction, so tending to ease, and so much in harmony with every dearest sensation, that there are few who might not have been glad to exchange their greatest gaiety for it.

Sir Thomas, poor Sir Thomas, a parent, and conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent, was the longest to sufferd. He felt that he ought not to have allowed the marriage; that his daughter's sentiments had been sufficiently known to him to render him culpable in authorising it; that in so doing he had sacrificed the right to the expedient, and been governed by motives of selfishness and worldly wisdom. These were reflections that required some time to soften; but time will do almost everything; and though little comfort arose on Mrs. Rushworth's side for the misery she had occasioned, comfort was to be found greater than he had supposed in his other children. Julia's match became a less desperate business than he had considered it at first. She was humble, and wishing to be forgiven; and Mr. Yates, desirous of being really received into the family, was disposed to look up to him and be guided. He was not very solid; but there was a hope of his becoming less trifling, of his being at least tolerably domestic and quiet; and at any rate, there was comfort in finding his estate rather more, and his debts much less, than he had feared, and in being consulted and treated as the friend best worth attending to. There was comfort also in Tom, who gradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishnessd of his previous habits. He was the better for ever for his illness. He had suffered, and he had learned to thinkd: two advantages that he had never known before; and the self-reproach arising from the deplorable event in Wimpole Street, to which he felt himself accessory by all the dangerous intimacy of his unjustifiable theatre, made an impression on his mind which, at the age of six-and-twenty, with no want of sense or good companions, was durable in its happy effects. He became what he ought to be: useful to his father, steady and quiet, and not living merely for himself.

Here was comfort indeed! and quite as soon as Sir Thomas could place dependence on such sources of good, Edmund was contributing to his father's ease by improvement in the only point in which he had given him pain before—improvement in his spirits. After wandering about and sitting under trees with Fanny all the summer evenings, he had so well talked his mind into submission as to be very tolerably cheerful again.

X [d] Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery

Writing & Reading

Austen reminds us in these last moments that she is fundamentally a comic author. We may need the reminder, for Mansfield Park is qualified comedy. She may wave the wand and pen over guilt and misery, but Mansfield Park is her least comic novel because its three main comic figures, Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram, and Rushworth, either cause massive damage or suffer some (though Rushwort…

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X [d] the longest to suffer

Writing & Reading

This depends on how one defines suffering. If it is remorse, as here, then he's entitled to the superlative "longest." But if it's loss of station, family, and society, then he is comparatively fortunate.

Austen treats Sir Thomas with more leniency than he may deserve, given the wreckage that results from his negligence. But she will return in a moment to him and his "grievous mismanagement."

X [d] Tom, who gradually regained his health, witho…

Mind

Lacking depth psychology and medications, the 19th-c. novelist found in serious physical collapse a vehicle for psychological change. Austen uses the same device in Sense and Sensibility.

Physical illness and a sort of dark night of the soul is often in the 19th-c. novel the means to a fundamental spiritual or psychological transformation for which the novelist has no other means. 

X [d] He had suffered, and he had learned to think

Education

Suffering and remorse are the last prospect for improvement for those who have lacked a favorable environment and a proper education. 

Fanny's particular form of goodness is itself a product of harshly negative forces resulting in a protracted trauma. Her goodness is not innate but is owing largely to the self-denial, humility, and demand for usefulness forced upon her by her first seven years…

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