Chapter 31 Summary
The next morning, Henry wastes no time in going to the Bertrams’ residence even though it is too early by social standards. He has important news to convey. He has three letters in his hand and gives them to Fanny.
The first letter is from Henry’s uncle, the admiral, telling him that Fanny’s brother William has been promoted to lieutenant. The other two letters are copies of correspondence between Henry’s uncle and other officials, demonstrating how William’s promotion had been processed. As Fanny reads the letters, Henry tells her that the only reason for his having visited London was to further William’s promotion. He adds that he stayed away from her only as long as he could stand. He had wanted to wait until he received the confirmation of William’s advancement before he left but the extra time was unbearable. Henry opens his heart to Fanny and asks her to marry him.
The two elements, the news about her brother and Henry’s proposal, are too much for Fanny to digest. Her emotions rock her first in the direction of happiness and then to disgust. She cannot fathom why Henry would be proposing to her because she has given him no encouragement in the past. If anything, she has only demonstrated that she did not like him. Because of this, she disbelieves Henry is being honest. Although she feels infinitely obliged to Henry for his part in obtaining William’s new rank, she is distressed about his outpouring of emotions for her. She rejects him and leaves the room.
Later that evening, when she is sure Henry has left, Fanny goes downstairs only to discover that Sir Thomas has invited Henry to dinner. When Henry appears at suppertime, he hands Fanny a note. It is from his sister Mary. To encourage Fanny to accept Henry’s proposal, Mary assures Fanny that she completely endorses the marriage. Again Fanny is confused. She cannot understand how Mary, who is so concerned about social status, would want Fanny as a sister-in-law.
Fanny can hardly eat. Henry believes she has lost her appetite because she is overwhelmed with joy. This is not the case. Fanny has never been so agitated in her life, torn between her desire to be profusely happy for her brother and at the same time feeling appalled by Henry's forward announcement of his feelings for her.
Before Henry leaves, he asks Fanny if she has a reply for his sister. Fanny rushes to a writing table, though she has no idea how to express her feelings without admitting how confused she is. Finally she writes that she is obliged to Mary for her approval, but she insists that Mary not take this matter any further. Fanny adds that if Mary’s brother truly understood who she was, he never would have proposed. Then she asks that Mary never speak of this again.