Chapter 40 Summary
Fanny’s misery continues. She misses her life at Mansfield Park so much that she rejoices when she receives a letter from Mary. As Fanny had presumed, Mary’s letters decreased in frequency after Fanny left Edmund’s presence. But now, after many weeks in Portsmouth, even a letter from Mary eases Fanny’s mind from the tedium and frustration of her stay with her family. Mary’s letter, more than Fanny had realized before, provides her with a sense of affection and elegance that is much absent from her family’s home.
In her letter, Mary tells of having met with Maria and Julia, who were visiting London. At the mention of Fanny’s name, Maria’s expression became very harsh, which suggests that the older Bertram sister had heard of Henry’s proposal to Fanny. Julia was not as badly affected. Maria also told Mary that she was renting a very large estate in London; Mary says that though Maria did not marry for love, at least she has money. At the close of her letter, Mary suggests that Fanny write back so her brother might have some pleasure in hearing from her.
In Portsmouth, Fanny has enjoyed no presence in the local society. When the women learn that Fanny does not play the piano as most women of social status do, they assume that she does not deserve the status her reputation and clothes provide and that Fanny must merely be putting on airs.
With no diversions available outside of her family, Fanny decides to focus on her fourteen-year-old sister, Susan, the only sibling who offers a hint of potential gracefulness. Susan behaves more pleasantly than her brothers and younger sisters do; she often spends much of her time in attempting to change the intolerant behaviors around her. In Fanny’s mind, Susan shows signs of passion and respect, though her language and manners are crude. Fanny thinks she can teach Susan some of the things she learned at Mansfield Park. She hints that Susan should follow any occasion for improvement that arises. She offers Susan ways to do things in a much wiser manner.
In this way, Fanny and Susan develop an intimacy and spend many hours together upstairs in Susan’s small bedroom. The room reminds Fanny of her tiny attic bedroom at Mansfield Park, except for the lack of furniture and books. To remedy the lack of reading materials, Fanny locates a lending library and starts to bring books home to read to her younger sister. Until this time, Susan has read nothing. By keeping her mind occupied with reading, Fanny controls her urge to flee to London, where she has learned that Edmund is heading.