Many pens have been charged with dwelling on guilt and misery, so I shall not lament the fact that it falls to my lot to take up that well-honed task, my explicit purpose being to thwart impatience and explore precisely how everyone – those not greatly at fault and those who are thoroughly guilty – might be punished or restored to tolerable comfort, as befits their fate. Along the way I will have the fortunate gratification of exploring how the truly worthy might discover something a bit better than mere contentment, giving me the pleasure of consigning them, instead, to perfect happiness, but first I must confront those players who are fully deserving of all the misery I can dole out.
I begin with those unfortunate creatures who will never again enjoy the comfort and niceties of life at Mansfield Park. Some might consider such banishment from that house's hallowed halls ample punishment for any crime, no matter how extreme, but the world has its ways of making the sinful pay two fold for their misdeeds. Mrs. Rushworth, deprived of those honors conveyed upon her by marriage and having forsaken those that, as Miss Bertram, she had been born into to and so long taken for granted, was certainly responsible for her own downfall. While no one could rightly argue that she had not only brought this fate upon herself, but also magnified it by her refusal to abandon her lover, as her father most urgently begged her to, some pity, as difficult as it might be to excite, must be reserved for the greatest sufferer in this tale. Regardless of her misdeeds, when comparing her lot to that of her partner in iniquity, we must acknowledge that an unfair bulk of the consequences were to be endured by her alone. No matter how much credit we give to a man of sense, such as Mr. Crawford, to provide for himself no small portion of vexation and regret for having so lost the woman whom he had rationally as well as passionately loved, his exemption from the punishment of public disgrace, which should in a just measure attend his share of the offense, must go a long way in providing him with undeserved consolation. Indeed, as his cohabitation with Mrs. Rushworth proved increasingly unendurable, he made ready use of those resources of society that were available to him, yet not her, in order to escape the discomforts of his home. As he fled her presence with increasing frequency, and her obstinate and fruitless hopes that he would someday marry her began to evaporate, her wretchedness became unquestionable. She had lived with him to be reproached as the ruin of all his happiness in Fanny, and carried away no better consolation in leaving him than that she had divided them. What can exceed the misery of such a mind in such a situation?
As if rejection and exile were not sufficient sources of mortification, Maria Rushworth's woes were further compounded by that of uncongenial company. For who was to be her chaperone in disgrace but that most vile creation of our beloved authoress: the abhorrent Aunt Norris. Although admittedly an altered creature by the tragedies that had befallen the Bertram family – quiet, stupefied, and indifferent to everything that passed – she was not so very changed as to have learned to improve her temper and ways, rendering her departure from Mansfield, though not conducive to Maria's comfort, a great relief to those who remained at the house. No compassion will be invoked for this character, who never herself thought to feel a twinge of sympathy for those whose concerns were not her own. That desperately valued regard from Sir Thomas which had so long provided her with place and position was deservedly withdrawn, rendering the aging lady embittered and discontent. She was forced to fruitlessly pursue a similar place in the heart of her favorite niece, with whom no amount of flattery and favor had ever succeeded, at the best of times, in creating a reciprocal attachment. Shut up together with little society, on one side no affection, on the other no judgment, it may be reasonably supposed that their tempers became their mutual punishment. Let us now leave these gloomy considerations . We have more deserving destinies to contemplate.
If pity can be justly apportioned, let the lion's share be conveyed upon Sir Thomas. Poor Sir Thomas! So determined to be a good father, yet so mistaken in his methodology. And worse yet, rational enough to accept his share of fault when the consequences of his approach were made manifest. No one remaining at Mansfield evoked such sympathy, for Lady Bertram lacked the mental powers to agonize longer than her own discomfort remained, Tom Bertram only ached in body, not mind, and if Edmund endured heartache at the loss of Mary Crawford, it was to be of very short duration indeed. But for Sir Thomas, as a parent, and conscious of errors in his own conduct as a parent, it was rather inevitable that he be the longest to suffer. Nevertheless, his was not to be an inconsolable fate. Relief was found in Julia's match proving 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. There was comfort also in Tom, who gradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits. He was the better for ever for his illness. And let us not underestimate the good to be derived from Mrs. Norris' departure. Her removal from Mansfield was the great supplementary comfort of Sir Thomas's life. To be relieved from her was so great a felicity that, had she not left bitter remembrances behind her, there might have been danger of his learning almost to approve the evil which produced such a good.
So cheer was not forever banished from Mansfield Park. Though the bulk of the residents were, for a time, as unhappy as they had ever been, solace was not unattainable, and for at least two members of the household, happiness was available in abundance. Shall we blame the two Price ladies for being merry amidst such despondency? Susan, whose lack of previous attachment to the family at Mansfield provides ample exoneration for her feelings, was elevated to a state of bliss she had never previously known. Her escape from the bad environment that was her Portsmouth home fully explains such spirits, and those who would accuse her of lack of familial duty I dismiss as either blind or unfeeling, particularly as those relatives who should have held such prominence in her heart certainly did not mourn for her lost presence. In regards to our heroine, of whom it has often been suggested by the critical that she is a creature too good to be attractive, let this moment counter that argument, for Fanny was, at this desolate time, very happy 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. Furthermore, 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. Of course, she had the sensibility to not demonstrate her peace of mind, particularly to that gentleman whose concerns she most valued. To have openly rejoiced would have been to alienate Edmund, thereby depriving him, and us, of the joyful ending about to unfold.