*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).
*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In a world in which primogeniture is king, being the eldest son is not what it seems to be. The upside is the potential inheritance of the estate, the title, the family fortune, etc. The downside is the pressure that comes with this status. In Mansfield Park, Thomas Bertram is the eldest son and heir of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. With three younger siblings, he has certain responsibilities that his younger brother and sisters do not have. That does mean, however, that he is doing what he is supposed to be doing.
Instead of being the son his parents want him to be, Thomas initially prefers to drink, waste money, and schmooze with his friends. His inability to understand how his actions affect everyone around him would push anyone to the breaking point. He gets so far into debt that Sir Thomas is forced to sell the living or the benefice, putting his younger brother Edmund‘s future in doubt.
Taken by his father on a year-long business trip to Antigua, the hope is that this time away will set Thomas on the right path. Though it appears that he has changed, it is just that. His real transformation is represented by both a literal and figurative fall. Left at death’s door by his friends, Thomas returns home in a vegetative state. While he lies in a coma, Mary Crawford is already planning for her future as Lady Bertram with Edmund as the heir. It is a statement that does not go over well.
Like Marianne Dashwood, he only learns his lesson after hitting rock bottom. We are told by Austen that he is no longer the drunken wastrel that he was. He is the son that his parents need him to be.
To sum it up: Sometimes, the only way to understand where we have gone wrong is to go to depths that we never expected to go. Though the climb back up can be painful in multiple ways, it is the only way to understand where we went wrong. It is not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But it is necessary if we want to grow beyond our past mistakes.
Which is why Thomas Bertram is a memorable character.