Tag Archives: Sir Thomas Bertram

Mansfield Park Character Review: Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram

*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.

One of the things I have wrestled with as I have gotten older is that my parents are not perfect. When we are young, we may be led to believe otherwise. The truth is that they are just as human as any of us. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price‘s surrogate parents are her aunt and uncle, Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas Bertram. Neither of them has a healthy relationship with their children.

Though Sir Thomas has provided for children and his niece in the material and financial sense, there is no emotional connection with the younger generation. Often away on business, he is displeased that his eldest son, Thomas, is more interested in spending time with his friends than focusing on his responsibilities. Though there are moments of warmth (i.e. giving his eldest daughter, Maria an out on what would be a loveless marriage), he is not the cuddly paternal type. When Fanny turns down Henry Crawford‘s marriage proposal, Sir Thomas is quick to remind her about her place in his home and the society that they live in.

His wife prefers the companionship of her dog to her offspring. Though she depends on Fanny as one would rely on an assistant or an aide, she is equally lacking in expected maternal nature. While most mothers would busy themselves in their brood’s daily activities, Lady Bertram is content to let her husband and eldest sister, Mrs. Norris take the lead. Preferring the comforts of home, she has become a homebody, forcing Fanny to stay home as well.

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To sum it up: At a certain point in our lives, we can no longer blame our actions on what did or did not happen when we were young. That does not mean, however, that the experiences of our childhood remain separate from who we become as adults. In their own unique ways, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram are emotionally distant from their kids, opening the door to decisions that are partially due to a difficult home life.

Which is why they are memorable characters.

This will be my last Mansfield Park character review post. Come back next week to discover which characters will be writing about next.

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Mansfield Park Character Review: Thomas Bertram

*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.

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Filed under Books, Character Review, Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility

Mansfield Park Character Review: Mrs. Norris

*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.

Every story needs a good antagonist. Without that character, the protagonist is not challenged and basically, the reader or viewer has no reason to pay attention to the narrative. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris is the eldest of the three Ward sisters. While her younger sister, Lady Bertram, married into the aristocracy, her youngest sister, Mrs. Price (mother of the book’s heroine, Fanny) disobliged her family by marrying a penniless sailor. Saying “I do” to a clergyman, she took advantage of the proximity to her sister and brother-in-law. Incensed that the baby of the family, Frances, chose a man that was far beneath her, the result of this choice was an angry letter followed by radio silence.

More than a decade later, Frances reaches out to her elder sisters, needing help. With many mouths to feed and a small income to support them, she has no choice but to contact them. As a result, Fanny is brought to Mansfield Park. The original plan was for Fanny to reside with Mr. and Mrs. Norris. But Mrs. Norris, who lacks any maternal instincts, except for those that will raise her social standing, forces Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram to take on the responsibility of caring for their niece.

Five years later, Mrs. Norris is now and widow and has moved into the big house. Giving Fanny the Cinderella treatment, she openly favors her elder nieces, Maria and Julia Bertram. Another of Fanny cousin’s, Edmund tries to interject, but his arguments cannot sway his aunt. She is the first one to bring up the idea of a marriage between Maria and Mr. Rushworth, knowing that the union is tentative until Sir Thomas gives his approval.

By the end of the story, she is still the social climber who clings tenuously to familial connections. Living with the now divorced and scandalized Maria, she remains as she ever was. But she cannot keep Fanny down. Fanny still marries Edmund and has her own version of happily ever after.

To sum it up: If there was one character who was the Austen villain, Mrs. Norris is it. She exemplifies the worst characteristics of the Regency era and the emphasis on money, class, and status. In being unable to see past these qualities, there is nothing redeemable or even likable about her.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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In Defense Of Fanny Price and Edward Ferrars

It is a truth universally acknowledged certain characters with the universe that is the fiction of Jane Austen are more popular than others. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy will always be the alpha female and alpha male of the Jane Austen Universe. That means with every world that contains the alpha male and alpha female, there inevitably be those characters who are least liked and always a subject for vigorous debate.

Two of these characters are Fanny Price, of Mansfield Park and Edward Ferrars, Of Sense And Sensibility.  Both, I believe are under appreciated. If I may, I would like to explain why each of these characters deserve more respect than they get.

Fanny Price

The first paragraph of Mansfield Park introduces the reader to the Miss Wards. The eldest, Miss Maria Ward, married Sir Thomas Betram and upon marriage, became a baronet’s wife. The second Miss Ward, married Rev. Mr. Morris, a friend of her brother-in-law. The youngest Miss Ward, Miss Frances broke from her family and married a Lieutenant from the Marines.  This man was everything her brother in law was not; he was without education, wealth or connections. From this union, our heroine, Fanny Price is born. At the age of ten, she is taken from her family to Mansfield Park, where her wealthy Aunt and Uncle live.

Fanny grows up with her Bertram cousins. She is not a servant, but she is also not a daughter of the house.  The treatment she receives, especially from her Aunt Norris is more akin to an unpaid servant than a member of the family. The novels begins to take off when Mr. Norris dies and the living associated with the parish within the park goes to Dr. Grant, until Edmund came come of age and take orders.  Arriving with Dr. Grant is his wife and her younger siblings, Henry and Mary Crawford.

The complaints about Fanny are that she is weak, physically and emotionally, in addition to always being right.  Some might say she is priggish.

But I argue that despite these drawbacks, she has qualities that I believe are overlooked: a backbone and a sense of self that guides her even when she is told that she is wrong.

“You are mistaken, Sir,”—cried Fanny, forced by the anxiety of the moment even to tell her uncle that he was wrong—”You are quite mistaken. How could Mr. Crawford say such a thing? I gave him no encouragement yesterday—On the contrary, I told him—I cannot recollect my exact words—but I am sure I told him that I would not listen to him, that it was very unpleasant to me in every respect, and that I begged him never to talk to me in that manner again.—I am sure I said as much as that and more; and I should have said still more,—if I had been quite certain of his meaning any thing seriously, but I did not like to be—I could not bear to be—imputing more than might be intended. I thought it might all pass for nothing with him.”

She could say no more; her breath was almost gone.

“Am I to understand,” said Sir Thomas, after a few moments silence, “that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Refuse him?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Refuse Mr. Crawford! Upon what plea? For what reason?”

“I—I cannot like him, Sir, well enough to marry him.”

“This is very strange!” said Sir Thomas, in a voice of calm displeasure. “There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach. Here is a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, with every thing to recommend him; not merely situation in life, fortune, and character, but with more than common agreeableness, with address and conversation pleasing to every body. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day, you have now known him some time. His sister, moreover, is your intimate friend, and he has been doing that for your brother, which I should suppose would have been almost sufficient recommendation to you, had there been no other. It is very uncertain when my interest might have got William on. He has done it already.”

“Yes,” said Fanny, in a faint voice, and looking down with fresh shame; and she did feel almost ashamed of herself, after such a picture as her uncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford.

“You must have been aware,” continued Sir Thomas, presently, “you must have been some time aware of a particularity in Mr. Crawford’s manners to you. This cannot have taken you by surprise. You must have observed his attentions; and though you always received them very properly, (I have no accusation to make on that head,) I never perceived them to be unpleasant to you. I am half inclined to think, Fanny, that you do not quite know your own feelings.”

“Oh! yes, Sir, indeed I do. His attentions were always—what I did not like.”

Fanny is aware that Henry Crawford flirted with Mariah and Julia, knowing full that Mariah is engaged. She is also aware that becoming Mrs. Crawford would elevate herself and her family out of poverty.

The intuition is finally respected when Mariah, now married, runs off with Mr. Crawford, threatening to ruin the entire family.

Fanny is not perfect, but she respects and follows her own intuition.

I’m going to end my argument with the following:

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we attend to it, than any other person can be“.

On a similar note, Mansfield Park is the subject of this year’s JASNA AGM in Montreal, Canada. I suspect there will be many heated discussions that weekend.

Edward Ferrars

Sense and Sensibility begins with the death of Henry Dashwood. The law of the land was primogeniture, meaning the eldest son inherited everything, except for what was specifically left for the younger children. Henry Dashwood married twice, producing four children. His son and heir, John was born to his late first wife and his daughter’s, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret were born to his second wife. John and his wife take over Norland Park and force his step mother and step sisters to vacate their home.

But not before the younger Mrs. Dashwood invites her brother, Edward Ferrars to visit. Edward and Elinor have an immediate connection, but it is broken when Elinor, with her mother and sisters leave Norland Park for their new home in Barton Park.  Edward wears a ring with lock of hair, which he says belongs to his sister. A third of a way into to the novel, we are introduced to the Steele sisters. Miss Lucy Steele, tells Elinor in confidence that she knows of her in laws because she has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, her uncle’s former student for several years. At the end of novel (spoiler alert for those who have not read it), Edward losses his fortune to his brother when his mother finds out about the secret engagement. Lucy does become Mrs. Ferrars, but she becomes Mrs. Robert Ferrars.

Edward Ferrars is not Fitzwilliam Darcy, Captain Wentworth or even his future brother in law, Colonel Brandon.  But he is loyal. He is loyal to Lucy Steele, who is basically a gold digger.  Unlike some of the other Austen leading men, he doesn’t need much a live on. His professional goal is to join the clergy. He doesn’t need a large estate or a house in town. He want’s a parish to run and a home. My favorite thing about Edward is that even though he is engaged to Lucy through most of the story, he is faithful to Elinor.

In short, Edward and Fanny may not be perfect, but they deserve our respect.

*Italics notes original text

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Filed under Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility