Thomas Bertram

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Tom Bertram
Full nameTom Bertram
GenderMale
Age17 at the beginning of the novel, 25 at the end
IncomeThe estate of Mansfield Park and its demesnes, which will be his patrimony
EducationUnknown
RankElder son of a baronet
Primary residenceMansfield Park, but he often travels and stays with friends and acquaintances
Family
ParentsSir Thomas Bertram and Lady Maria Bertram
Sibling(s)Edmund Bertram, Maria Bertram, and Julia Bertram

Tom Bertram is a supporting character in Jane Austen's 1814 novel, Mansfield Park. He is the elder son and heir of Sir Thomas Bertram, a baronet and wealthy landowner in Northamptonshire, who also owns an estate in Antigua.

Character[edit]

Tom Bertram is depicted as a person who is careless and extravagant. He is not particularly kind to his cousin Fanny Price, the poor ward of his parents who has come to live with his family. Once grown up, he is only interested in amusing himself and is careless and extravagant with money.

Sir Thomas has to sell the living of the local parish to pay off Tom's debts. This harms the prospects of his younger brother Edmund, who intends to become a clergyman and would be expecting an income from the tithes of the parish.

Austen's writing is influenced by many sources. Tom's character has much in common with the biblical Prodigal, though he is the elder rather than younger son, and the portion of inheritance he wastes is not his own but his brother's.[1] Tom has two experiences of 'repentance'. Sir Thomas rightly suspects the first repentance to be superficial and removes Tom from the influence of his friends by taking him on a business trip to Antigua for a year. The second is near the end of the novel when Tom has a 'fall', both literal and spiritual, at the Newmarket Easter races and, being close to death, sends word to bring him home. On both occasions, Sir Thomas is a welcoming father, an attitude not extended to the adulterous Maria, though Maria never wants to return home.

Paula Byrne describes Tom as one of the most intriguing characters in Austen’s fictional world. He loves theatre and dressing up and is very close to the dandyish Yates. He is not very good at understanding women and the social customs of courtship, and there is no indication that he ever marries. She suggests that If there is a homosexual character in any of Austen’s novels, then it is Tom Bertram.[2]

Travel and return[edit]

Tom and his father go to Antigua to deal with problems on his estate. After a year, Tom is sent back home. He returns to his former friends and travels. Two wealthy young people, Henry and Mary Crawford move into the area and are living in the parsonage with their half sister, the new clergyman's wife. Mary is tentatively romantically interested in Tom but he does not respond to her; she shifts her attentions to his younger brother, Edmund.

Tom leaves home again to spend time with his friends at Weymouth. Weymouth had become one of the first modern tourist destinations and had been made popular by the royal family and their hangers-on. It had a reputation as a raffish seaside resort and is the offstage backdrop for Tom Bertram’s disastrous meeting with John Yates, who later elopes with Tom’s sister, Julia.[3]

Theatre[edit]

When Tom returns to Mansfield Park, he is soon joined by Mr Yates. They want to put on an amateur production of a play that is somewhat risque. Tom proposes that the young people should do this. Edmund and Fanny are opposed but the rest of the group are excited. Tom arranges for a theatre to be built in the billiard room. Austen carefully distinguishes between the fashionable elite theatricals of the aristocracy, which were mercilessly lampooned by the press, and the more modest efforts of the gentry.[2] Georgian debates about whether amateur acting was a virtuous activity or its opposite were lively, and Austen uses this to create the drama. An enthusiastic theatre-goer, she displays accurate knowledge of how acting companies really worked. Tom Bertram is both actor and company manager, as was the case on the professional stage,[4] The play is almost ready for production when Sir Thomas returns unexpectedly early and puts a stop to the proceedings.

Josephine Ross says that Austen's experience of hearing her brothers declaim poetry is surely reflected in Tom Bertram’s reminiscence, ‘I am sure my name was Norval, every evening of my life, through one Christmas holidays’, a reference to his schoolboy recitations from the popular eighteenth-century play Douglas, by John Home.[5]

Easter 'fall'[edit]

Later in the novel, Tom leaves again to take part in a horse racing meet at Newmarket but has a fall and is injured which, combined with his drinking, causes him to become very ill. His friends abandon him and Edmund has to fetch him home to be nursed back to health. His illness causes his family to fear for his life. This is observed with interest by Mary Crawford, who wants to marry Edmund. If Tom should die, that would leave Edmund as the heir to the Bertram estates and title. Tom recovers from his illness, and develops into a more prudent man.

Portrayal[edit]

See also[edit]

  1. ^ Luke 15:11–32
  2. ^ a b Byrne, Paula (2013)The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things ch. 8, HarperCollins, Kindle Ed. loc. 2503 - 2794
  3. ^ Byrne (2013) ch. 18 Kindle loc. 5900
  4. ^ Worsley, Lucy Jane Austen at Home: A Biography . ch. 27 Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Ed. loc. 5551
  5. ^ Ross, Josephine. Jane Austen: A Companion ch. 4, Thistle Publishing. Kindle loc. 1803.