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Title page of 1859 Chapman & Hall first edition
|Publisher||Chapman & Hall|
|Media type||Print (book)|
|ISBN||0-486-25119-5 (Dover paperback edition, 1986)|
The Bertrams consists principally of two interconnected subplots, recounting the story of three young Oxonians and the two young women with whom they are involved.
George Bertram is the son of an improvident army officer. Because of his father's irresponsibility, the cost of his upbringing is grudgingly borne by his wealthy paternal uncle, also named George Bertram. After graduating from Oxford with a double first, he falls in love with Caroline Waddington, who proves to be the only grandchild of his uncle. He proposes to her, and she accepts him. However, while he wants to marry as soon as possible, she insists that they wait until his call to the bar, some two or three years away. Bertram initially makes great progress in his legal studies; but the long wait for his reward disheartens him, and he falls into dissolute ways, neglecting his studies in favor of writing on controversial topics. He and his fiancée quarrel; each is too proud to apologize to the other; and although neither wants it so, their engagement is ended.
Henry Harcourt is a few years older than Bertram, and a college friend of his. He has prospered as a barrister, and has been elected to the House of Commons. Struck by Caroline's beauty and demeanor, and hoping that she will become her wealthy grandfather's heir, he has schemed to magnify the differences between her and Bertram. Shortly after their engagement ends, a change of government makes Harcourt, now Sir Henry, the new solicitor-general; and soon thereafter, he proposes to Caroline. She accepts, although she still loves Bertram and not Harcourt; but she is persuaded that she will never be able to marry Bertram, and resolves to be a dutiful wife.
The Harcourt marriage fails. The two quarrel; he insults her; and she leaves him and moves into her grandfather's home. The elder George Bertram dies soon thereafter; his will leaves the bulk of his fortune to charity, with only modest bequests for his nephew and granddaughter. Sir Henry has fallen out of favor with his party and is deep in debt; only the expectation that he might be old Bertram's heir has kept his creditors from pursuing him. With this hope lost and with no wife to sustain him in his misfortunes, he commits suicide.
Five years later, George Bertram once again proposes to Lady Harcourt. The prospect of great happiness is gone from them; but they can console one another, and their life together is quiet but not unhappy.
A second subplot relates the story of Arthur Wilkinson and Adela Gauntlet. Wilkinson and Bertram are the same age; Bertram was raised in the home of Wilkinson's father, a clergyman. When the elder Wilkinson dies suddenly, the patron of his living offers it to the son, on the condition that he pay almost the entire income to his mother, leaving only the equivalent of a curate's salary for himself. To Wilkinson, this means that he cannot afford to offer marriage to Adela Gauntlet, the daughter of a neighboring clergyman. Adela is willing to endure poverty with him, but cannot say so, since he has made her no proposal and she, as a woman, cannot propose to him. Eventually, Wilkinson finds the courage to defy his mother and ask Adela for her hand. The two are married; and although their lives must be frugal, they are happy together.
The Bertrams—Tingay, p. 15.
Written February–summer 1859.
1859: Chapman & Hall, London; further editions in 1860, 1861, 1862, 1866, 1867, 1869
1860: Harper of NY (again in 1872); Tauchnitz of Leipzig
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