Not sure about anyone else out there, but I’ve always thought Tom Bertram as nearly a throwaway character – other than the plot device of his being the eldest son and heir, which sort of messes everything up for Edmund and Mary, for what purpose is he in Mansfield Park? He leaves the action early on to go to Antigua with Sir Thomas, and like Mary Crawford, we soon forget all about him … He brings grief to the Park with his profligate ways, but as a character, who is he really?
On this latest re-read of MP, I decided to pay close attention to Mr. Bertram, and find to my surprise and delight that he is quite the Talker! – He babbles on incessantly about all manner of things, often for a laugh-out-loud moment! Who knew MP was so funny??
I give here one such example; it is a long passage but just read it through – I promise a few laughs! – and then I wonder what your thoughts are about Tom – tell me in the comments below…
The scene: Fanny at her first Ball, a very spontaneous Ball pulled together at Mansfield Park – [Vol. I, Ch. xii]
Fanny could listen no farther. Listening and wondering were all suspended for a time, for Mr. Bertram was in the room again; and though feeling it would be a great honour to be asked by him, she thought it must happen. He came towards their little circle; but instead of asking her to dance, drew a chair near her, and gave her an account of the present state of a sick horse, and the opinion of the groom, from whom he had just parted. Fanny found that it was not to be, and in the modesty of her nature immediately felt that she had been unreasonable in expecting it. When he had told of his horse, he took a newspaper from the table, and looking over it, said in a languid way, “If you want to dance, Fanny, I will stand up with you.” With more than equal civility the offer was declined; she did not wish to dance. “I am glad of it,” said he, in a much brisker tone, and throwing down the newspaper again, “for I am tired to death. I only wonder how the good people can keep it up so long. They had need be all in love, to find any amusement in such folly; and so they are, I fancy. If you look at them you may see they are so many couple of lovers—all but Yates and Mrs. Grant—and, between ourselves, she, poor woman, must want a lover as much as any one of them. A desperate dull life hers must be with the doctor,” making a sly face as he spoke towards the chair of the latter, who proving, however, to be close at his elbow, made so instantaneous a change of expression and subject necessary, as Fanny, in spite of everything, could hardly help laughing at. “A strange business this in America, Dr. Grant! What is your opinion? I always come to you to know what I am to think of public matters.”
“My dear Tom,” cried his aunt soon afterwards, “as you are not dancing, I dare say you will have no objection to join us in a rubber; shall you?” Then leaving her seat, and coming to him to enforce the proposal, added in a whisper, “We want to make a table for Mrs. Rushworth, you know. Your mother is quite anxious about it, but cannot very well spare time to sit down herself, because of her fringe. Now, you and I and Dr. Grant will just do; and though we play but half–crowns, you know, you may bet half–guineas with him.”
“I should be most happy,” replied he aloud, and jumping up with alacrity, “it would give me the greatest pleasure; but that I am this moment going to dance.” Come, Fanny, taking her hand, “do not be dawdling any longer, or the dance will be over.”
Fanny was led off very willingly, though it was impossible for her to feel much gratitude towards her cousin, or distinguish, as he certainly did, between the selfishness of another person and his own.
“A pretty modest request upon my word,” he indignantly exclaimed as they walked away. “To want to nail me to a card–table for the next two hours with herself and Dr. Grant, who are always quarrelling, and that poking old woman, who knows no more of whist than of algebra. I wish my good aunt would be a little less busy! And to ask me in such a way too! without ceremony, before them all, so as to leave me no possibility of refusing. That is what I dislike most particularly. It raises my spleen more than anything, to have the pretence of being asked, of being given a choice, and at the same time addressed in such a way as to oblige one to do the very thing, whatever it be! If I had not luckily thought of standing up with you I could not have got out of it. It is a great deal too bad. But when my aunt has got a fancy in her head, nothing can stop her.”
The above scene is depicted by C. E. Brock in the Mansfield Park of 1908 [Mollands]
There are more such scenes with Tom I shall post on – but I just love this one, with Fanny sitting there and nervously thinking that he must ask her to dance, but he just goes on and on about a sick horse and Mrs. Grant in need of a proper lover…
Do you have a favorite scene that stars Tom Bertram?? Or, who is your favorite Tom Bertram at the Movies? My personal favorite, I must confess, is…..
…. James Purefoy as Tom Bertram – Mansfield Park (1999) [Pinterest]
c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont