Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ A Little Bit About Tom Bertram…


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…..

Purefoy as Tom

…. James Purefoy as Tom Bertram – Mansfield Park (1999) [Pinterest]

c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont

16 thoughts on “Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ A Little Bit About Tom Bertram…

    • Yes, Raquel – I saw that you have posted on Tom as well! I really did in the past just sort of ignore him, but now see how really funny he is – he is completely irreverent and a bit of a bad-boy and selfish to the core – he’s one of Austen’s bad boys really, isn’t he? And yes, Purefoy was perfect in the role, definitely makes one sit up and take notice…

      Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Yes that is a brilliant glimpse into the surprisingly quick thinking and cleverness of Tom when it comes to his own selfishness…”come Fanny, do not be dawdling any longer or the dance will be over.” Too funny! You can tell Austen must have really enjoyed writing that scene; even Fanny ‘could hardly help laughing’!


    • Yes, completely selfish but one cannot help laughing at him, with him, and with Fanny – another example of Austen’s ability to create a character who is well-rounded – we know exactly who Tom Bertram is – even though he is really just lurking in the background of the action. One of my favorite scenes is when he natters on and on about “coming-out” when Mary asks whether Fanny is “out” – his description of not understanding the etiquette of it all is another laugh-out-loud moment…


  2. That is a fantastic scene! I especially liked

    ‘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!’

    Umm, yes, because Fanny hasn’t just been asked to dance by you in just that way! And to tell her off for dawdling too! So funny.


    • Exactly! – Tom sees only his own situation, lacks any empathy – one of the more telling Tom moments is when the narrator tells us about all of Fanny’s prized possessions in her attic room, with all the netting boxes, given to her “principally by Tom” – a thoughtful, but completely thoughtless gift in its repetitiveness!

      Thanks for visiting Ceri…


  3. I particularly loved that Tom really describes Mrs.Norris’s character – meddling, busy, determined to have her own way. Thanks, Deb, for interrupting my work day with such a lovely moment with our dear Jane.


    • Both Tom and Edmund seem to have their Aunt pegged, don’t they! It has always bothered me that neither of them, well especially Edmund, Tom was completely oblivious to Fanny and probably never went to her room, never did anything about the Aunt’s rule of no fire in her room … she was so invisible to all of them..

      Glad this little interruption gave you a few chuckles!


  4. I was so delight to have this conversation with your all about Jane Austen noval, I like her life in England, her dress, and she is born in December 16, and I was born in December 14, only the years is different, I thought I can become writer too, because my brain had full of imagination too, the only problem was my hand cannot write fast enough with my brain thinking so fast, I always interest her life and story she wrote, I working in the library, so I check out all her books and history and culture in her country.


  5. Do not forget that Tom also serves an important role, plotwise, not just by being the oldest son and thus hurting Edmund’s financial prospects, but as the foil for Edmund’s comparatively kind and moral behavior. 18th and 19th literature is full of selfish, domineering oldest sons when you start looking for them, but few as funny as Tom.


    • Yes I agree – Tom is the more typical older son with all the perks but no sense of the responsibility – it is sometimes why I forget that [if we can jump into another tale!] Edward Ferrars IS the older son in S&S, when he seems to act more like the younger, and which in effect he becomes once he is disinherited… But Tom is funny, very like the Crawfords – so entertaining; he also is the one reason Lady Bertram finally gets off the couch…which is something!

      Thanks for visiting!


  6. Pingback: Aggregatore #5 [12-18 maggio] | Austenismi

  7. My favorite Tom Bertram scene has to be the moment when he is the silent witness to the on-stage encounter between his father and Mr Yates, the best acting that stage, so soon to close, ever witnessed, because entirely natural; there the narrative is entirely with Tom in a marvellous deft move, hugely funny and one of Jane Austen’s bold changes of register, from the Gothic of Sir Thomas’ return, the domestic of his homecoming and Lady Bertram’s calm happiness, Fanny’s surprise at his warmth –all of this is going on, and Tom, always more careful of his friends than his family, remembers ‘Yates is alone’ –but of course he is not, and the comedy of the scene, and Tom’s necessarily suppressed laughter at it, are unequalled –it is through Tom, as the posting suggests, that we see how funny Mansfield Park is.


    • Yes, Nora, I agree with you – this is a very funny scene – and I love that you mention the “gothic” qualities of Sir Thomas’s return to MP – it is where I am quite amazed that Charlotte Bronte didn’t herself see some of Austen’s very dramatic Brontesque scenes! [the arrival of Willoughby is S&S to see if Marianne was indeed near death is another] – but I love the humor of Tom seeing his father and Yates on the stage, and Austen at her best.

      Thank you for visiting Nora!


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