There are several things on which I wish to comment in this post, and will attempt to organize it in the most logical manner based on my observations. In this instance, I will list my observations chronologically rather than by topic.
First, I found it rather interesting that Sir Thomas Bertram was looking for ways to assist Frances Ward (Price) after her marrying “to disoblige her family.” Even though, as Austen states, Frances “could hardly have made a more untoward choice,” Sir Thomas, “from a general wish of doing right,” wanted to be able to help provide for his sister’s family. Based upon first impressions, then, Sir Thomas is not too terrible a person at all.
In comparison to the initial presentation of Thomas Bertram, then, Frances Ward’s husband, a man with “A large and still increasing family…disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants” hardly measures up (5-6).
Subsequently, when young Fanny finds herself at Mansfield Park, in the society of those with higher social standing and more refined behaviors, one can hardly fault Sir Thomas for the following caution he issues to Mrs. Norris:
“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,” observed Sir Thomas, “as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up; how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram (12).
Within the caution, though, surfaces compassion for a girl Sir Thomas has never before encountered. Again, as before, it appears that he is quite the gentleman when it comes to looking after the welfare of others and caring for relations as their needs arise.
On the very next page, we’re introduced to the idea that Sir Thomas has a “most untoward gravity of deportment,” which apparently cannot make up for his attempts to be “conciliating” toward Fanny, and so she immediately reckons on Lady Bertram as “the less aweful character of the two (13).” Such a discovery is, again, not a stain on Sir Thomas’ character. For a young girl raised in a household under the care of a disabled, drunken father, encountering a man entirely in possession of himself would seem intimidating. Again, on page 20, Austen informs us of the fact that, “though truly an anxious father, [Sir Thomas] was not outwardly affectionate, and the reserve of his manner repressed all the flow of [the children’s] spirits before him.” Is not such behavior what was expected of titled men in the Regency era? Aloofness and a bit of a sense of grandeur? Of course children would find ssuch deportment off-putting. That is, however, unless this is the beginning of the peek into Sir Thomas’ deficiencies.
This, at least, brings us to Chapter 3 – and I believe I’ll save that entry until tomorrow, so as not to appear long-winded.
All references in this post – and future posts, unless otherwise noted – are from the Penguin Classics version of Mansfield Park. Citation is as follows:
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.