Edmund Bertram (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen)
At Eton : c. late 18th century
Fictional Old Etonians
Known for: Edmund Bertram is a leading character from Jane Austen’s third published novel, Mansfield Park. In the novel, the wealthy Bertram family take in Edmund’s impoverished cousin, Fanny Price. Edmund becomes Fanny’s sole confidante, only for Edmund to fall in love with Mary Crawford, an anti-heroine to Austen’s Fanny. After a testing courtship with Mary, Edmund comes to realise his feelings for Fanny, whom he eventually marries.
School days: It is mentioned early on in Mansfield Park that Edmund attended Eton College:
“Edmund’s friendship never failed [Fanny]: his leaving Eton for Oxford made no change in his kind dispositions, and only afforded more frequent opportunities of proving them.”
Mansfield Park, Volume I, Chapter II
Austen includes this when she is describing Edmund and Fanny’s close childhood relationship, and makes the point that his absences at school and university make no difference to their bond. The passage from a public school to university was common for the gentlemen of the time: Austen’s father George, for example, attended Tonbridge School and Oxford.
Life and Career: The youngest son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Edmund is destined for life as a clergyman in a parish on the Mansfield estate; however, this hangs in the balance when Edmund’s elder brother accrues large gambling debts. Edmund’s vocation is a major theme in the novel and is the source of the breakdown of his courtship with Mary Crawford, who declares that she has “never danced with a clergyman…and she never will” (Volume II, Chapter IX). In the nineteenth century, it was common practice for the younger son of an upper class family to inherit a ‘living’ in the church; the expectation of this based on privilege rather than merit becomes a central debate in the novel.