Edmund Bertram

I am continuing my series on Austen's characters from Mansfield Park, all of which I explored at length in writing my novel, Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story. Austen's heroes, for the most part, are not particularly heroic (except of course for Mr. Darcy). The rest of them engage in smaller acts of heroism, and maybe Edmund Bertram has a couple of those – like obtaining a horse for Fanny to ride, but overall I think he is the least heroic of the lot.

I cannot forgive Edmund for his infatuation with the likes of Mary Crawford. His blindness towards Fanny for most of the novel is more understandable. She was raised in his family's home from the time she was ten years old and he was a teacher and mentor to her, heavily influencing her tastes and opinions. He clearly loves her all along, but it's a fraternal love, not a passionate one. So I don't mind his not returning her love or not being sensitive about her tender feelings, which he doesn't suspect. His lack of romantic feelings for Fanny is understandable, but his neglect of her, after being the only one who has been looking out for her, is more difficult to accept. There is a sort of tension wherein the more Edmund falls for Mary, the more he neglects Fanny. And because we see the story from Fanny's point of view, it is grueling for the reader to watch him confide in Fanny about his feelings for Mary, which are perhaps less understandable. He is not blind to Miss Crawford's faults; rather he makes excuses for them, which I think is worse. We, along with Fanny, see her for what she is, but without the influence of Fanny's jealousy.

Edmund is a good man. He is more approachable and understanding than Sir Thomas, more respectful than Tom, more companionable and attentive to Fanny than his sisters, more conscientious of her needs than his indolent mother, and certainly more everything good than Mrs. Norris. But Fanny's love for him is grounded in more than his goodness. He's pretty much the only young man she interacts with for most of her life. He is the only one around to love, while Tom is more often absent from home than not. And he is certainly the only one who gives her any real care and attention. This combination makes it easy to understand her feelings as well.

Edmund's and Fanny's feelings for one another during the course of the book seem perfectly natural given their relationship and situations. But, Edmund's feelings for Mary are harder to grasp. He certainly has seen more of the world than Fanny, though he is hardly as worldly as some of the other characters. He has been to school and to London. He has interacted with more young people, both male and female. Unlike Fanny, he has presumably been around other potential romantic prospects – though perhaps none in a situation that provides an opportunity for such familiarity or such frequent interaction as Miss Crawford at the Parsonage.

To account for Edmund's feelings, we are told:
A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart. … Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love.
The reason for Edmund's feelings seems a little shallow – especially for a man of such depth and such high moral rectitude, something he has already acknowledged that Miss Crawford lacks. Edmund's infatuation with Mary Crawford shows him, I think, to be immature and perhaps as naive as Fanny. Perhaps more naive than Fanny. We know Edmund was going to propose to Mary, “the only woman in the world whom he could ever think of as a wife,” while in contrast, Fanny never considered accepting Mr. Crawford.

Edmund shows weakness in comparison to Fanny. Miss Crawford manipulates him into changing his mind about acting in the play, and his reasons for doing so are sound. Nevertheless, he comes to Fanny for validation. He expects to be able to influence her to his side because he is so accustomed to guiding her thoughts and opinions. He claims that he has come to her for her opinion but once he sees that “her judgment is not with him” he tries to persuade her into the opinion he wants to hear. When she doesn't agree he says again, “but still it has not your approbation” and again, “Give me your approbation, then, Fanny. I am comfortable with it.” Finally, he says, “If you are against me, I ought to distrust myself.” This is a revealing line. Since he has been forming Fanny's views her whole life, she's like a mirror of his own moral compass. He is not satisfied with his own decision and Fanny does not give him the validation he needs to reconcile his actions to his feelings.

Later, after Fanny turns down Crawford's proposal, Edmund tries to persuade her to accept him. It would certainly be a financially prudent match for her, but he can see how she feels, how strongly she dislikes him. Although he may be motivated by the prospect of Fanny making a fortunate match, he is also motivated by his own prospects with Miss Crawrford, which must be facilitated by a connection between Fanny and Henry. But worse than that, Edmund has been in the same house with Fanny and all of the young people, he's been witness to the same behavior as Fanny, yet he is blind to Crawford's faults, or he dismisses them and expects Fanny to take on the responsibility of improving him, telling her, “I know he will make you happy; but you will make him everything.” Fanny rightfully recoils from the very idea. At least Edmund sees Mary's faults, though he dismisses them; he is as fooled by Henry as his sisters.

Edmund is a complex, sometimes bewildering, and often infuriating character. He is weak and readers like strong heroes. His portrayal shows, I suppose, that even those with faults can be deserving of someone a little more perfect than themselves. Fanny is never wrong and in the end she's fully vindicated. She loves Edmund, and she certainly deserves to get what she wants. Whether he deserves her has long been an issue of debate. And perhaps Edmund himself would even agree with the naysayers – the narrator tells us that he understood that “she was of course only too good for him.” What do you think?
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message 1: by Sophia (new)

Sophia Agreed. Fanny's infatuation and love is understandable under her sheltered circumstances, but Edmund just went off his head for a pretty face and, while kinder, still managed to forget about Fanny half the time. Not a winner male character in the lot of them. ;)

message 2: by Amelia (last edited Mar 21, 2021 06:58PM) (new)

Amelia Logan Sadly Edmund is a disappointment for many; and while it is not uncommon for men to go "off his head (lol) for a pretty face" Edmund doesn't seem like the type to do so.

message 3: by Mrs (new)

Mrs Benyishai Sophia- we have missed you for many years good to "see" you again I assume you have grown up a bit but I hope you are still full of wonderful insights-our lovely moderater welcome back

message 4: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Logan For more on the topic of this blogpost, join us here:


message 5: by Mrs (new)

Mrs Benyishai shopia - it seems you are an American Sophia and I am looking for a British grl who left some time ago after several years of activity on JA groups I apologize for the mix up

message 6: by Mrs (new)

Mrs Benyishai as for my opinion on Edmund I am sure he wasnt dull Dear readers he was a reader of books so there wwould have been plenty to takl abo ut with him He just wasnt witty but many people with wit dry up quickly because they really have no depth

message 7: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Logan Mrs wrote: "as for my opinion on Edmund I am sure he wasnt dull Dear readers he was a reader of books so there wwould have been plenty to takl abo ut with him He just wasnt witty but many people with wit dry u..."

Agreed. I think both Edmund and Fanny were good conversationalists.

message 8: by Marlene (new)

Marlene Amelia, wonderful insights! I was extremely unhappy when I read Mansfield Park 20+ years ago. "That's the end? What a let down!" Edmund let an infatuation color his judgement. Fanny didn't, but we're all susceptible to making mistakes in judgment, and given enough time, she would have eventually slipped in some way!

When I last read it again - maybe last year or within the last two years - I just focused on watching Fanny's steadfast integrity , and I was impressed, indeed.

message 9: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Logan Marlene, Mansfield Park is definitely a book that improves with each reading. It is a masterful novel. Everyone so complex and so natural. Fanny is impressive if the reader can get past her supposed unlikeability (which seems to be a popular opinion, but I never thought so). And Edmund is disappointing, which shows that good people have real faults and are susceptable to manipulation and poor judgment.

The rushed ending of MP proves that the romance aspect was not the point. However, if you found the ending unsatisfying or if you indeed want to see that Fanny can make mistakes too, may I suggest my novel, Fanny, A Mansfield Park Story which begins after Chapter 44 and takes the story in a different direction (the one suggested by Austen at the end of MP)

message 10: by Marlene (new)

Marlene Thanks for the suggestion! :-) I have plenty of books now, but I have added it to my list.

message 11: by Sophia (new)

Sophia Mrs wrote: "Sophia- we have missed you for many years good to "see" you again I assume you have grown up a bit but I hope you are still full of wonderful insights-our lovely moderater welcome back"


message 12: by Christina (new)

Christina Morland Great insights about Edmund and about our expectations for heroism!

You mention above that many have fallen to a "pretty face" -- but that Edmund doesn't seem the type. I wonder if he's not precisely the type to fall (and fall hard) for someone like Mary Crawford. Mary is more than pretty; she's clever. Her faults are not of understanding, but of conviction, and I think Edmund believes he can "fix" that fault in time. The irony, of course, is that Mary is hard at work trying to "fix" Edmund by making him more like her ideal man. Both Mary and Edmund see in each other what the other lacks (for Edmund, a quick wit; for Mary, a grounded-ness and stability that she's always lacked).

Also, I think it's worth noting that Mary really does love Edmund, in her way; there's really no reason for her to chase him, given her dowry and his position in life. Perhaps Mary, like Henry Crawford, are both driven by the vanity of believing they can shape others to fit their own ends. (In this respect, I've never understood why readers are more inclined to forgive Henry, or to believe Henry should end up with Fanny, than they are to forgive Mary for wanting Edmund. It seems to me both Crawfords are essentially the same in this regard -- only Mary is less vain, less selfish, in my mind, than Henry.)

(Despite my harsh views of Henry Crawford, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what you do with him in your new book, Amelia!)

Back to Edmund, though: he may not be a hero, but I do love him because he was the first person in the Mansfield household to recognize Fanny as a person worthy of conversation, respect, and love. (And, perhaps aside from Fanny's brother William, Edmund might be the first person in the world to recognize her as worthy.) He's not as strong as Fanny, but he's wise enough by the end of the novel to recognize it. And for this reason, I love him (I'm also in a partnership where I am not the better half!) and hope for the best for Fanny and Edmund both. :-)

Thanks again for the thoughtful post!

message 13: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Logan Christina - thanks for your response. I don't disagree with your views on Mary's personality and Edmund viewing her as a project. And I totally agree they're each attracted to something in the other that they lack. I just found the description of how Edmund fell in love to be rather shallow for a man of such depth. And I often wonder how someone who is as rational and straightforward as Edmund can be charmed by her irrational "feminine lawlessness." (Honestly I would find it infuriating.) But it isn't just that. Sure you can see how a man who is pretty dull would be attracted to a more sparkling personality, but it's also his dismissal of the faults he sees and acknowledges in her that I find a little confounding in one who is otherwise so rational.

I completely agree with you that Mary genuinely loves Edmund, though I don't know that she wants to "fix" him so much as she expects him to change his intended profession out of love for her. She wants him to choose her over ordination, while he expects her to accept his profession because of her love for him. I mean I don't think she really wants to change his personality so much as he wants to change hers.

I don't blame Mary for wanting Edmund at all, I think it's to her credit especially given that she could have used her considerable charm and fortune to go after Tom, the heir. (But her vanity was a little at play here - she was perhaps a little offended that Tom went off so soon after meeting her rather than stay to get to know her better.) So as far as I'm concerned there's nothing to forgive with regard to Mary. I just don't think she is well suited to Edmund and I don't think they'd be happy together at all. Maybe she is less vain then Henry. Maybe. But less selfish, I'm not so sure about that. Sure, she was willing to marry Edmund for love even though he wasn't rich, but she had her own money and Henry was willing to marry the penniles Fanny. So I don't consider it unselfish that she was willing to marry Edmund especially given how selfish it was for her to expect him to change his profession. And of course her wishing Tom dead is the extreme of selfishness. As far as vanity, again, she expects Edmund to love her so much he just changes all his life plans for her. I totally agree the Crawfords are basically the same. They seem to have the same set of values. The only difference is in loyalty to the aunt vs. the uncle.

As for my book, I do hope you will enjoy it but ... *SPOILER ALERT*:(view spoiler).

Also agree with all your comments about Edmund. He is an amazing, nuanced, complex character, as they all are in this book.

message 14: by Christina (new)

Christina Morland Hi, Amelia!

First, thanks for putting up with my responses to your very thoughtful analyses of Mansfield Park! I hope I wasn't too combative in my post. Who knew Mansfield Park could make me so passionate? :-D

Second, the beauty of writing variations is that we can take those what-if moments (like the one Austen hints at near the end of Mansfield Park) and turn them into a new tale. In the process, new characters (or new takes on old characters) emerge. So, I'm still eagerly looking forward to what you do with the Crawfords, Edmund, and Fanny!

Great points all around about the Crawfords and Edmund. Thanks for such insightful conversation!

message 15: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Logan Christina: "putting up with"? I love discussing Mansfield Park and you have not been "combative" in the least.

There are a lot of variations out there but not everything is for everyone. I hope you will let me know what you think of the book once you've read it.

Thanks for such insightful conversation!


message 16: by Beth-In-UK (new)

Beth-In-UK I do think it's being a bit harsh on Edmund to castigate him for falling for Mary. I think people are entitled to make one 'love mistake' in their lives ....providing they both learn from the mistake and, of course, don't marry them!

One feels for Fanny of course, and the exquisitely painful irony of having Edmund openly moon over Mary to her, regarding Fanny as a sister (while Fanny longs for him as a lover, etc).

It's similar to Elinor Dashwood having to listen to Lucy Steele bang on about Edward Ferrars (though Lucy does it deliberately to warn off Elinor, as in 'Mitts off sunshine, I got him first!')

message 17: by Amelia (new)

Amelia Logan Beth: yes, it is a bit like poor Elinor and Lucy and even Anne watching Frederick stupidly flirt with Louisa -- something else I have a hard time forgiving ... but that letter! maybe if Edmund had written Fanny a nice love letter I'd feel better about it. :)

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