We have always found it difficult, perhaps even impossible, to like Edmund Bertram. We find it infuriating when he hurts poor Fanny by rationalizing Mary Crawford’s behavior to her, putting words in Fanny’s mouth to excuse Mary, encouraging Henry Crawford’s suit, talking about his love life problems with Fanny, just rubbing salt in the wound. There is a reason we call him the Lord High Mayor of Wankerville. Of course he doesn’t mean to hurt Fanny, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the reader to endure. Every lash of his emotional whip on poor Fanny’s wounded spirit is like a slap in the face; just because those lashes are inadvertent makes them no less painful.
Needless to say, we approached Edmund Bertram’s Diary with some trepidation. If anyone but Amanda Grange had written it, our courage might have failed; but we gained confidence from Ms. Grange’s thorough preparation and her sympathetic treatment of her subjects in her previous work. We waded in boldly, and were not disappointed. Amanda Grange may be the best friend Edmund Bertram ever had–except Fanny Price, of course.
In the first part of the story, we see young Edmund taking Fanny under his wing and considering his future plans. As a younger son, and a sensible young man, he knows he must find a profession, and his vocation develops very naturally out of his satisfaction and enjoyment in guiding Fanny and from observing his brother Tom’s dissolute behavior, and understanding that he wants to do something more with his life. The scenes of the Bertrams’ family life are well-drawn, with the siblings having the occasional squabble but still having a reserved but real affection for one another. The relationship between Tom and Edmund is particularly well-done.
Life at Mansfield Park is unsettled first by the departure of Sir Thomas and his elder son for Antigua, with Edmund taking on the responsibilities of the estate, a charge he takes very seriously, and then by the arrival of the Crawfords at the parsonage. Edmund is struck by Mary almost immediately, and as his attraction develops strength, he is dismayed by her scorn of his chosen profession and by her thoughtless words and behavior; yet the attraction grows stronger, despite his attempts to conquer it, and despite his knowledge that it will be very difficult for him to make a successful match with Mary. The attraction is mutual, and is shown as strongest during the rehearsals for “Lovers’ Vows.” Ms. Grange uses the lines from the play to good effect, and readers will understand just why that particular play was a dangerous choice for the Mansfield Players.
But even while Edmund is falling for Mary, Fanny is always there, always in his thoughts, always an object of care and consideration–indeed his best and oldest friend. It is not surprising that he turns to Fanny in his disappointment with Mary, and finally begins to understand himself. Perhaps the marriage of Fanny and Edmund is not, as it is often characterized, a reward for Fanny for being steadfast, but also a reward for Edmund for working through the temptations and burdens of adulthood with more success than his siblings and contemporaries.
Reading the story from Edmund’s point of view rather than Fanny’s does make his actions seem more reasonable, but even if one can acquit him of absolute wankerdom, the charge of near-criminal cluelessness remains. But he’s a man in love, and perhaps we are too hard. If you would like to try a different view of a sometimes hard to like character, Edmund Bertram’s Diary is a sympathetic portrait of a young man struggling with the difficult choices that life throws at us all. Perhaps it may even change your mind about Edmund, or, like it did for us, encourage you to look upon him with a more kindly eye.
Edmund Bertram’s Diary is available now in the UK; Available in the U.S. in August 2008