Rehabilitating Sir Thomas Bertram

Recent readings of Mansfield Park as criticism of the landed elite fail to take into consideration the radical-conservative nature of Austen’s satire. Although Sir Thomas Bertram is clearly to blame for his family’s moral shortcomings, Austen’s treatment of him carefully balances his strengths and weaknesses. Recent misrepresentations of Mansfield Park’s colonial dimension have also contributed to misleading assessments of Austen’s intentions. Sir Thomas’s values are shared by Edmund and Fanny Price, and the ideology of benevolent paternalism upheld by Austen in Mansfield Park, in which landlords offer both material and spiritual guidance to their dependents, remains an essentially conservative one.