Friday, 15 July 2016

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion': Anne Elliot as Heroine

Anne Elliot is successfully the heroine Fanny Price was intended to be. However much she suffers, unlike Fanny she contributes to the pleasure of all around her. She will play the piano for hours so that more gleeful company may dance.

Anne knows how to behave in emergencies (when her little nephew hurts his back and when Louisa Musgrove is concussed); she handles her tiresome sister Mary with tact and understanding, and is obliging and interested with her arrogant sister Elizabeth.

She can keep secrets; she promotes domestic harmony as a sympathetic interpreter between the elder Musgroves and Charles and Mary. Though Charles Musgrove had once wanted to marry her, both he and Mary always gave her a welcome which proves that she never allowed his earlier preference to be remembered.

Her unassuming narrative of what she had to do when they left Kellynch is alone enough to convince us that she had trained herself to lead a useful, busy existence, without self-pity marring it at every sacrifice. She could make herself equally at home in the seafaring atmosphere of the Crofts and Captain Harville or in the sordid surroundings of Mrs. Smith in Bath. (Audrey Hawkridge, in Jane Austen and Hampshire, published by Hampshire County Council in 1995, says Jane's brother Frank, with whom she had lived in Southampton, was undoubtedly the blueprint for the domestic paragon Harville.)

Henrietta, Captain Benwick, anyone who needed spontaneous understanding and encouragement, could be sure of receiving it from Anne. She had keen perception, too, and a sense of humour.

Interestingly, Anne Elliot does not cite novels among the medicinal books she recommends to Captain Benwick; she reads poetry, memoirs, histories. Thus is she elevated in taste and intelligence from her sister heroines, Catherine Morland and Emma (whose ideas about elegance have led Harriet Smith to push The Romance of the Forest on to Mr. Martin - he who incidentally prefers Agricultural Reports).

Probably Anne Elliot's profoundest thought is that it is the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly. In contrast, Elizabeth Bennet - reminded that an early suitor of Jane's abandoned her after writing some verses in her honour - says: And so ended his affection. .... There has been many a one, I fancy, overcome in the same way. I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love! ... I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away. Both heroines are in pressurized situations: they are forced to exaggerate perhaps what they really believe. Anne is trying to help Benwick cope with his grief. Lizzy is trying to keep talking - saying anything - in order to silence her embarrassing mother. Even so, these comments about poetry epitomize the characters - and differences of character - of these two delightful heroines. Anne sensitive, tender, thoughtful; Lizzy bewitchingly sharp, witty and flippant.

Happy Wentworth to have come to his senses at last, and to have seen not only that Anne is still young, lovely and intelligent beyond all compare, but also that she has a delicacy and sweetness of nature, an appreciation of fairness and justice, a lack of vanity, a breadth of mind, a quickness of fancy, a capacity for courage and endurance, everything that must bring a man to realise his good fortune in having won such a woman to share his life and forward his career.