Friday, 3 February 2012

Austen, Persuasion: Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth

Following the recent post on Revision guides to Persuasion, here are some entry-level notes on Anne and Wentworth (looking only at Volume One in the case of the latter).

Anne Elliot
1.                  Anne Elliot is clearly the heroine of the novel. Persuasion is the story of a struggle in which she is the protagonist. How does she come to break with conservative family and social tradition by marrying a naval officer, without causing a complete rupture with the family circle?
2.                  As a heroine, Anne is
·         The moral centre of the novel: she is the touchstone by which we judge other characters
·         The most fully realized character, whose dilemmas and feelings we are shown
·         The dominant (but not the only) point of view in the novel.

3.                  The novel is a classic self v. society story, with Anne on one side and her immediate social world on the other.

                              Anne                           Society
                              Romance                     Prudence
                              Feeling                        Judgement
                              Individual worth         Snobbery
                              Life and vitality          Materialism
                              Personal emotion         Social pressure (persuasion)   

These polarities are illustrated in Vol 1,ch.4 where we are told about her former attachment to Wentworth and how Lady Russell persuaded her to break off the engagement. There is a basic difference in how the two evaluate Wentworth as a prospective husband.

Sometimes Anne’s romantic side is the object of gentle authorial humour, as in her conversation with Mrs Smith in Vol.2, ch.5, where the more experienced lady undercuts her heightened language.

4.                  Anne is introspective – we see a great deal of her thinking – and thus we witness her internal conflicts: a key scene in developing her character is Vol 1, ch.7, describing the meeting with Wentworth. What is the authorial perspective here?

5.                  Anne develops from a largely silent and introspective character into a more talkative and articulate one. In Bath, her speeches are longer (e.g. discussions with Mrs Smith), culminating in her conversation with Captain Harvill, in which she speaks up for women’s constancy. This increasing speech marks her growing confidence and independent judgment. It shows her becoming more resolved – symbolised in her making the first move in the Assembly Rooms (Vol 2, ch.8).

6.                  Age: Anne is an unusually old Jane Austen heroine. She represents constancy over the years. She is a character who has ‘outlived the storms’ – like the nut described by Captain Wentworth.
7.                  Despite being a romantic figure, Anne is also rational and practical: she knows what is the proper thing to do at Kellynch (though her advice is ignored) and she is cool-headed and stable in response to the two accidents – Charles Musgrove’s and Louisa Musgrove’s, in contrast to the hysterical reactions of the other ladies. Her own dignity is contrasted to the pride of her father and sisters.
8.                  Anne is also a skilful mediator between people (e.g. at Uppercross) and kind to others. She is particularly sympathetic to those who have themselves undergone emotional trauma – Captain Benwick and Mrs Smith.

Further Reading
Richard Gill and Susan Gregory, Mastering the Novels of Jane Austen (Palgrave)
Vivien Jones, How to Study a Jane Austen Novel (Palgrave), useful chapter on Persuasion

Captain Wentworth
Volume One
1.            Captain Frederick Wentworth might properly be said to be the protagonist of the novel, rather than Anne:
             A protagonist needs to be able to do things. As a woman, Anne does not have enough opportunity of action to make important events happen. Her role is passive: she observes, considers, suffers (usually in silence), thinks. Her active roles are providing harmony between family members, and above all speaking – articulate and intelligent women can affect events through the power of persuasion. When she steps forward to Wentworth at the Assembly rooms ‘making yet a little advance’ (p.146), that is a significant action in context.
             Wentworth, however, is active in the traditional sense of a novel’s hero. Indeed, we might consider the novel as his story:
A young, confident naval officer proposes marriage but is turned down because the woman is persuaded that his prospects are not sufficiently secure. He thinks the woman lacks courage, goes off and is successful (though neither he nor she succeed in forgetting their love). When he meets Anne again, he realizes that she has qualities which he failed to recognize before and reassesses his own judgments. He learns from all this, becomes morally better, realizes he still loves her, proposes and they get married. So the novel is about him and his moral and emotional education. The treatment of the story, however, shows it all from the woman’s point of view.
2.            As the male protagonist (in conflict with the traditional views of Lady Russel), Wentworth must have qualities to make him worthy of the virtuous Anne. These qualities develop over the course of the novel; the key events are those which educate him. We shall take these in turn.
3.            Before the action of the novel starts, at the time of the engagement. Wentworth is introduced in Vol 1 , ch. 4. In 1806 he was ‘a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit and brilliancy’ (26) – the inner qualities which Anne prizes. However, as Lady Russel sees it, he has ‘nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hope of attaining affluence … without alliance or fortune’ (27).  How could he support Anne? What future could he give her? He is ‘confident that he would seen be rich’ and ‘full of life and ardour’ (27), but this only makes Lady r more suspicious, and Anne yields to her advice. We might see Wentworth as a ‘new man’, making his way in a new profession, impatient of traditional expectations, and perhaps unfair in expecting Anne to join him when the future is so uncertain.
4.            Wentworth takes it badly. He is ‘totally unconvinced and unbending’ and feels he is ‘ill-used by so forced a relinquishment’ (28). He leaves the country. How do we judge this reaction? Is it fair to Anne?
5.            He goes on to enjoy great success (29), making Anne’s refusal seem over-cautious in retrospect.
6.            Anne learns, in great agitation, that Wentworth is to visit Uppercross (45). He is made to seem more attractive in contrast to the pathetic story of Richard Musgrove.
7.            Louisa and Henrietta give delighted reports of Wentworth (48), a very eligible bachelor.
8.            I.7: the meeting between Anne and Wentworth after 8 years  (52-53). We see this entirely from Anne’s point of view. The language expresses her violent agitation (‘She had seen him. They had met’). She learns that he has found her altered beyond recognition (53). At last we leave Anne’s perspective and learn what Wenworth thinks: ‘He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill; deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure’ (54). Notice the return of that key word confident. Wentworth is a man of strong will and strong opinions. We learn that he is on the lookout for a wife. He has tried toconvince himself that his earler feelings for Anne are dead.  The stage is set for a psychological novel about how Anne and Wentworth come to learn more about themselves and each other.
9.            I.8 starts with a description of how they get on after the 8-year gap, from Anne’s perspective. Pages 59-61 is the scene in which Wentworth declares he would never take women on board (decided), although he has (inconsistent), and describes his exploits. He’s very reserved towards Anne: ‘His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything’ (62).
10.          I.9. Key scene: Wentworth relieves Anne of the child Walter (compassionate, strong, resolute), p.68-69, with Anne’s reaction on 69.
11.          I.10 – the visit to Winthrop. Anne overhears Wentworth’s conversation behind the hedge with Louisa. (73-75). Here we learn what kind of qualities Wentworth admires (my italics): ‘Woe betide him … when it comes to things of consequence, when they are placed in circumstances, requiring fortitude and strength of mind, if she have not resolution enough to resist idle interference in such a trifle as this.’ Louisa, he says, has a character of ‘decision and firmness’. Wentworth dislikes ‘too yielding and indecisive a character’. Presumably he found Anne wanting in resolve to stand up to Lady Russel all those years ago. His speech on the nut, though, hints that he may yet come to appreciate Anne, whose beauty of character is hidden under a kernel, and who has ‘outlived all the storms of autumn’ (74).
12.          I.10 p.77. Wentworth makes sure Anne has a place in the carriage. Her interpretation of this act: ‘It was a remainder of former sentiment …’.
13.          I.12. Louisa’s accident at Lyme. This is the central episode of the whole novel, for the light it casts on the various characters. As Wentworth comes to see later, Louisa’s strength of will can just be irrational stubbornness. In contrast to her sisters, Anne is quick, practical and helpful. Anne overhears Wentworth again:’ if Anne will stay, no one so proper, so capable as Anne’ (95). This change of attitude brings Volume One to an end.