The Young Anne Elliott: Sensible or Too Easily Persuaded?

The Young Anne Elliott: Sensible or Too Easily Persuaded?

brock-persuasion-illusAlthough I (of course) love all Jane Austen’s novels, I have to say that Persuasion is my favorite.  Much as I appreciate Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth is my favorite of the Austen heroes, too.  Every time I read the novel, I’m frustrated with Anne for having allowed herself to be persuaded not to marry him eight years before the novel opens.

Austen tries to make us understand how Anne would have allowed herself to be persuaded: she was young– only nineteen– she honestly thought that it was better for Captain Wentworth not to be burdened with a wife when he was still poor and only beginning his career, and she trusted Lady Russell’s judgement. Anne doesn’t even feel bitterness towards Lady Russell for Lady Russell’s role in breaking off her romance. But she has also clearly spent the past eight years replaying everything that happened over and over again in her head and wishing that she had made a different choice.

Anne, at seven and twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen.—She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good. . . . She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.

When he returns, Captain Wentworth is still angry with Anne for listening to Lady Russel– and I’ve never blamed him.

Captain Wentworth 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. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.

Wentworth admires Louisa Musgrove’s strength of character.  But then– in one of the most dramatic scenes in any Austen novel– he cannot persuade Lousia out of her disastrous jump in Lyme that results in a serious head injury– and he comes to have a different view of strength of character vs. stubbornness.

There, [Captain Wentworth] had learnt to distinguish between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will, between the darings of heedlessness and the resolution of a collected mind. There, he had seen everything to exalt in his estimation the woman he had lost, and there begun to deplore the pride, the folly, the madness of resentment, which had kept him from trying to regain her when thrown in his way.

So what do you think?  Should Anne Elliott have simply married Captain Wentworth when she was young, against the advice of Lady Russel?  Would they have been as happy together if they had married when young as they are when they overcome their past heartache and reunite as older, wiser versions of themselves?


15 Responses to The Young Anne Elliott: Sensible or Too Easily Persuaded?

  1. I think that young Anne acted exactly as young Anne could have been expected to act. The eight years gave her the maturity, self-respect and clarity that comes with life experience. Having followed the counsel of a person whose opinion mattered to her, she had arrived at her own conclusion that the advice had undercut her own happiness. Not many of us get a chance for a do-over, and at first, it doesn’t look like she will either. How sad it would have been for Anne if her regrets had been compounded by seeing the one person she has ever loved marry an almost-relative. That would have taken her into true misery. The first part of Persuasion – before Louisa falls – is torture for me to read!

  2. Lady Russell was the immediate cause the first time — and she was planning on being the cause the SECOND TIME, too. If you read the book closely you will definitely notice that she is a snob; however, she does try to tone it down around Anne. She was the best friend of her Mother and NO ONE was going to be good enough for “HER” Anne. Of course, Anne’s Father and eldest sister are also snobs of the first water as well. However, no one comes around to court Anne. She is deeper than her flashy relatives and their friends. They don’t understand her — and the rest of the Ton doesn’t either. She is on the shelf as far as they are concerned. Her family is kidding itself that she will make a brilliant match. She wants a match with love and respect, something they just don’t understand, including Lady Russell.

  3. Persuasion is my favorite. (P&P after that) I was very close to my mother growing up and I can relate to Anne’s closeness with her surrogate mother. Going against her would have been too hard at the age of 18. She didn’t approve of my fiancé when we were living together before marriage (gasp!) and it was devastating. I also love that Anne had the opportunity to see how her family reacted to adversity to understand the true worth of people.

  4. It is funny reading the replies of how many people have had previous attachments. When we look back over our lives it is with all the wisdom of hindsight on our shoulders and many times we can say “Thank You Jesus” for not letting such-and-so happen. I also had a previous attachment when I was 18-19 years old. In this case HE was persuaded [by one of his buddies] to renege on his proposal to me. I was crushed…I later discovered that he was not what I thought and I would have been the first ex in his long line of ex-wives.

    There were too many things against Anne and Wentworth getting together the first time. I agree with the previous postings about her station in life and the deprivations she would have had to endure. In Mansfield Park one of the sisters married below her station [a Marine] and after having nine children, couldn’t raise her family. She sought the help of her sisters at Mansfield Park in sponsoring her children. That is why Fanny was sent to Sir Thomas to be raised.

    I like the prior comments regarding strength of character vs stubbornness. Look at how Louisa was persuaded into stubbornness by Wentworth’s bitter tirade when he was attempting to explain strength of character. Her misunderstanding had a lot to do with her age and her relationship within her family [a gently raised beloved daughter-sister]. He realized too late…when he could not persuade her to not jump. She was adamant…she wanted to impress him…wanted him to see that she was strong in her determination. Therefore, her course would not be turned.

    Anne and Wentworth’s coming together later in life made a difference in their perspectives and their position in society. Elliott had to retrench and move to Bath…while Wentworth’s respect and fortunes were raised. Therefore, the distance between them was reduced greatly. As readers, we desperately want the HEA and we did get it…we just had to wait for it.

  5. I always get so irritated with Anne for being easily persuaded from Wentworth. Conversely, I was engaged at 19 and 20+ years later I’m VERY thankful I didn’t marry him. But I was the one who made that decision. I was the one who explained to him that I wanted to have accomplished more things in life before taking on a husband. I think that Anne, even as timid as she may have been, could have explained to him at the time that she would be waiting, with her family and praying for his safe return but allowed them both to mature more. I don’t know, maybe I have rose colored glasses, but if she had enough doubts as to marriage at the time, but not doubts in their love for each other, couldn’t there have been a compromise and not completely shattered hearts?

    I have never blamed Wentworth for his resentment. I would have been the same, especially if he thought Anne was only acting on what other’s convinced her of and that she had no opinions of her own 8 years ago.

  6. Anne was too easily persuaded and she should have trusted Wentworth, but (and here I will be the devil’s advocate), would that have made Wentworth too cautious ? In making him overly cautious, would that have changed who he was to become changing his decisions because he had a wife and perhaps child/children to care for? Would the cautiousnesss and/or indecisiveness possibly, at worst, gotten him killed leaving Anne a widow or made him resent her for being a burden?

  7. I agree with Rose, that it was the right decision for Anne. I think Captain W was awful for blaming Anne continuously for 8 years. He did not even bother to see the situation sensibly from her point of view. It’s as if he had no clue of what a young girl has to go through to live in that time and place. Especially a very well brought up girl like Anne. It’s not as if he asked a “nobody”. For the times that they lived in, Anne of blah blah Hall, daughter of a baronet was not a Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith could have ( and it wouldn’t have been expected of her to say no), married anyone who asked her even if she were very young. Mrs. Smith was the daughter of a well know important soliciter. But she married young and was not discouraged from doing so. I assume her “1st” husband wasn’t that well off. But Anne was from a well to do family with high expectations for her. She was well educated. She had connections. She was of a different social sphere. The part I had a hard time with, and referring to Anne’s feelings as quoted above if she were in the same place, was Lady Russell’s role. I think, on reflection, that Lady Russell really had no right to tell Anne what to do. She could explain what Anne’s mother would have thought. She could tell her what her father thinks, she could tell her what she herself thinks, but I don’t think she had a right to tell her do this, don’t do that. I think she should have left that decision to Anne. Going back to Captain W., I think he was so wrong to be angry and upset at her from so many levels. He is wishing to take a young girl away from her very comfortable environment to a life of such discomfort and anxiety which would not only be difficult for Anne, but hard on him as well since he would blame himself for making her ill, or whatever. Anne is not a robust adventurer like his sister. He perhaps only had his sister to compare women to and thought Anne would fit that bill quite easily. I believe, if she did marry him, she would suffer. She would need means to take care of herself and any children she might have. If she were at sea, pregnant, I would see her as being sick all the time. I would see him taking her to a port in Portugal, let’s say. And scrambling to find rich friends to take her in and take care of her because he wouldn’t have the money, and so on. It would be miserable for both of them. Would he have gotten rich so quickly and so easily as he did while single? Would he have gotten his super big money bags just as easily with all the worry of an uncomfortable wife/babies to care for? Would his focus be razer sharp to that end? And her family. What about them. She cared so much about everybody in her 2 villages. Would she worry about them? Would she worry about what they think? Would she not tell them if she were ill and poor? Would she be sent home and meet the nasty comments of her father every day for marrying a poor sailor? Also, would they write back to her? They would probably ignore her eventually and only Lady Russell would worry about her. Actually, it would be fun to write/read a side story of her getting married younger and Lady Russell flying to Portugal to take care of poor Anne. haha. As it is, I love the fact that she is an older woman who marries a rich young man. So much more romantic than marrying young, a poor man, and having a rough life. I love Anne’s new life as the wife of a rich Captain W. He appreciates her so much more now than he ever could as a youngster. He truly respects her. And that is sooo hard to find. mwah

  8. I do believe that they treasured each other even more after 8 years and after knowing how truly heartbreaking that first rejection was for both of them. I also believe they could have been happy if they married young but money does cause a lot of friction when it is in short supply. As has been said, if she became pregnant and he was at sea and her family had rejected them both things could even have turned out disastrous. But I do love this book…probably my second favorite after P&P.

    • Very good points, Sheila! I entirely agree– they could have been happy if they’d married right away, but 8 years of heartache must have made them treasure their love all the more.

  9. I am of the “love conquers all” brigade but I know that is not always the case. Nor would it be the case in that day and age, with Wentworth having little to offer in the way of supporting a wife and Anne’s family so dead set against him. I do think, though, that Anne was ‘lucky’ that he still loved her after all that time. It could easily have gone the other way and she would have likely been an old maid all her life, watching Wentworth with a younger woman for a wife.

  10. I was severely prejudiced against Persuasion by the time I finally read it. I enjoyed the film adaptations well enough, but I could never justify Anne. After all, I married at “only” nineteen and with maybe $300 in the bank. When we got back from our honeymoon, the restaurant my husband worked at had been shut down due to the owner’s failure to pay taxes. We’ve had considerable ups and downs since, but I’ve never been afraid of trials and facing adversity together. Sometimes it’s hand in hand, sometimes one partner is carrying the other. That being said, once I finally read Persuasion (only last year), I could see how it was the right choice for Anne. I think if she had chosen differently, she would have spent her time upset that she had displeased her family. At best she’d constantly feel a tension between them, at worst she’d have to outright choose one or the other after the marriage and potentially be as cut off as Mrs. Price or the first Mrs. Weston had been. I would love to see more variations, however, that could ease the pain and length of the separation. It’s such a very long one and I wonder at Austen choosing eight years.

    I’ve also wondered if Austen knew about the Duke of Wellington’s marriage. Long before he was an army hero and a duke he proposed to a lady but her father would not allow the marriage. 12 years later, he briefly returned to England and learned she was still unmarried but felt honor-bound to her. She had altered in looks drastically and from what I’ve read it was arranged without them even getting to know each other again. The marriage was not a happy one and Wellington soon took mistresses. By having Wentworth not declare himself when he had returned to England with a modest income some years before the beginning of the novel, and by throwing him into Anne’s circle and making them truly get to know one another again, we avoid the idea that it was a marriage based only on past love and duty.

    • Very interesting detail on the Duke of Wellington’s marriage! I’ve heard that, too, and I think it’s certainly possible Jane Austen would have known the story.
      My husband and I have been together since I was 19, too. 🙂 Here’s to the lasting power of young love! 🙂

  11. Of course there would not have been this particular JA story, but I would have liked to see them marry and have not wasted so many years without sharing their love. However, it seems that youth is wasted on the young and therefore Anne was persuaded.

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