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She Was Only Anne – On Anne Elliot in Persuasion

Anne Elliot
This article about Anne Elliot is by Rosario Mesta Rodríguez


When we think and talk about Jane Austen’s heroines, we tend to associate characteristics such as happiness, bravery, resourcefulness or intelligence to their personalities. And we are right: Jane created numerous female characters such as Emma or Elizabeth Bennet that make us smile everytime we read their feats. We don’t usually associate Jane Austen with sadness or depression. And this time, I have to say, we are wrong: Jane didn’t always write about happy women. In fact, there is a special character that has always stood out within her literary women: Anne Elliot. Although distant, different, melancholic, resigned and sad, she has been rewarded with the recognition of the public, that, undoubtedly, fell in love with her extraordinary personality.

I’ve always wondered why Jane Austen created someone so different from the sort of characters she usually did. Melancholia and sadness construct the development of the whole novel. Undoubtedly, we should point out that the personal circumstances of the writer at the time is one the main reasons why this book is so different from the others, but also the changes that English society was going through at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. 

The Nineteenth Century Woman

Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the middle classes started to grow due to changes in commerce and economy, and so did the level of literacy among people. The novel began to become popular, especially among women. For the first time, people wanted to read, they demanded books, they had a desire to be more conscious about the world, their surroundings, and themselves. By reading, people became more aware of their own feelings, personalities and for the very first time, the internal landscape started to gain ground on the material things in life and on outward appearances. Romanticism showed the disappointment of the society with the rationalization of the Enlightenment. People looked for other concepts such as feelings and emotions. As such, pessimism prospered and the whole range of the negative feelings began to be explored with Red and Black by Sthendal and the Letters of the young Werther by Goethe as standard bearers.

At this moment in history we must analyze how these new currents affected women, who had (as always) a more difficult time. Not only did their access to popular literature arouse doubts among the most conservative sectors, but they were also frowned upon for the introspection and sentimentality that flooded them.

And this is because there was a well-established ideal female model in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and everything that went beyond its limits was called abnormal, dangerous, unnatural. This model was largely propagated by the manuals of conduct, which were hugely popular among society. Jane Austen herself could even be an assiduous reader of some of them, as shown by the inclusion of Fordyce’s Sermons in Pride and Prejudice

The Manuals of Conduct

The manuals dictated rules that ranged from the appreciation of one’s own body to female education, domestic economy or even behavior and body language in social gatherings. The woman was limited by an ideological corset that asphyxiated her reality. One of the premises that has struck me most has been the concept of melancholy. The authors of the manuals (always men), were repulsed by the revolution that brought with it Romanticism, and they affirmed with vehemence, and sometimes with violence, how the melancholy, sentimentality and depression that began to be treated in the wake of the increasingly popular readings, was inappropriate for women.

In fact, this didactic literature begins a huge campaign in favor of the perfect woman, and, among its qualities, joy stands out. A woman could not afford to be sad, depressed or taciturn, since women should be the nucleus of the family unit; always attentive, willing and energetic to meet the demands of children and husbands. Joy, for John Bennet, was “a most desirable quality in a woman” (41), “a striking quality is her constant cheerfulness” (On a Variety of Useful and Interesting Subjects calculated to Improve the heart, to form the Manners, and Enlighten the understanding, 40).

A Father’s Legacy by John Gregory presupposes that a spirit always on the rise “will make your company much solicited (36) and in the sermon XIII by Fordyce it is said that “the woman considers herself here a saint who must support everything. Men should look for a shy, complacent, sweet and patient woman who must be at home, not fighting outside and getting her clothes dirty” (112).

According again to John Bennet, women had no reason to be sad, since “men are perplexed with various anxieties of business and ambition, are naturally, more thoughtful, profound and melancholy; They were certainly formed to sooth and to enliven. It is one of the greatest blessings we derive from their society, and from the most sacred of all connections “(42). He goes on to affirm that “men melancholy is as remote from the true point of gracefulness, in the sex, as ill-natured wit, or ironical pertness” (43). 

Perfection in Persuasion

I find it quite curious to see how this theme contrasts with the novel Persuasion. Jane builds a character that rebels against all modeling of women. Anne Elliot allows herself the luxury of being sad, of not hiding it from others, as well as getting angry. She does not care for what society might think of her. The death of her mother during her youth and the loss of her true love certainly leave their mark on Anne.  Since then, she resigns herself to living as the person in charge of the welfare of her family, without anyone worrying about her, she becomes blurred with time, and this leaves her vulnerable, opaque:  “but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people with real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way, she was only Anne “.

In addition, the saddest of all the heroines faces a family opposition that leaves her even more alone. We can see the indifference of her family within Elizabeth Elliot’s speech before travelling to Bath: “Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath”. She is aware of this treatment and apparently, she is resigned. “excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste”.

Step by step, she becomes more and more invisible: “She could do little more than listen patiently, soften every grievance, and excuse each to the other; give them all hints of the forbearance necessary between such near neighbours, and make those hints broadest which were meant for her sister´s benefit”. Paradoxically, Austen also uses music to show Anne’s lack of connection with those around her.  “Anne had been always used to feel alone in the world”.  Although the other “girls were wild for dancing” (48), Anne is isolated from the group, sitting removed from them at the piano – in music she had been always used to feel alone in the world.

But she does not want to cause grief, she knows that she is the first cause of this situation and her mistakes, and carries with them her whole life. She no longer holds grudges, melancholy transcends her life. She does not follow the examples of perfection that manuals and society try to instill in women, she is a woman who suffers, who has anxiety crisis’, “she was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle, but so it was; and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover it”. 

It’s OK To Be Sad

With the example of Anne Elliot, Jane Austen vindicates the imperfect woman, the one who also suffers, because through suffering comes self-growth. Jane claims in Persuasion that sadness is also part of women’s lives and that it fulfils an essential function. Sadness reduces attention in the external world to focus on the inside. This favors self-examination, reflection, analysis. Anne goes through a complete exploration of her own knowledge of herself throughout the novel, and in a way that few Austen’s other heroines do. Anne was not just Anne, Anne shows us her act of bravery by letting us know that sadness is just another emotion. It is the emotion that most leads us to intimacy with ourselves and with others. 

*****

About the author

Rosario Mesta Rodríguez is a Spanish librarian who is obsessed with Jane Austen and with the Victorian Era. She’s currently studying a PhD in Conduct Books for women in Eighteenth Century England. Books are her passion. 

 

Enjoyed this article about Anne Elliot? Take a look at our copies of Persuasion available in our online gift shop.

 

Persuasion hardback

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Austen Superpowers: Self-Awareness & True Love

Jane Austen superpowers in Emma
Austen Superpowers: Self-Awareness & True Love
Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.

Can self-importance, meddling, and delusion be considered superpowers?

Hardly. And yet, the self-congratulating and clueless titular heroine of Jane Austen’s Emma rises above being the character that Austen thought that no one but herself would like. In the course of the story, Emma has a series of aha! moments about herself. More important, she acts on that self-awareness.

via GIPHY –Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, a brilliant adaptation of Emma.

In a Jane Austen novel, a lady can only earn her cape by acknowledging that there are are huge cracks in what she once thought was the truth.

Once she tears down that wall of delusion and replaces it with wisdom, the heroine-in-training develops more self-awareness, more self-empowerment, and more capability to create happiness than she ever had before. That is what Emma does. For that is what Austen superpowers are all about.

Emma’s Austen superpower #1: Acknowledging one’s cruelty and choosing kindness instead.

Emma realizes – with the tough-love help of her dear friend Mr Knightley – that she really was unconscionably cruel to the babbling Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic. For Emma, Knightley’s confrontation is a painful moment of self-awareness. But instead of retreating in angry pride or mortification, Emma attempts to make amends, paying a visit to Miss Bates, humbled and penitent, and works hard to restore herself as a friend.

via GIPHY And we couldn’t agree more. Jonny Lee Miller is Mr. Knightley to Romola Garai’s Emma in another fine adaptation.

 

Emma’s Austen superpower #2: Acknowledging one’s vanity as a weakness to be conquered.

Emma is shocked to learn that Frank Churchill, the man who has been openly flirting with her, is actually secretly engaged to a woman he had fake-gossiped about with Emma. What’s more shocking, however, is Emma’s realization of how her own vanity made her the perfect target for Frank’s duplicity. Emma realizes that Frank’s public admiration of her had flattered her vanity. And that flattery had rendered her blind. Though she is miffed at Frank for toying with her feelings when he was in reality engaged to another, Emma takes responsibility for her own vanity and weakness. She is especially pained when she realizes that her public flaunting of being the supposed object of Frank’s affections caused Frank’s fiancée a great deal of pain. She is also humbled and grateful for her lucky escape – imagine how much more painful her newfound self-awareness would have been if she really had fallen in love with such a man.

Emma’s Austen superpower #3: Acknowledging one’s blindness to the fact that what you want has been right in front of you all the time.

Emma has been raised to think well of herself, but she takes it much further than the typical indulged child. Emma is, in a sense, the queen of her little village of Highbury, with all but a few deemed to be her inferior subjects. One of the few neighbors whom she considers to be her equal is her old friend Mr. Knightley, who is her brother-in-law and, though sixteen years her senior, still a relatively young man. And yet Emma has never seen Mr. Knightley as anything but a friend, has never considered marriage to him or any man a possibility, except perhaps to Frank Churchill, and that because of a childhood fancy. That is, until the sneaking awareness of her dawning feelings for Mr. Knightley begin to niggle at the back of her brain after Emma’s former governess Mrs. Weston decides that Mr. Knightley is in love with another young woman in Highbury. But Emma’s true feelings for Mr. Knightley hit her full force when yet another young lady, Emma’s friend and protegée Harriet Smith, announces that not only is she herself in love with Mr. Knightley, but she also believes he returns her affections.

via GIPHY Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma in another excellent adaptation.

It is then that “it darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” That revelation, however is anything but glorious, for what if Mr. Knightley is indeed in love with Harriet? Even if he isn’t, how could a man who scolded her for being cruel to Miss Bates ever think such a woman worthy of his love?

In Jane Austen, self-awareness + right action leads to true love.

For the seasoned Austen fan, it comes as no surprise that Emma’s awakening takes her to to a perfect happily ever after. In the world of Austen stories, true love is the reward for unflinching self-examination and consequent action to bring the world back into balance. Yes, we Austen fans know what happens next. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to read and re-read Emma till the book covers falls off. Or stream the movies in between readings. Or ever get bored watching it all unfold.

via GIPHY Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in Emma

 

Because we could all do with a long hard look in the mirror sometimes. And if Emma can do it, surely we can, too? Maybe all those readings and re-readings and screenings of Emma are getting us ready for our own aha moments. One can only hope. Or better still, observe. And act.

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Austen Superpowers: Self Awareness & True Love was written by Laurie Viera Rigler – the author of the Jane Austen Addict series. Visit her at her website www.janeaustenaddict.com

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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours with Lizzy Bennet

Lizzy Bennet

Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours with Lizzy Bennet

Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.

We dream of them. We want to be them. We wish they were our best friend. Or our partner. And sometimes, we wish we could shake some sense into them.

They are Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes. Each of them has a flawed humanity, but each also has a unique and special quality—an Austen superpower, if you will.

Which is why they are so eminently relatable. Like them, we too are flawed. And like them, we have those same superpowers. They may be hidden away where we cannot see them, but they are there neverthless. All we have to do is believe.

How do we do that? By following the lead of Austen’s leading ladies and men, who dig down deep within themselves to access their own superpowers.

In this first of a series of posts, we turn to the heroine who is perhaps the most beloved of all: Elizabeth aka Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.

via GIPHY

 

What are Lizzy Bennet’s superpowers?

1. The ability to have a cheerful attitude and sometimes even laugh in the face of humiliation and disappointment.


via GIPHY

2. The ability to recognize and admit that she has been as proud and judgmental as the person she condemned for those same qualities.

Let’s discuss Superpower 1 first. This is a tricky one, because at first, Lizzy only actually affects cheer on the surface. We first see her trying it out at that assembly ball where she overhears Darcy saying she isn’t pretty enough to dance with.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she tells her friends about it as if it’s the most amusing bit of absurdity in the world. Which would be fabulous, if she were truly unruffled. But the fact is, Darcy’s rejection forms the basis of Lizzy’s longstanding dislike of him. And her longstanding prejudice against him.

She is a little more sincere in her cheerfulness after Wickham dumps her for the newly rich Miss King, approaching the situation with a philosophical attitude that “handsome young men must have something to live on, as well as the plain.”

Superpower 2, however, is straight-up legit. After hating Darcy for his prideful attitude and his ruining her beloved sister’s romantic prospects, Lizzy comes to realize that she had pretty much misjudged Darcy the whole time. And that she, in fact, was as proud as she had judged Darcy to be.


via GIPHY

She was blind to Wickham’s true character because he flattered her vanity, while hating Darcy because he didn’t want to dance with her. Thus she had failed to see that Wickham was the true villain while Darcy was a good-hearted man of high moral principles. Who also happened to be a snob with less than stellar social skills.

Once she realized this, admitted it, and was humbled by it, she found the biggest superpower of all: true love. Because in Austen, super-honest self-examination always leads to lasting happiness.

So how can we cultivate Lizzy’s superpowers? For starters, we can contemplate a a few pithy quotes from Pride and Prejudice and see what we can relate to:

Volume 1, Chapter 11, in which Lizzy’s talking to Mr Darcy about the possibility of her finding something in him to laugh at (saucy wench that she is):

“I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.”

Volume II, Chapter 25, in which Lizzy’s Aunt Gardiner is talking to Lizzy about Jane’s romantic disappointment:

“Poor Jane! I am sorry for her, because, with her disposition, she may not get over it immediately. It had better have happened to you, Lizzy; you would have laughed yourself out of it sooner.”

Volume II, Chapter 36, after Lizzy reads Darcy’s letter and has a very rude awakening:

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! — Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. — Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”


via GIPHY

Volume III, Chapter 57, in which the whole laughing at people thing comes back to haunt Lizzy. Here’s Lizzy’s dad telling her of a rumor that she and Mr. Darcy are engaged, and how absurd he thinks that rumor is. Which Lizzy definitely does not find amusing:

“Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life!”

There’s a ton of Austen wisdom embedded in Lizzy’s metamorphosis. And with all that contemplation and self-examination we’re doing just by contemplating those quotes, we deserve a reward, don’t you think? Because we don’t need to settle for quotes alone. Why not treat ourselves right and read the whole book?

Oh, you haven’t read it yet? My goodness, are you in for a treat.

Ah, you’ve read it before? Well why not read it again? Come on, you know you want to as much as I do. No matter how many times I’ve read it.

Because in Jane Austen, there’s always something new to be revealed. Which is her superpower.


via GIPHY

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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours with Lizzy Bennet was written by Laurie Viera Rigler – the author of the Jane Austen Addict series.

Visit her at her website www.janeaustenaddict.com