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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours With Anne Elliot

anne elliot

Anne Elliot: A quiet force to be reckoned with.

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

Lizzy Bennet may be the one with all the flash and sparkle, but one should never underestimate one of Austen’s more reserved heroines, Anne Elliot of Persuasion.

At first glance, Anne may not seem to fit the typical ideal of a cape-wearing, save-the-day superhero, but let’s take a closer look at Miss Anne:

Austen Superpower 1: Grace under Fire.

Who had the presence of mind that no one else had when Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb at Lyme?

That’s right; Anne Elliot did. Everyone else was wailing and flailing while she was the voice of calm and reason in the midst of the emergency. She was the one who gave Captain Wentworth calm and rational directions as to how to help Louisa.

Austen Superpower 2: Trusting Observation and Instinct.

Who realized that Captain Wentworth was in love with her–despite his eight years of silence after she broke his heart, despite his ignoring her while happily being the Musgrove girls’ object of worship, and despite everyone else being ready to marry him off to Louisa Musgrove?

You got it; Anne Elliot. Though not by any stretch of the imagination conceited or vain, and despite having been brought up to think of herself as beneath the notice of everyone in her family (aside, that is, from Lady Russell and Anne’s own dear, departed mother ), this gentle soul’s keen gaze penetrated to Captain Wentworth’s very soul. She knew–knew, I say!–that he cared for her again. 

She knew this not from any direct declaration of Captain Wentworth’s, but from the way he talked of the unsuitability of the engagement of his friend Benwick to Louisa, and of Benwick’s inconstancy to Benwick’s fiancee, who died only a short time before.

Austen Superpower 3: The Courage to Act

Anne not only KNEW this, she acted upon it–granted, within the very limited means that a lady of her time was authorized to act, for as Anne herself said of the lot of females in general in the time of Jane Austen:

“We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.”

How did she act upon it? She encouraged Captain Wentworth to stay at the concert when jealousy of his rival, Mr. Elliot, was driving him away. She wasn’t successful, but her encouragement may have given him something to think about.

She expressed her feelings about female constancy to Captain Wentworth’s dear friend Captain Harville. She did this not because she knew–which she did not–that Captain Wentworth could overhear her, nor did she do it because she imagined that Captain Harville might repeat her words to Captain Wentworth. No, she acted purely out of a wish to defend the integrity of women’s feelings that she so passionately believed in, and as a mark of her friendship with Captain Harville.

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And that was enough to jolt Captain Wentworth out of his comfort zone and into declaring his own feelings.

 

How can we cultivate our own inner Anne Elliot?

When in doubt, read the book. And/or see the movie(s).

We can also contemplate the following passages to cultivate each of Anne Elliot’s Austen superpowers:

Grace under fire.

Check out Miss Anne in the aftermath of Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the Cobb. This is the girl you’d want by your side in any emergency. Here are some snippets of Anne taking charge while everyone around her falls apart, including Captain Wentworth, who holds the unconscious Louisa in his arms; Louisa’s sister Henrietta, who falls into a faint at the sight of her sister; and Louisa’s brother Charles Musgrove, whose wife Mary is in her usual hysterics. 

Anne not only suggests they fetch a surgeon, but makes sure that Captain Benwick, who knows the area, is the one to do it. As they wait for the surgeon:

Anne, attending with all the strength and zeal, and thought, which instinct supplied, to Henrietta, still tried, at intervals, to suggest comfort to the others, tried to quiet Mary, to animate Charles, to assuage the feelings of Captain Wentworth. Both seemed to look to her for directions.

“Anne, Anne,” cried Charles, “What is to be done next? What, in heaven’s name, is to be done next?”

Captain Wentworth’s eyes were also turned towards her.

“Had not she better be carried to the inn? Yes, I am sure: carry her gently to the inn.”

“Yes, yes, to the inn,” repeated Captain Wentworth, comparatively collected, and eager to be doing something. “I will carry her myself. Musgrove, take care of the others.”

The courage to act.

When Captain Wentworth walked in alone to the concert in Bath, Anne had the courage to approach him and be friendly to him, despite the presence of her formidable father and sister, who had snubbed him previously. It doesn’t sound like much, but for a young single woman whose family had absolutely rejected him as a suitor eight years before and who  herself had been rejected in turn by that man when he returned from the war, Anne’s actions show tremendous courage and integrity: 

Anne was the nearest to him, and making yet a little advance, she instantly spoke. He was preparing only to bow and pass on, but her gentle “How do you do?” brought him out of the straight line to stand near her, and make enquiries in return, in spite of the formidable father and sister in the back ground. Their being in the back ground was a support to Anne; she knew nothing of their looks, and felt equal to everything which she believed right to be done.

Trusting observation and instinct. 

After Anne has a world-changing conversation with Captain Wentworth before a concert in Bath, in which he talks to her, for the first time, about the engagement of his friend Captain Benwick to Louisa Musgrove, she reviews it all in her head, and she doesn’t second-guess her observations at all:

His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light. His opinion of Louisa Musgrove’s inferiority, an opinion which he had seemed solicitous to give, his wonder at Captain Benwick, his feelings as to a first, strong attachment; sentences begun which he could not finish, his half averted eyes and more than half expressive glance, all, all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least; that anger, resentment, avoidance, were no more; and that they were succeeded, not merely by friendship and regard, but by the tenderness of the past. Yes, some share of the tenderness of the past. She could not contemplate the change as implying less. He must love her.

The same keenness of observation serves Anne well with respect to Captain Wentworth’s rival, Mr. Elliot:

Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.

Doesn’t it make you want to read Persuasion again? Or for the first time? Oh yes, you are in for a treat!

Read on, my dears, and may you be blessed with Austen superpowers!

 

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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours with Anne Elliot 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.

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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.


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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.


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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.”


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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.


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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

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Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen the Contrarian

Mansfield Park is probably the most controversial and least favored of all six Austen novels. Drawing the issue of slavery into the limelight, post-colonialist critic Edward Said had certainly stirred up some ripples in alleging Austen’s acceptance of British imperialism with her mention of Sir Thomas Bertram’s Antigua plantation. (1) Susan Fraiman has aptly presented her rebuttal to Said’s argument, noting in particular Austen’s brilliant irony and metaphor upon deeper reading. (2) So here, I would just like to concentrate on Austen’s characterization, which I believe is more in line with her central purpose in the novel. That brings me to the other major controversy.

What Makes a Heroine?

Published after Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park presents a very different heroine from that of Austen’s previous success. Fanny Price is often measured against Elizabeth Bennet, consequently being looked upon as inferior. On the outset, Fanny is indeed everything Lizzy is not. First of all, she is physically fragile, easily succumbs to exhaustion and fainting spells, very unlike Lizzy who can take on extensive walks in the outdoors, happily treading through miles of muddy paths. No rosy cheeks from such exercise for Fanny. She may have grown into a fair lady at eighteen, but she does not have Lizzy’s athletic prowess, or her pair of fine eyes, the trademark of her exuberance.

Further, Fanny Price is painfully shy, an introvert. Readers may find her insipid, lacking glamour, but they may be more impatient with her passive, yielding personality. Why does Jane Austen present to us such a heroine, especially after the very lively and charismatic Lizzy Bennet?

Well, I, for one, am glad to see Austen has demonstrated her wisdom by depicting an anti-stereotyped heroine. With Fanny Price, Austen has shattered the image of the typical heroine: a captivating beauty, quick witted and forthright, even audacious at times, endowed with energy and charisma. Why is reticence, or introvert nature being frowned upon? When did we start thinking of long-suffering and perseverance as negative traits? Why is humility not getting its rightful esteem? And, why are the quiet, observant and thinking female not as attractive as those who are more expressive, or who possess only outward beauty?

What Fanny lacks in physical vigor, she more than compensates with her inner strength. And it is in the nobility of character that Austen has chosen to depict her heroine. Underneath Fanny’s fragile appearance is a quiet and principled perseverance. Seeing the impropriety of staging a play which entails the remodelling of Sir Thomas’ very private library in his absence, Fanny stands firm in not participating, despite the pressures and insults from her older cousins, the persuasion from the Crawfords, the scornful criticisms from Mrs. Norris, and even the eventual yielding of Edmund himself.

In her ingenious manner, with biting irony, Austen pits Fanny Price against her formidable foe, Mary Crawford. At first sight, “Mary Crawford was remarkably pretty.” Not long after that, Austen adds:

 

“She had none of Fanny’s delicacy of taste, of mind, of feeling; she saw nature, inanimate nature, with little observation; her attention was all for men and women, her talents for the light and lively.”

Indeed, when it comes to moral uprightness, Mary Crawford is no match. Thanks to the way she defends her brother Henry who has snatched Maria away from her husband, even Edmund can now see clearly. Henry Crawford is a carnal schemer, and Mary Crawford is equally manipulative and egotistic. Unfortunately, it takes a scandal and trepidations for others to learn what Fanny has seen clearly from the very beginning.

In a way, Fanny Price is more lucid than Elizabeth Bennet in not succumbing to the lure of vanity with Henry Crawford’s superfluous praise and wooing. If only Elizabeth had conquered that soft spot regarding Wickham earlier on….but of course, there wouldn’t be any story then. And if it is admirably bold for Lizzy to resist Lady Catherine de Bourgh, someone who is of no relation to her, Fanny is all the more courageous in her refusing to marry Henry Crawford by standing up against the very guardian to whom she owed her upbringing and her present living, the patriarch Sir Thomas Bertram. It takes extraordinary fortitude to go against everyone in Mansfield Park, and follow her own heart, while the privilege to explain herself is infeasible.

Compared to other Austen heroines, Fanny Price is equally, if not more, worthy. Fanny has the passion of Marianne, while possessing the rationale of Elinor. That is why her secret love for Edmund can endure unfavorable conditions. Her lucid sense of judgement restrains her to reveal it to Edmund, who, with his emotional frailty, would be exasperated knowing his own beloved cousin is a rival rather than a friend of Mary Crawford. Her perseverance can easily match and surpass that of Anne Elliot. She may be uneducated and naive like Catherine Morland to start with, though equally moldable and respectful when taught, as the story progresses she far surpasses her mentor in insight and maturity .

By presenting a heroine who may not be a typical favorite, Austen seems to be writing contrary to conventional norms. (But is it just modern audience who have differed in their expectations, resulting in recent film adaptations altering the very spirit and essence of Austen’s characters to appeal to them?) Has Austen created a character so different from her other heroines?

Comparing Mansfield Park with all her other novels, I do not feel she is particularly off her usual standpoint. As with her other heroines, Austen is more concerned with character, virtues, and morals, the inner qualities of the person rather than the outer appearance. Mansfield Park is the best manifestation of her stance.

Ultimately, what shine through for our Austenian heroine are:

“…the sweetness of her temper, the purity of her mind, and the excellence of her principles.”

In the end, the steadfast and long-suffering Fanny Price triumphs. And for critics who assert that Austen had silently condoned slavery, the ending of Mansfield Park should silence them all, for it is the socially and economically disenfranchised and marginalized that is exalted and vindicated. In my view, Edmund does not deserve her. However, it is Fanny’s heart and long unrequited love that Austen attempts to satisfy. And I totally concur with that, for our heroine deserves it. And no, Fanny does not become mistress of Mansfield Park, which is also ideal: it is not affluence and materialism that win after all, but spiritual values and nobility of character that overcome, and they are their own rewards. The Parsonage is a most fitting place for both Edmund and Fanny to begin their life together.

 


 

Written By Arti of Ripple Effects

Arti reviews movies, books, arts and entertainment on her blog Ripple Effects. She has pleasure in many things, in particular, the work and wit of Jane Austen.

Notes:
1. Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993). His chapter on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park can be read in Dorothy Hale’s The Novel: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1900- 2000. (Blackwell, 2005) pp. 691-715. You can read part of it online on Google Books by clicking here.

2. Fairman, Susan. Jane Austen and Edward Said: Gender, Culture, and Imperialism.Critical Inquiry, 21 (4), pp. 805-821.

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