I read Jane Austen’s Persuasion again this past week ~ I forgot how lovely this last story of hers is. Anne Elliot is a woman I can not only relate to, but aspire to be. She is the most mature and self aware of Austen’s heroines, who usually have to go on a journey of growth to reach her level of self understanding.
Anne combines the best of Austen’s heroines, with the observational skills and passion of Elizabeth Bennet paired to the idealism of Catherine Morland, the practicality of Elinor Dashwood with Marianne’s flights of fancy. The introversion and high morality of Fanny Price with the elegance and class of Emma Woodhouse. Anne is made human by our insight into her mind, where she is self conscious, victim to second hand embarrassment, and privately judgmental (though she scolds herself for this).
During this reading I was struck by the spirituality not just of Anne, but of Captain Wentworth. After Louisa’s fall from the stairs at Lyme, Captain Wentworth is shaken, and Anne sees him later hidden partway in the corner of Captain Harville’s small house, composing himself with prayer. Later on he thanks God with fervor for Louisa’s recovery, which Anne mistakenly believes is the result of his passion for the girl, instead of his general thankfulness to have the Musgrove family spared the loss of another child. Mr. Elliot makes a poor comparison to Captain Wentworth in spiritual matters, as one of his youthful habits Anne mentions that make her dubious of him is that of “Sunday traveling,” meaning that church going was not really a priority to her cousin.
Captain Wentworth is close with his older siblings, the brother and sister who at separate points give him a home whenever he is on land. That brother Anne remembers with fondness years later, and was the original mutual friend to introduce the two. With his sister too, Mrs. Croft, he displays a close, affectionate, and teasing relationship, and makes one wonder when the Wentworth parents die, that Frederick has been the baby of his elder siblings since before meeting Anne at age 23.
Captain Wentworth is musical as well, knowledgeable enough to pluck out tunes on the piano and make Anne certain to meet him should she attend certain concerts. I think Anne, a musician who seems to mourn that she is the only one of her community to have both technical theory of music and genuine passion, most likely connected to him at the first through music, which common thread led them to many other shared passions.
Spiritual, musical, with family values and a high sense of pride and honor, Anne and Frederick differ mainly in their family background and varying levels of reserve. Anne is a consummate introvert, retreating often from conversation and company for needed solitary reflections, while Frederick seems a classic extrovert, making genuine friendships wherever he goes. I don’t think I realized before how similar this couple was, more similar I think than any of Austen’s other couples. They both love to be of use, to be doing. They both pity and encourage Captain Benwick, and humor and comfort the various Musgroves. That two such caring people could meet, with all their shared interests, and not fall in love is impossible, regardless of the other improbabilities of their story (which mainly lie in how perfectly everything fell into place for them to wed in the last chapter or two of the novel).