Continuing my participation in Austen in August, I answered this question from The Book Rat’s Misty: Is there ever a time you dislike Captain Wentworth? Were you put off by his treatment of Anne?
Well, yes, actually. I am a huge admirer of the Y chromosome, but I have yet to meet a man who truly knows how women think. I spent half of the book wanting to kick Captain Wentworth, and the other half feeling very sorry for him. In these particular chapters (8-18), I was in “What a jerk!” mode at least five times.
At the end of chapter 8, Austen writes: “Anne did not wish for more of such looks and speeches. His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything.”
Who among us has not suffered the impersonal civility of a former, spurned boyfriend? Austen is quite accurate in her assessment. The frigid courtesy is worse than outright rudeness. It says, “I do not care enough about you anymore to work up a good show of hostility.”
In chapter 9: “In another moment, however, she found herself in the state of being released from him; someone was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.”
The captain sends mixed signals here, further confusing Anne. I have sympathy for him in this passage. He still loves her, though he won’t yet admit it to himself, and he cannot stand by while she is abused.
In chapter 10, Anne overhears the captain talking to Louisa: “My first wish for all whom I am interested in, is that they should be firm. If Louisa Musgrove would be beautiful and happy in her November of life, she will cherish all her present powers of mind.”
Anne is so overcome by his explicit approval of Louisa’s character, as well as his warm statement of interest in her, that she takes great pains to remain undiscovered. However, rather than finding relief for her unhappiness, she hears the captain and Louisa continue to speak of Charles Musgrove’s offer for her and her rejection of him. Knowing that Frederick compares her to Louisa, and she suffers by the comparison, is troubling enough without having to suffer the humiliation of hearing herself being the subject of gossip and speculation. Louisa did not really know why Anne had refused Charles’s suit.
However, at the end of the chapter, Frederick again sends an ambiguous message when he prevails upon his sister to give the exhausted Anne a ride back to Uppercross.
Chapter 11: Anne found herself by this time growing so much more hardened to being in Captain Wentworth’s company than she had at first imagined could ever be, that the sitting down to the same table with him now, and the interchange of the common civilities attending on it (they never got beyond), was become a mere nothing.
In my opinion, it is at Lyme, in these lines, that the reader begins to feel the sea change in the weather. Anne starts to become accustomed to Frederick’s presence; she is able to bear it without pain, though she still loves him. However, as is so often the case in reality, once she is not as centered on him, he begins to relent toward her. Watching her converse with Benwick all evening probably caught his interest.
Chapter 12: The tone, the look, with which “Thank God!” was uttered by Captain Wentworth, Anne was sure could never be forgotten by her; nor the sight of him afterwards, as he sat near a table, leaning over it with folded arms and face concealed, as if overpowered by the various feelings of his soul, and trying by prayer and reflection to calm them.
“Don’t talk of it, don’t talk of it,” he cried. “Oh God! that I had not given way to her at the fatal moment! Had I done as I ought! But so eager and so resolute! Dear, sweet Louisa!”
I cannot imagine how Anne must have suffered as Frederick uttered these words during their journey to return Henrietta to her home. This chapter most displayed her true character. A lesser woman would not have felt the sympathy for Frederick, the concern for Louisa, or the responsibility of the situation. Anne calmly assumed control of the tragedy, and the others’ confidence in her was so strong that they turned to her for advice and instantly followed her instructions when they were given.
I was heartened that Anne displayed her strong backbone by wondering silently if Frederick was perhaps rethinking his ideas of a “firmness of character” taken to extremes. One might call it stubbornness.
Anne is very sweet, but she is not weak. To my way of thinking, she displays more strength of character than does Frederick. I chalk it up to that pesky Y chromosome.