The last third of Persuasion leaves no doubt in my mind that Anne’s family accepted Captain Wentworth as soon as they learned of the engagement. Beginning with Chapter 9, when Lady Russell sees Wentworth, Austen drops hints of the happy outcome. “She could thoroughly comprehend the sort of fascination he must possess over Lady Russell’s mind, the difficulty it must be for her to withdraw her eyes, the astonishment she must be feeling that eight or nine years should have passed over him, and in foreign climes and in active service too, without robbing him of one personal grace!”
In Chapter 20, Anne overhears Sir Walter and Elizabeth talking. “While they were speaking, a whispering between her father and Elizabeth caught her ear. She could not distinguish, but she must guess the subject; and on Captain Wentworth’s making a distant bow, she comprehended that her father had judged so well as to give him that simple acknowledgement of acquaintance, and she was just in time by a side glance to see a slight curtsey from Elizabeth herself. This, though late, and reluctant, and ungracious, was yet better than nothing, and her spirits improved.”Also, in Chapter 20, Frederick makes a telling remark to Anne concerning Captain Benwick: “‘A man like him, in his situation! with a heart pierced, wounded, almost broken! Fanny Harville was a very superior creature, and his attachment to her was indeed attachment. A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman!—He ought not—he does not.’
Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room. Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks glowed,—but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half hour, and as they passed to their seats, her mind took a hasty range over it. 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.”
As she becomes convinced of Wentworth’s continued love for her, Anne overhears Lady Dalrymple talking with Sir Walter about the Captain. “Her father and Lady Dalrymple were speaking. ‘A well-looking man,’ said Sir Walter, ‘a very well-looking man.’
‘A very fine young man indeed!’ said Lady Dalrymple. ‘More air than one often sees in Bath.—Irish, I dare say.’
‘No, I just know his name. A bowing acquaintance. Wentworth—Captain Wentworth of the navy. His sister married my tenant in Somersetshire,—the Croft, who rents Kellynch.’
When Wentworth leaves the Bath musical evening abruptly, Anne begins to think of reasons for his actions and comes to a correct conclusion: “Jealousy of Mr. Elliot! It was the only intelligible motive. Captain Wentworth jealous of her affection! Could she have believed it a week ago—three hours ago! For a moment the gratification was exquisite.”
Whether or not her family would accept Wentworth, Anne’s resolve was firm, as is made evident in Chapter 21: “How she might have felt had there been no Captain Wentworth in the case, was not worth enquiry; for there was a Captain Wentworth; and be the conclusion of the present suspense good or bad, her affection would be his forever. Their union, she believed, could not divide her more from other men, than their final separation.”
In Chapter 22, Anne has the decided pleasure of seeing her family, particularly Elizabeth, acknowledge Wentworth. “Her jealous eye was satisfied in one particular. Captain Wentworth was acknowledged again by each, by Elizabeth more graciously than before. She even addressed him once, and looked at him more than once. Elizabeth was, in fact, revolving a great measure. The sequel explained it. After the waste of a few minutes in saying the proper nothings, she began to give the invitation which was to comprise all the remaining dues of the Musgroves. ‘To-morrow evening, to meet a few friends: no formal party.’ It was all said very gracefully, and the cards with which she had provided herself, the ‘Miss Elliot at home,’ were laid on the table, with a courteous, comprehensive smile to all, and one smile and one card more decidedly for Captain Wentworth. The truth was, that Elizabeth had been long enough in Bath to understand the importance of a man of such an air and appearance as his. The past was nothing. The present was that Captain Wentworth would move about well in her drawing-room. The card was pointedly given, and Sir Walter and Elizabeth arose and disappeared.”
Sir Walter appreciates good looks almost as much wealth, and Captain Wentworth has both in abundance. What the captain lacks in social position, he would gain by an association with the Elliots. One is led to believe that Elizabeth herself would have accepted his attentions in time, as she was no longer young.
Chapter 23 is famous for Wentworth’s wonderful missive, the most moving letter in all of Austen’s writings.
“‘I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan.—Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?—I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others.—Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.
‘I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.’”
The reader, already assured of Anne’s unwavering devotion to Wentworth, now knows the depth of his love for her. Had her family not approved of their marriage, it would have made no difference. They would have wed and been happy in any case.
Anne actually addresses the subject with Wentworth: “‘You should have distinguished,’ replied Anne. ‘You should not have suspected me now; the case is so different, and my age is so different. If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty, but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated.’”
Wentworth admits his folly in resisting contacting Anne for eight years, which to me, is the last barrier between them: “‘But I too have been thinking over the past, and a question has suggested itself, whether there may not have been one person more my enemy even than that lady? My own self. Tell me if, when I returned to England in the year eight, with a few thousand pounds, and was posted into the Laconia, if I had then written to you, would you have answered my letter? Would you, in short, have renewed the engagement then?’
‘Would I!’ was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough.
‘Good God! he cried, ‘you would! It is not that I did not think of it, or desire it, as what could alone crown all my other success; but I was proud, too proud to ask again. I did not understand you. I shut my eyes, and would not understand you, or do you justice. This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me.’”
Chapter 24 puts a definitive end to any doubt concerning the approval of the Elliots and the felicity of the couple.
“Sir Walter made no objection, and Elizabeth did nothing worse than look cold and unconcerned. Captain Wentworth, with five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, was no longer nobody. He was now esteemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him, and who could give his daughter at present but a small part of the share of ten thousand pounds which must be hers hereafter.
Sir Walter, indeed, though he had no affection for Anne, and no vanity flattered, to make him really happy on the occasion, was very far from thinking it a bad match for her. On the contrary, when he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight, and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims, and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by his well-sounding name, enabled Sir Walter at last to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage in the volume of honour.”
Trust Sir Walter to remain shallow ‘til the end.
The approval of Lady Russell put the issue to rest.
“There was nothing less for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions and of hopes. There is a quickness of perception in some, a nicety in the discernment of character, a natural penetration, in short, which no experience in others can equal, and Lady Russell had been less gifted in this part of understanding than her young friend. But she was a very good woman, and if her second object was to be sensible and well-judging, her first was to see Anne happy. She loved Anne better than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness of the beginning was over, found little hardship in attaching herself as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of her other child.”
Even Mary was pleased with the match, and she was rarely pleased with anything.
“Of all the family, Mary was probably the one most immediately gratified by the circumstance. It was creditable to have a sister married, and she might flatter herself with having been greatly instrumental to the connexion, by keeping Anne with her in the autumn; and as her own sister must be better than her husband’s sisters, it was very agreeable that Captain Wentworth should be a richer man than either Captain Benwick or Charles Hayter.”
Anne’s only impediment to her complete happiness was a feeling of inferiority to Wentworth. She gained his family members and friends by their union, yet all she had to offer was Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith in addition to her pompous father and sisters.
Fortunately, Wentworth was in a very forgiving mood when he gained Anne’s hand, and he came to value Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith “from his heart.”After this reread of Persuasion, I have come to believe that it is the most romantic of Austen’s works. While my favorite remains Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion has more of the “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” factor, and Darcy’s letter defending himself does not provoke the emotion of Wentworth’s impassioned plea to Anne. Thunderous applause for Jane Austen!
Laura and Susan, I surrender.