From the opening of Persuasion:
Elliot of Kellynch-Hall
Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester; by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, Nov. 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.
Tomorrow is November 5th and I’m taking a break from Wentworth Wednesday to wonder aloud how Persuasion might have been different if the still-born son of Walter Elliot had lived.
When I first thought of this, my gut feeling was the story would change but not so much that Anne and Frederick wouldn’t get together eventually.
Boy, what a good night’s sleep can accomplish when it comes to a plot line.
My thinking was, with a son, Sir Walter would have been more preening and ridiculous with that “look at what I’ve done” sort of vibe. Even if Lady Elliot had managed to keep her husband’s financial flamboyance in check, her death would have assured a cascade of son-centric reckless spending, and shortened the trip down the economic wormhole for the Elliots.
Here’s what happens if, instead of fourteen years, it’s only ten years after Lady Elliot’s death that the retrenchment takes place:
The Crofts are still in India. This means they do not lease Kellynch Hall. Without the Crofts renting the Hall, the story fails.
Frederick is still at sea. This means Frederick will not return to Somerset and the story fails.
Mary is not yet married to Charles Musgrove. Even if the stars align and the first two events do occur, at this point there is no reason for Anne to remain in the area and not go directly to the white glare of September in Bath.
There is a bright spot. William Elliot never comes into the story. The only reason we even know of him is because he is the heir presumptive to Kellynch Hall. With a son, I’m sure Sir Walter would never deign to seek out “the great grandson of the second Sir Walter.” This being the case, instead of mooning over her cousin, Elizabeth might have married and had a semblance of a happy life.
Heroines who have older brothers are thin on the ground in Austen novels. And even when they appear they have little to do with changing the course of the story. But had Anne’s brother lived, her life would have been very sad indeed.
Austen was a clever woman and she might have created some spectacular adventures to get Frederick and Anne back together. Like the younger brother falls in with Dick Musgrove and runs off to sea, meets Captain Wentworth, and …
What if the son, taking social cues from his father, disdains Wentworth’s pursuit of his sister in the summer of ‘06? Family honor must be satisfied, so the little gherkin challenges the Captain to a duel and kills him. Wait, then the story again fails so we can scratch that one.
Any other ideas? What if the brother is more like his mother and less a knucklehead like his daddy? What if, in ’06, he encourages Anne to run away with Frederick? Or at the very least not break the engagement? Or, if Anne follows through with the break-up he encourages her later to marry Charles Musgrove.
Anyway, you see how an absent character, mentioned outright only once, can make all the difference to a fan fiction writer.
R. I. P. still-born son, born Nov. 5, 1789.