Did Anne Elliot Perform Admirably or Was She Too Easily Persuaded?

This is a guest post from my fellow Austen Author, Anna Elliott, regarding her love of Jane Austen’s Persuasion


Although I (of course) love all Jane Austen’s novels, I must say that Persuasion is my favorite.  Much as I appreciate Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth is my favorite of the Austen heroes, too.  Every time I read the novel, I’m frustrated with Anne for having allowed herself to be persuaded not to marry him eight years before the novel opens.

Persuasion-jane-austen-12301145-360-348.jpg Austen tries to make us understand how Anne would have allowed herself to be persuaded: she was young– only nineteen– she honestly thought that it was better for Captain Wentworth not to be burdened with a wife when he was still poor and only beginning his career, and she trusted Lady Russell’s judgement. Anne doesn’t even feel bitterness towards Lady Russell for Lady Russell’s role in breaking off her romance. But she has also clearly spent the past eight years replaying everything that happened over and over again in her head and wishing that she had made a different choice.

Anne, at seven and twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen.—She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good. . . . She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.

Persuasion-poster.jpgWhen he returns, Captain Wentworth is still angry with Anne for listening to Lady Russel– and I’ve never blamed him.

Captain Wentworth had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill; deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.

Wentworth admires Louisa Musgrove’s strength of character.  But then– in one of the most dramatic scenes in any Austen novel– he cannot persuade Lousia out of her disastrous jump in Lyme that results in a serious head injury– and he comes to have a different view of strength of character vs. stubbornness.

There, [Captain Wentworth] had learnt to distinguish between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will, between the darings of heedlessness and the resolution of a collected mind. There, he had seen everything to exalt in his estimation the woman he had lost, and there begun to deplore the pride, the folly, the madness of resentment, which had kept him from trying to regain her when thrown in his way.

So what do you think?  Should Anne Elliott have simply married Captain Wentworth when she was young, against the advice of Lady Russel?  Would they have been as happy together if they had married when young as they are when they overcome their past heartache and reunite as older, wiser versions of themselves?

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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20 Responses to Did Anne Elliot Perform Admirably or Was She Too Easily Persuaded?

  1. KateB says:

    Great thoughts Anna. I agree with you, Ann would have been a poor wife to Frederick had they married all these years ago. they both needed time to mature, especially Ann. Apart from being young, she had been of a timid nature, so she needed time to realize what mattered in life.
    Thanks for sharing. They are my second favorite couple.

    • As Wentworth was spending his fortune as quickly as he earned, I understand Lady Russell’s qualms about Anne marrying him. I did not “like” the situation, but I understood the woman’s caution. I wish that Anne could have bargained with her father…asking perhaps for a long engagement, but such was not of her nature at the time.

  2. I suspect they could only have been happy later and that Austen got it exactly right.

  3. Feminism Through Cinema and Literature says:

    Great post!

  4. Persuasion has always been my favorite of Austen’s novels, as well. Getting a second chance at love is such a wonderful notion. I also have to think that Wentworth might never have become successful without going through losing Anne and perhaps realizing why Lady Russell advised against the marriage. Both Wentworth and Anne matured over those eight years and I think they were likely much happier for the rest of their lives, knowing that they couldn’t take each other for granted. And, as the old saying, absence did make the heart grow fonder. ❤

    • I totally agree, Kadee. Wentworth represents the many men of the lower gentry/middle class who used their service to their country to move into society. The British Royal Navy did not permit a man to purchase a commission. One had to rise to a position through hard work and intelligence. He represented Austen’s naval brothers.

  5. Good question, and I’m not completely sure. But I suspect that living away from her family, even if she was waiting for Frederick to return from sea, would have matured Ann and made her happier than remaining at home. Finding a new family in the other women who were waiting for their men to return would have provided the kind of support she never had in her own. So while I understand her response when she was 19 (it’s so very young) I think she would have been all right had she accepted.

    Of course, if her father didn’t consent, which he would not have, they’d have had to wait until she was 21 anyway…

    • I always assumed Sir Walter’s indulgences were not so pronounced when Wentworth first proposed, and Anne was not so “accustomed” to economy as she was by the time the Elliots departed for Bath. I would like to think her capable of handling the situation of living alone in a sea port, I doubt it would be true, even at the age of 21. She learned her lessons, literally, at the hands of Sir Walter’s and Elizabeth’s insensible natures.

      • Possibly! I took the line “When my mother lived, Lady Russell, there was moderation and economy in our home, and no need of leaving it,” as my reason–but I haven’t read the actual book in a long time, though i love it. So maybe I’m not remembering right or it’s not as significant as I thought. I think Anne is smart enough to know what it would mean to marry Frederick. Maybe that’s another reason she can be talked out of it? We just don’t know.

      • My idea of “economy” is different from when Lady Elliot was alive. I took the line you quoted to mean that Anne’s mother did not permit Sit Walter his extremes — that Lady Elliot ran the household efficiently.
        Anne’s reality is more of not heating a room or a tougher cut of meat or release a servant here and there. Essentials were maintained, but nothing beyond that. I think of how she saw the family’s situation as being more along the lines of the Dashwood family. That, of course, is not how Sir Walter saw things. Bath was chosen over London when they retrenched because it was more expensive to live in London.

  6. or “of moving out” ?

  7. Linda Ziesenhenne says:

    Lady Russell was a mother to Ann. Two hundred years ago, even 45 years ago as I was at age 19, I remember that a mother’s advise would be respected and obeyed. I think at age 19, Ann acted properly in following Lady Russell’s advice, because of her love and respect for Lady Russell.

    • I agree with your estimation of a mother’s advice, Linda. One did not want to disappoint a trusted love one by acting against his/her advice. We must beware of placing modern values on historical pieces.

      • Linda Ziesenhenne says:

        Thank you for your insight. I was making an assumption that may or may not be true, I now realize. I’ll want to read more about what the historians say, before drawing any conclusions.

  8. Suzanne says:

    I have always resented Anne for listening to Lady Russell and I have always disliked Lady Russell for being so damn sure of herself even when Anne was miserable. If ‘fortune’ was the only obstacle, there were ways around that. From what we know of Anne at 27, I expect she was a mature 19 year old. As well, what were her prospects? Who else was out there who truly loved Anne? No one as far as I can tell. Too bad she hadn’t consulted Mrs. Croft, I’m sure she would have received different advice.

    • I wanted to shake some sense into her, but, in reality, she could not have married without Sir Walter’s permission (unless she and Captain Wentworth eloped to Scotland). I doubt Sir Walter would see his way to clear to present one of his daughter’s to a man with “few prospects.”

  9. Linda Ziesenhenne says:

    I think that Anne made the best decision she could, considering her circumstances, especially her age. Not all 19 year old females are mature enough to go against the wishes of a beloved parent, in this case a parent substitute, Lady Russell. It was so fortunate, though, that at age 27 she knew herself well enough and was mature enough to wisely reject her cousin, Mr. Elliott, ignoring Lady Russell’s (again) poor advice, thus leaving herself available for the love of her life, Captain Wentworth.

  10. nmayer2015 says:

    Jane Austen knew Anne couldn’t marry without her father’s permission. If they had eloped or even had the banns called, Sir Walter didn’t have to pay over any dowry. Wentworth didn’t believe in wives going to sea so Anne would have been stuck in a place like Portsmouth , quite likely pregnant, while he went off on what could have been a 2 or three year absence. I think he did say he returned a few years before but refused to go see her. He had been on shore something like twice in the time they were apart? Anne would have made friends with other officer’s wives but I think she was looking at what might have been with too optimistic eyes. Jane’s brothers had their children on board ship with them though one poor moppet was always sea sick. Then they had to live on shore for awhile while he was at sea. When the men were home they had no chance to capture prizes. Wentworth could have gone to see her when he returned after she was of age.

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