Friday, 18 June 2010


(Captain Wentworth 2007 , Rupert Penry-Jones)

"A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman! He ought not; he does not”.

Is Captain Wentworth the prototype of the romantic hero? In fact , Persuasion is more an elogizing over the self-made man. A very brave, obstinate, handsome and charming self -made man. But Captain Wentworth is just one of several naval officers in this story who have risen from humble beginnings to affluence and status on the strength of merit and luck, not by inheritance. It marks a time where the very roots of society were changing, as 'old money' (exemplified by Sir Walter) had to accommodate the rising strength of the nouveau riche (such as Wentworth). The success of Austen's own two brothers in the Royal Navy is probably significant.

(Captain Wentworth 1971, Bryan Marshall)

Captain Wentworth had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession; but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing. But he was confident that he should soon be rich: full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. (chapter 4)

(Captain Wentworth 1995, Ciaràn Hinds)

Captain Wentworth is the prototype of the 'new gentleman.' Maintaining the good manners, consideration, and sensitivity of the older type, he adds the qualities of gallantry, independence, and bravery that come with being a well- respected Naval officer. He has made his own fortune through hard work and good sense, in direct contrast to Sir Walter Elliot, Anne’s father, who has only wasted the money that came to him through his title. Without land or high birth, Captain Wentworth is not the traditional match for a woman of Anne Elliot's position.

In the novel, Captain Wentworth develops, eventually overcoming his pride and shame at being once refused, in order to make another ardent overture to his chosen bride: his extraordinarily passionate  letter which was partly the topic of this post of mine in November 2009 .  This development is a sign of a promising future for their relationship. Like Admiral Croft, who allows his wife to drive the carriage alongside him and to help him steer, Captain Wentworth will make Anne happy, respecting and loving her throughout their marriage. This is Austen ideal vision of marriage, a “marriage of true minds”.

Though, when the paths of Wentworth and Anne do cross again,  he goes for a woman who’s the opposite to Anne: Louisa Musgrove. While Anne tends to watch and listen, Louisa is the one who is being watched and listened to by others. Since Louisa goes out and gets what she wants, whether it’s fixing her sister up with Charles Hayter or arranging a family trip to Lyme, Wentworth thinks that’s a sign of her firmness of character. And firmness of character, in his mind, translates as reliability – he can trust that once she makes up her mind, she’ll stick to it, while with persuadable characters there’s no way of knowing what they’ll do next. Wentworth tells Louisa as much:
"It is the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character, that no influence over it can be depended on. You are never sure of a good impression being durable; everybody may sway it." (chapter 10)
So, whatever might have been, what we have by the time the novel itself begins is a Wentworth who is doing very well for himself. What he lacks in birth and family connections, he makes up for in wealth and charisma. His "air" (chapter 20) is such that even Lady Dalrymple admires him. His ability to make a convert of even Sir Walter by the novel’s end shows how far money and style can get you even in aristocratic society, and suggests that the social hierarchy might be more open to change than it initially seems.
To get to his eventual revelation of feelings he needs some help, he needs to be sure, he needs to hear Anne demonstrate she's changed. That's spurs his will, he writes his letter while listening to Ann talk to Captain Harville: "No, no, it is not man's nature. I will not allow it to be more man's  nature than woman's to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bearing most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather."

"Your feelings may be the strongest," replied Anne, "but the same spirit of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the most tender. Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments. Nay, it would be too hard upon you, if it were otherwise. You have difficulties, and privations, and dangers enough to struggle with. You are always labouring and toiling, exposed to every risk and hardship.Your home, country, friends, all quitted. Neither time, nor health,
nor life, to be called your own. It would be hard, indeed" (with a faltering voice), "if woman's feelings were to be added to all this."

Only then Captain Wentworth beautiful words starts flowing down the paper ...

"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 for ever. 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". ........

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jedisakora said...

This was simply lovely. Great expose on Wentworth!

JaneGS said...

I enjoyed your portrait of Wentworth, one of my favorite Austen heroes ever.

DEZMOND said...

Rupert Penry-Jones is such an amazing actor!

Claudia said...

Rupert Penry-Jones is remarkably handsome, but maybe Ciaran Hinds is a bit more phisically proper to perform a member of the Navy who has gone through Napoleonic Wars! Capt. Wentworth is my favorite Austen hero, too.

Un abbraccio,

Nina said...

Great post! Fun to read!

Adriana Zardini said...

Ciao Maria! Sorry, I'm being so busy!
I really liked this post!

Stella (Ex Libris) said...

Oh my what an abolsutely wonderful, brilliant analysis!

I agree, Captain Wentworth is an exceptional hero, and in most aspects he is much worthier than Darcy, but I can't forgive him for making Anne suffer and flirting with Louisa! And that would it not have been for the fortunate turn of heart of Louisa he would have had to marry her! So Mr. Knightley stays the best choice and worthiest Austen hero for me :-)

Eliza said...

I have never seen Wentworth as Self-made man, but now that you mention it... ;-)
You really have a gift for analysing!