Wednesday 16 June 2010


When writing Emma,  Jane Austen declared:  "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like". In one of her last letters she , instead, referred to Anne Elliot as"a heroine who is almost too good for me."

(Ann Firbank as Ann Elliot BBC 1971)

What did Austen mean with “too good”? Anne Elliot is easily the most unique of Jane Austen's well-known heroines and represents a distinct departure from the author's typical characterization of female protagonists. When the novel begins, Anne is twenty-seven years old. She certainly possesses greater wisdom and maturity; but she lacks the usual verve and sparkle we associate with Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. Missing, too, is the playful sense of irony which Austen's other heroines revel. The most remarkable thing about Anne Elliot, however, is that she does not seem to have to acquire self-knowledge - her attitudes and behavior are astonishingly consistent from beginning to end. In fact, her character can hardly be said to "develop" in the usual sense of the word. All her development seems to have taken place in the eight years that precede the opening of Persuasion, the eight years since her fateful decision not to marry Captain Wentworth.

(Amanda Root as Anne Elliot BBC 1995)

She is clever and considerate. Anne takes pride in practicality, intellect, and patience.Though Austen very frankly notes that the bloom of youth has left her and that she is not the prettiest of the young ladies in the novel, Anne becomes little by little more attractive when her better qualities are noted. She is level-headed in difficult situations and constant in her affections. Such qualities make her the desirable sister to marry; she is the first choice of Charles Musgrove, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Elliot.

Noted critic, Harold Bloom, seems to have put his finger upon it when he described Anne Elliot as having a "Shakespearean inwardness" . Like Shakespeare's most intensely inward character, Hamlet, she experiences a spiritual isolation and withdrawal from the dysfunctional world around her, she displays extreme introspection and psychological perspicacity and she possesses the strength of will to remain true to her character and values, despite changes in circumstance.

(Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot - ITV 2007)

In the end, Anne concludes that she is right to have been persuaded by Lady Russell, even if the advice itself was misguided. The conclusion implies that what might be considered Anne's flaw, her ability to be persuaded by others, is not really a flaw at all. It is left to the reader to agree or disagree with this. Do you agree with her?
Personally, I think that the Anne, who made the mistake of being persuaded 8 years before, doesn’t exist any longer when the novel opens. She’s stronger now. She's suffered for the consequences of her choice and won’t repeat her  mistake.

I find Anne a convincing powerful heroine, maybe the strongest of Austen’s heroines. But ... I found this comment in a review of Persuasion online: “Anne would make a really bad reality show contestant, as she’s not one to take center stage and show off. The action of the novel is mostly driven by other people, while Anne observes, listens, and responds. It’s like everyone else has a blog, but she’s stuck just leaving comments” 

Funny,  indeed. Do you agree with this analysis of Anne’s personality? Its  author supports those statements with Anne’s tendency to self-abnegation in a family overcrowded by egos and with her acceptance of self-sacrifice. Is this a flaw or a virtue in her personality?

There is something more, something related to her marriage , which distinguishes Anne from other Austen heroines. I've found it in wikipedia:
"Persuasion manifests a significant shift in Austen's attitude toward inherited wealth and rank. Elsewhere in her writing, salvation for the heroine comes in the form of marriage to a well-born gentleman, preferably wealthy and at least her equal in social consequence. Elizabeth Bennet, for example, who has little money of her own, refuses the hand of a financially secure but unbearable young clergyman; dallies briefly with a penniless (and, as it turns out, utterly worthless) army officer; and finally marries Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who has a great estate, a Norman-sounding name, and ten thousand a year. Emma Woodhouse, already wealthy and secure, marries 37-year-old George Knightley, a man not only from her own class, but from her extended family; and Marianne Dashwood loses her heart to a charming young wastrel, but then marries the virtuous Colonel Brandon, a man of property twice her age. Anne Elliot's "true attachment and constancy" to a dashing, self-made young outsider distinguishes her from all her sister Austen heroines".

This post is part of the event Jane in June hosted at Book Rat by Misty. So leaving your comment here you can get a chance (or another chance) to win two Austen - based books! This double giveaway will go on all the month through and the winner will be announced on the 30th. Please, do not forget your e-mail address!

The more comments you leave (one for each post ) , the more chances you'll have to win. Good luck!



Alexa Adams said...

Very interesting! I always thought of Anne as extremely depressed - instead of developing, in the manner of Austen's other characters, she has a second bloom. Yes she would make a terrible reality show contestant, but so would all of Austen's heroines, who would instinctively be repulsed by such airing of private matters. How very odd anyone would even think of it! It is my goal in life to be more like Anne, sans the melancholy. She is definitely Austen's most evolved heroine.

Kals said...

Interesting post. I agree with Austen's comments about Anne being 'too good'. I felt the same too. I couldn't relate with Anne much the way I could relate with Elizabeth. She is the sort of character some people find 'boring'. Clearly her own family finds her like that too, judging from the way she never takes centre stage with them.

But I like Anne for her patience, affection and love. She's not my most favourite Austen heroine, but she's pretty interesting to read :)

Sissa said...

Lovely review. I agree that Anne is different from the rest of the heroines from Jane's novels. I think its one of the reasons i love her so much. Another thing that i like about Anne is that she's one of the more relate-able heroines. Especially to those of us in her age range. I find myself relating to her more than any other heroine. She really is the modern day spinster keeping things in check, but still hoping for love. ^^

Meredith said...

I definitely agree that Anne is a strong heroine. Not meek at all. Was she persuaded or did she do her duty?

I think being Austen's oldest heroine makes her one of the most complex as well. I hope your book club is as fascinated and in love with Anne Elliot as we are!

Misty said...

I "snippeted" this tonight (or this morning, I guess, since it's after midnight). Absolutely LOVELY job you've done. Anne is #2 on my list of faves.

Journey said...

Great post! :)
I, too, love Anne Elliot. She is probably my favorite Austen heroine and "Persuasion" my favorite book. Anne is such a very deep character, she also seems much more real to me, than many of the other Austen-characters.

EVA SB said...

Although my favourite Austen heroine is Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Eliiot comes a close second.

Although it is true that see doesn't find self-knowledge during the course of the novel her quiet convinction seems to suggest that she is already settled in a her own identity. She is the most mature of austen's heroines and not just becuase of her age.

JaneGS said...

I agree completely with your portrait and description of Anne--of all Austen's heroines, she is the one I would most like to have for a friend. And I think it's interesting that the story of Persuasion, as you point out, is not about her journey or growth. Actually, it's about Wentworth's journey and growth of self-awareness.

Lovely post!

Adrienne said...

Not sure if my prior post submitted (was done via Twitter)

Anne Elliot is my favorite Austen heroine, now that I am older and wiser. No, she would not be as exciting on a reality show as Emma or Elizabeth, but if a contestant fell down and hit their head doing a ridiculous stunt, I would want the level-headed Anne Elliot there to manage the crisis.

Claudia said...

Persuasion is definitely my favorite Jane Austen novel, as a story. It's the one that pleases my imagination most, because the main theme is eternal love. In spite of this, Anne Elliot is not my favorite heroine: while reading of her, she makes me feel angry many times, her hopelessness and self-abnegation is sort of annoying, sometimes. In a way, it seems she's only waiting patiently the events to change. I find Capt. Wentworth and his conflict between the past and the present of his heart the real charm of Persuasion.

Claudia -

P.S. Are we meant to leave our emeil each time we comment? Anyway... lovely, lovely post! :-)

Maria Grazia said...

I think I need your e-mail at least once in the comments for the double giveaway so, don't worry, you are in the giveaway and your name will be repeated as many times as the number of your comments.
Have a nice Sunday...though it rains a lot!

Miri said...

Very interesting post! Persuasion is, I think, my favorite Austen and I agree that most of Anne's changes happened "off stage". I don't think she is at all insipid like Fanny Price, she's just quieter and more mature...her humor at what is going on around her is for herself alone.

Unknown said...

And again a fantastic post. I agree that Anne is a very different character from Austen's most famous ones (Elizabeth, Emma), but in my opinion she bvears a resemblance to Fanny: they are both quiet and self-sacrificing, blending in the décor and rather observing things than being in the centre of events. Though with Anne she has this complexity, that besides her quiet nature she is a very capable woman who can take charge and assume responsibility.

It is also interesting as you have stated, that Persuiasion is so very different from the other Austen novels in the aspect that Anne doesn't change, make some big doscovery throughout the nove, she stays the very same person than she was at the beginning: she doesn't mature, doesn't realise she's in love with Captain Wentworth, she already knew that at the beginning.

Anonymous said...

Anne Elliot is not my favourite of Austen's heroines, but I truly like her. I think she has developed before the novel started and that she is a strong character. She's very different from her family and is the only sensible Elliot in my view. I also think this book is very different from Auten's other books and, as Virginia Woolf said in "The common reader", Austen was probably going to enter in a new period of writing. Nice post as always! ;)

Eliza said...

The more time I spent with Anne the more I liked her. That's what makes her so special to me, or in fact: The whole book. It is the perfect antithesis to Emma.

Anonymous said...

Anne is a deep and convincing psychological portrait that rewards repeat observation. Though, in modern terms, almost certainly mildly depressed, she still has optimism 'is not hopeless of doing good' and though introspective, she is other-centred in her values and behaviour. She focuses on self-improvement and self-knowledge as a way of coping with unhappiness, rather than blaming circumstances or the people around her, which takes enormous fortitude. In a reality show, she would be behind the scenes, managing egos and keeping things on schedule (and getting no thanks for it) rather than in front of the camera. As she is only valued by 'people of understanding', most audiences would not get her anyway. Mary, with her hypochondria and massive ego is much more TV friendly. Although Austen's ultimate reality star would have to be Lydia Bennet - shallow, pleasure-seeking and determined to be the centre of attention. Car crash TV for sure!

Anonymous said...

I always wondered if Anne Elliot was a more autobiographical work, or at least in part.

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