2018 Jane Austen Society of North America
Topic: Faith, Hope, and Charity in Persuasion
Faith, hope, and charity are featured themes in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion. Discuss how possessing or lacking these qualities affects a character’s behavior and drives the plot. You may focus on one quality or examine the interplay of two or all three. You may include more than one character in your discussion.
“Her Future Sunshine”: The Blossoming of Faith, Hope, and Charity in the Life of Anne Elliot
By Monica Colon
What are the makings of a good marriage? What sort of character is required of husband and wife? How can a person grow in her virtue to be better suited for marriage? Jane Austen’s Persuasion follows the progression of faith, hope, and charity in its protagonist, Anne Elliot, to explore these questions. Anne begins with the seeds of these virtues, but time causes them to bloom into true virtues that she can take into her marriage.
The trio of faith, hope, and charity comes from Christian theology; they are the so-called “theological virtues.” Persuasion itself is not an explicitly religious novel, but it does presume a world with moral standards, with characters clearly displaying both vice and virtue. Therefore, the definitions of the theological virtues offered here share this view of morality. Virtues are habits of ethical behavior, usually understood to be means between two vices. For example, generosity is a halfway point between miserliness and prodigality, and courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness. But the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love differ, for rather than being the temperate choice between two extremes, one can never have too much of them. Faith is placing one’s trust in an authority, whether that be oneself or another person. In other words, faith is choosing someone in whom to believe. Confidence, or the persistent belief in something despite all odds, is more impulsive than true faith, but may grow into a virtue given time; confidence is the seedling form of faith. Hope is trusting that something good may come out of acting on faith, even if one cannot see the good immediately. Although hope is often confused with optimism, optimism is not a mature virtue. Optimism blindly expects everything in one’s life to be pleasurable, but hope involves perseverance through suffering. Hope may grow from optimism, however, when optimism does not crumble in the face of hardship.
The last theological virtue, charity, is selfless love for someone else, often undeserved. There are two misconceptions one tends to fall into when defining charity. Charity is not philanthropy, or the giving of one’s possessions and income. Certainly charity may inspire philanthropy, but the two are not equivalent. Charity may also be confused with the warm affectionate feeling one has towards people that one both likes and loves. Affection is not the selfless love of charity, although it accompanies charity at times and may serve as a foundation on which to build it. True charity is a commitment to someone, and, like hope, it can be exhausting. Just as confidence matures into faith and optimism into hope, affection becomes charity when it endures trials.
With these definitions in mind, a careful reader can discern the development of faith, hope, and charity in Anne Elliot. At age nineteen, Anne possesses the three theological virtues in their nascent forms, but she misdirects her faith and hope when she ends her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth. Persuasion follows Anne’s journey to rebuild her faith and hope through charity, culminating in a marriage that exemplifies the theological virtues.
Eight years before the main conflict of Persuasion begins, Anne meets Captain Frederick Wentworth and is soon engaged to him, despite his lack of fortune and connections (Austen 25-26). Frederick anticipates that he will soon grow rich, and Anne shares this expectation: “Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth… must have been enough for [her]” (26). Through Anne’s belief in her fiancé’s prediction, she has a “cheerful confidence in futurity” (29). Anne is young and in love, so this “cheerful confidence” resembles optimism more than the mature virtues of hope and faith. However, the reader has no reason to believe that her inclinations will not turn into true virtues after time tests them.
Not long into the engagement, Lady Russell persuades Anne to call it off. However, Lady Russell wins Anne’s faith only because Anne “imagine[s] herself consulting [Frederick’s] good, even more than her own” (27). Since Anne focuses on her fiancé’s well-being rather than hers, she shows that her love is not mere affection, but true charity, for she is willing to sacrifice her desires for the good of another. It may seem that Anne has lost the other two theological virtues in giving up on her engagement, but these virtues have merely been diverted. The crucial point is that Anne has a great deal of trust to give to others, but none for herself; she relinquishes her belief in Frederick and submits to Lady Russell’s verdict, hoping that time will ease the pain of breaking the engagement. She retains charity, but she places her faith and hope not in herself and her marriage, but in Lady Russell and remaining single for the time being.
This hope, however, is not fulfilled. When the novel’s plot begins eight years later, Frederick is a successful young officer: “All his sanguine expectations, all his confidence ha[ve] been justified” (29). Time has proven Lady Russell’s fears unfounded, and Anne has spent eight lonely years with no reason to believe that Frederick still loves her. Yet throughout the whole ordeal, Anne’s charity has remained constant. She loves Frederick both at the beginning of their engagement and after its end (19, 25). She has even maintained a love for Lady Russell, despite disagreeing with her (28). It is this charity that sets up the action of Persuasion, allowing Anne to grow as a person, learning to put faith and hope in their proper places.
The bulk of the novel follows the ways in which unshakable charity becomes the foundation for restoring faith to Anne. Every day at Uppercross, Anne shows charity to Mary and the other members of Mary’s circle. When Anne first arrives there, Mary scarcely thanks her for coming and complains of her own troubles (38). Anne nevertheless treats her sister kindly, with “[a] little farther perseverance in patience, and forced cheerfulness on Anne’s side” that “produce[s] nearly a cure on Mary’s” (38). Here, the reader witnesses that Anne’s love for others runs deeper than has yet been shown. Lady Russell and Frederick have at least in some sense merited her affection; Lady Russell is a mother figure and loves Anne best of all the Elliots, while Frederick is a dashing, spirited young man who loved her when few others did. In contrast, Mary has nothing to recommend her to Anne, save their shared blood. Anne’s love for Mary is selfless, for Mary does not deserve it.
Soon, Mary, Charles, Mrs. Musgrove, and the Miss Musgroves, finding a sympathetic listener in Anne, ask her to mediate between themselves (45-46). In fact, she is “treated with too much confidence by all parties, …too much in the secret of the complaints of each house” (43). The word “confidence” here refers to confiding, but it may also mean “confidence” as in a form of faith. The two meanings are closely linked, for the Musgroves’ faith in Anne is the reason they confide in her. Anne further wins their trust with her cool head in times of crisis as she capably handles the injury of her nephew (52). By the time of Louisa’s accident, her patience and gentleness have earned her not only the trust of the Musgroves, but also of Frederick. Both Charles Musgrove and Frederick “look to her [Anne] for directions” in the first moments after Louisa falls (108). As the group scrambles to settle the situation, Frederick recommends that Anne stay to nurse Louisa: “[There is] no one so proper, so capable as Anne!” (111). Later, Frederick consults her on how to break the news to the Musgroves (114). The trust that Anne has earned through charity culminates here, when Frederick expresses faith in her decisions three times. She takes this faith as “a proof of friendship, and of deference for her judgment” (114). This moment is a turning point in the way Anne views herself and her powers of discernment. Since Frederick now believes in Anne, Anne can trust her own inclinations. She can value her wisdom and capability as do all those around her, even the man she loves.
Now that Anne has proper faith in herself, she is transplanted to Bath, where her father and sister undervalue her. The first test of her growing faith arrives in the form of her cousin, Mr. Elliot. All of Bath loves Mr. Elliot, especially Anne’s circle, for “[v]arious as the tempers were in her father’s house, he pleased them all” (155). Lady Russell is especially taken with him, and nothing could delight her more than his marriage to Anne (155). Mr. Elliot is a perfect gentleman, wants to marry Anne, and has Lady Russell’s support, but Anne cannot shake an uneasy feeling about him: “Though they had now been acquainted a month, she could not be satisfied that she really knew his character” (154). Even though Anne is under pressure to accept Mr. Elliot, she stands firm in her conviction about his character (188). Nineteen-year-old Anne Elliot may have been persuaded into making this seemingly agreeable match, but twenty-eight-year-old Anne trusts her instinct against him.
This faith in herself is confirmed through charity, when Mrs. Smith reveals Mr. Elliot’s true character (190-202). Throughout her stay in Bath, Anne has visited her friend Mrs. Smith, although Mrs. Smith is poor, sickly, and without connections. Sir Walter is baffled as to why Anne should choose to maintain this friendship, when Anne can gain nothing from it: “Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people… [is] inviting to you” (151). Nevertheless, Anne persists in this relationship. Although she seeks nothing in return from her friend, Anne’s selfless love does end up rewarding her when Mrs. Smith confirms her doubts about Mr. Elliot. Once again, Anne’s charity leads to an affirmation of her discernment, allowing Anne to place more faith in herself.
Now that Anne’s charity has given her faith in her own judgment, she is able to hope that acting on faith may lead to beneficial results. She no longer tries to ignore her feelings for Frederick; in fact, she talks herself into acting on them. When she first sees him in Bath outside a shop window, she decides to place herself near the door, scolding herself for wanting to hang back: “One half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was” (168). Anne has already realized that she is the prudent, sensible young woman that others believe her to be and that she ought to do herself justice by trusting her own judgment. Here, she finally acts on her faith, showing that hope has begun to return to her life. This faith is not rash or conceited, however. Soon afterward, the reader sees Anne reflecting on her limitations. Although Anne “hope[s] she [will] be wise and reasonable in time; …alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she [is] not wise yet” (171). Anne does not think that she has suddenly become omniscient; she recognizes that she has room to grow. This accurate assessment of her own ability proves that her faith is a mature virtue, not a blind, over-confident whim.
Anne’s growing hope again manifests itself at the concert, where she seeks conversation with Frederick. When they first meet, he is “preparing only to bow and pass on, but her gentle ‘How do you do?’ [brings] him out of the straight line to stand near her, and make enquiries in return” (174). Anne has a gentle, unassertive character, but she takes a leap of faith to make this “little advance… in spite of the formidable father and sister in the back ground” (174). By refusing to let Frederick ignore her, Anne shows both faith in herself and hope for a renewal of their relationship. She analyzes their conversation, concluding with a thrill that “[h]e must love her” (178). When an agitated Frederick leaves the concert early, Anne determines “the only intelligible motive” to be “[j]ealousy of Mr. Elliot” (183). At last, faith has brought hope back to Anne, and she is able to believe that she may have another chance with Frederick.
When Frederick and Anne do renew their promises to one another, the hope that has been budding between them finally blooms. Anne learns from Frederick that she is not the only one who has had the theological virtues restored to her; Frederick, too, has begun to hope, corrected his faith, and reawakened his charity. In his letter, Frederick writes that he is “half agony, half hope” (229). This description shows that Frederick’s hope is a legitimate virtue, not merely naïve optimism, because suffering has not driven him to give it up. He explains to Anne his misplaced faith in an unpersuadable character, rectified after Louisa’s accident, when “he had learned 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” (233). With his faith renewed, Frederick realizes his constant love for Anne, and he takes action as soon as he discovers he is not honor-bound to marry Louisa (234). Charity for one another has moved Frederick and Anne to act on faith. Now at last, they can have the marriage for which they hardly dared to hope.
Anne has gained all three theological virtues over the course of the novel, preparing her for a marriage that demonstrates faith, hope, and charity. In fact, Anne’s faith in her own judgment is so strong that she still maintains that she was correct in following Lady Russell’s counsel against their marriage all those years earlier (237). Frederick disagrees, but their mutual love prevents this difference from coming between them; Frederick even admits that he “trust[s] to being in charity with [Lady Russell] soon” (237). Although Anne and Frederick have not put their faith in exactly the same place, their charity and respect for one another allows them to have a loving relationship. This love overflows to others as well; Anne’s marriage, “instead of depriving [Mrs. Smith] of one friend, [has] secured her two” (242). Anne and Frederick do not allow their love to cut them off from the rest of the world. Instead, it spills over and helps them show kindness to others.
But their marriage does not erase their problems, for Frederick is still in the navy, and for Anne, “the dread of future war [is] all that can dim her future sunshine” (243). This chastening memento mori adds a complex note to the couple’s “sunshine” of hope. It again differentiates the theological virtue of hope from optimism, for this hope may not always be easy.
Nineteen-year-old Anne Elliot possesses embryonic forms of the theological virtues, but her faith and hope are diverted when she is persuaded to end her engagement. Afterward, she carries a foundation of charity into the main conflict of the novel, causing the Musgroves—and later Frederick—to trust her; when Frederick places faith in her judgment, she does so as well. This faith allows Anne to persist in her mistrust of Mr. Elliot, which is confirmed thanks to her charity toward Mrs. Smith. Ultimately, faith gives Anne hope to renew her relationship with Frederick, and the novel closes with a marriage that typifies the theological virtues.
Thus Austen seems to offer answers to the questions posed by the narrative: good marriages are comprised of those whose virtues blossom when they are tested. But just as life presents no easy solutions, so Austen does not end her novel with the “cheerful confidence in futurity” of Anne and Frederick’s earlier engagement (29). No doubt, the theological virtues will be tried throughout the Wentworths’ married life, but now that they are braided together in the characters of Anne and Frederick, their marriage looks ahead with a tenuous hope, strengthened by resilient faith and deep charity.
Virtue, Character, and the Fate of the Three Elliot Sisters
By Beätrice C. Crist
In Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, the qualities of faith, hope, and charity are explored through the three Elliot sisters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anne. Either the presence or absence of these attributes adds depth and even a certain sadness to the sisters who might otherwise be mere caricatures. Charity, faith, and hope serve as devices for both connecting and contrasting the sisters.
Elizabeth Elliot’s relationship with charity, faith, and hope determines the person she is, the decisions she makes, and her ultimate fate in the novel. Elizabeth possesses some semblance of material charity, that is, the tenuous effort to bestow her pecuniary patronage. These attempts at material charity are hinted at in the beginning, yet only in reference to shirking them. When Elizabeth learns of her father’s financial encumbrance, she proposes “to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedient she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present to Anne” (Austen 8). Had Elizabeth’s charity been begot of genuine desire to assist the needy, the continuance of these efforts would be important to her. However, the perfunctory fashion in which she abandons her charitable endeavors suggests that Elizabeth is principally concerned with maintaining an appearance of charity appropriate to her social status. The juxtaposition of the suggestion to suspend the Elliot’s fiscal support of the poor next to the decision to abstain from redecorating illustrates the importance with which Elizabeth endows her charity. Indeed, the diction of “refrain” compared to the callous phrase “cut off” implies that it is more difficult for Elizabeth to forbear from refurbishing one room than to discontinue her support of those in need. Not only is Elizabeth content to relinquish her charity to the needier public, she would also withhold it from her own sister. Austen mocks Elizabeth’s disregard for others by casting Elizabeth’s idea as “a happy thought.” Although it may gladden Elizabeth to have no onus to consider the emotional satisfaction of her sister, the thought is a sadly revealing one. It demonstrates the shallowness of Elizabeth’s character.
Even if Elizabeth Elliot held her material charity in weightier consideration, she would still lack true charity, that of viewing fellow human beings with lenience. Elizabeth is described as “very like [her father]” (5). Sir Walter’s judgmental attitude is his defining characteristic, and the novel is permeated with his negative appraisals of those of inferior physical appearance or social status. A comparison in character to Sir Walter is indicative of similar tendencies. In response to the implication that Sir Walter may fall in love with Mrs. Clay, a companion of Elizabeth’s, Elizabeth avers that “an agreeable manner may set off handsome features, but can never alter plain ones” (26). Elizabeth believes that, due to Mrs. Clay’s homely features, there is no possibility of Sir Walter being ensnared. Elizabeth’s statement indicates the superficial values on which her assessments of others rest. The most notable exception to Elizabeth’s uncharitable judgements is Mrs. Clay herself. However, she defends Mrs. Clay merely because her obsequiousness flatters Elizabeth’s vanity, as demonstrated when Mrs. Clay departs, and Austen remarks that Elizabeth “must feel that to flatter and follow others, without being flattered and followed in turn, is but a state of half enjoyment” (176).
In part due to her deficiency in charity, Elizabeth lacks faith in other people. If faith is defined as a willingness to acknowledge the potentially superior judgements of others, something linked to persuasion (one cannot be persuaded unless one puts faith, by this definition, in the persuader), then Elizabeth possesses faith in no one but herself. While some faith in the integrity of one’s own opinions and decisions is an admirable quality, unjustified faith in oneself accompanied by a refusal to put faith even in those with whom one is intimate is not only unwise, it is alienating. Elizabeth’s deficit in faith is exhibited when she learns of her family’s monetary difficulty. When Lady Russell and Anne devise a plan to save the Elliots’ home if not their lifestyle, Elizabeth and her father are quick to dismiss it, holding greater faith in themselves than in the “rational and consistent” (9) Lady Russell and Anne with her “elegance of mind” (5). Later, Lady Russell and Anne both attempt to persuade Elizabeth from her imprudent friendship with Mrs. Clay. However, it is remarked that: “Lady Russell [ . . . ] had never succeeded in any point which she wanted to carry, against previous inclination” (13) and “had endeavored to give Elizabeth the advantage of her own better judgement and experience— but always in vain; Elizabeth would go her own way” (13.) These quotes exemplify Elizabeth’s unwillingness to put faith in Lady Russell when her advice conflicts with Elizabeth’s propensities. When Anne attempts to persuade her sister to eschew Mrs. Clay, Elizabeth retorts: “As I have a great deal more at stake on this point than any body else can have, I think it rather unnecessary in you to be advising me” (26). Elizabeth dismisses Anne’s qualms completely, seeming irritated that Anne should presume to advise her. Elizabeth’s vehement faith in her own judgement turns out to be unjustified; Mrs. Clay is discovered to have the exact motives which Lady Russell and Anne had attributed to her. The refusal to be swayed by or even discuss with others not only limits one’s capacity to make wise decisions, but also circumscribes one’s exposure to meaningful human connection.
Elizabeth possesses immoderate hope to marry into an opulent situation. Austen remarks of Elizabeth: “[She] did not quite equal her father in personal contentment. [ . . . She] would have rejoiced to be certain of being properly solicited by baronet-blood within the next twelve-month or two” (6). Being deeply dissatisfied with her current position (6), Elizabeth’s matrimonial hopes sustain her. Elizabeth, like Anne, has experienced romantic disappointment in the form of Mr. Elliot, whom she pursued and may even have loved. Also like Anne, Elizabeth’s former love returns unexpectedly into her life. However, Elizabeth’s romantic arc differs from Anne’s at this point: while Anne’s hopes come into happy fruition, Elizabeth is stranded in the same romantic position as in the beginning. Austen remarks at the end that “change is not very probable [in Elizabeth’s situation]. She had soon the mortification of seeing Mr. Elliot withdraw; and no one of proper condition has since presented himself to raise even the unfounded hopes which sunk with him” (179). Elizabeth not only has her “unfounded hopes [ . . . ] sunk,” a phrase which demonstrates the stagnancy of her situation, she is humiliated in the process. The reader must wonder why Elizabeth’s romantic arc, initially so similar to Anne’s, should deviate so greatly in the end. Elizabeth’s unfulfilled hopes are a reflection of her moral failings. Her lack of charity makes her so exacting that the possibilities for acceptable suitors are severely restricted. Elizabeth’s lack of faith, which prevents her from forming intimate relationships with others, alienates well-intentioned people.
Charity, faith, and hope play integral roles in Mary Elliot’s arc. Mary utterly lacks charity. She is not even charitable towards her own children. When her son is badly injured, Mary is more motivated by a social gathering than by her child’s well-being. In response to Anne’s question whether she would feel right leaving her ill son, Mary proclaims: “Yes; you see his papa can, and why should not I?” (41). Mary is more concerned with the unjustness of her husband being able to attend the party while she is not than by her son’s comfort. Nor does Mary display any charity in her assessment of others. Mary is disgruntled by the romantic relationship between her sister-in-law, Henrietta, and Charles Hayter, a curate. Austen remarks that “[Mary] looked down very decidedly upon the Hayters, and thought it would be quite a misfortune to have the existing connection between the families renewed— very sad for herself and her children” (54-55). Mary goes on to assert: “I do not think any young woman has a right to make a choice that may be disagreeable and inconvenient to the principal part of her family, and be giving bad connections to those who have not been used to them” (55). These statements demonstrate Mary’s core selfishness and her uncharitable judgements of others.
Mary, unlike Elizabeth, has excessive faith in others. Her aversion to emotional or intellectual effort prompts her to rely almost entirely on others, both physically and for emotional gratification. Mary suffers from fabricated illnesses which come upon her in relation to her petty and mercurial moods. When Anne is called to Uppercross, it is on the grounds that “[Mary] cannot possibly do without Anne” (25). This statement illustrates Mary’s lack of self-sufficiency. Austen says of Mary that she “[has] no resources for solitude” (27). Unlike Elizabeth, who, although no doubt enjoying the company of those who appreciate her, is staunchly independent in her actions, Mary requires others’ attention at all times to be content.
Mary, like Elizabeth, is a relatively stagnant character, and, as with Elizabeth, it is on account of her hopes. While Elizabeth’s hopes keep her stagnant because of the unlikelihood of their fulfillment, Mary’s hopes keep her static because of their shallow triviality. Mary, lacking Elizabeth’s discontent and ambition and Anne’s depth of intellect and emotion, has nothing to hope for but small, impersonal, and quickly resolved things. The substance of Mary’s hopes is demonstrated in her desire for Henrietta to marry Captain Wentworth instead of Charles Hayter (54-55), a wish which illustrates not only the trifling nature of Mary’s hopes but also their impersonality. Who her sister-in-law marries affects Mary only indirectly, yet it is an issue which greatly concerns her. At the end of Persuasion, Austen asserts: “Mary was probably the one most immediately gratified by the circumstance [of Anne’s marriage]. It was creditable to have a sister married, 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 [of her sister-in-laws’ husbands]” (176). This quote illustrates how easily satisfied Mary’s hopes are. Despite both Elizabeth and Mary remaining stagnant, Mary can be temporarily and superficially happy, because of the petty nature of her hopes, while Elizabeth cannot.
Charity, faith, and hope are central to Anne Elliot’s character. Anne is both materially charitable and charitable in her assessment of others. Anne “[visits] charities in the village” (94), demonstrating that she is involved in the well-being of her community. Unlike Elizabeth, her acts of charity do not fluctuate with her family’s financial position, nor does she perform them to maintain appearances. A distinguishing element of Anne’s character is her charity in judgement. When her father berates the navy, Anne defends it: “The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give. Sailors work hard enough for their comforts, we must all allow” (15). In this assertion, Anne recognizes the humanity of the sailors and gently refutes her father’s shallow concerns. Later, Anne states her belief that “there is hardly any personal defect [ . . . ] which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to” (26). Unlike Elizabeth, who cannot truly be charitable because she grounds her judgements on superficial standards, Anne recognizes that people cannot be accurately assessed by appearance or social status. When in Bath, Anne reunites with her dear and destitute former schoolfellow, Mrs. Smith. Despite the protestations of her father, Anne visits her often. This instance demonstrates Anne’s willingness to spend her time for the benefit of others, her ability to forgive people’s failings, and her disregard for the superficial concerns of her family. However, Anne’s charity is not blind. Anne appears to treat some characters less than charitably, notable examples being Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot. It is important to note the basis on which Anne judges these characters. While Elizabeth grounds her judgements upon purely superficial concerns, Anne analyzes people’s intentions. She considers others charitably until she has cause to think otherwise.
The degree of Anne’s faith in others resides between the extremes of Elizabeth’s lack and Mary’s over-dependence. Before the events of the novel, Anne puts great faith in Lady Russell by allowing herself to be persuaded out of marriage: “Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Anne could combat” (21). Although the diction of this statement makes Lady Russell’s persuasion of Anne seem like a conquest, it is more an act of Anne trusting and putting faith in Lady Russell’s superior experience. However, Anne, unlike Mary, is not dependent on the verification of others to dictate her decisions and beliefs. Later, Anne opposes Lady Russell on the same issue and prevails. When she is reunited with Mrs. Smith, Anne’s father unsuccessfully attempts to persuade her to abandon the relationship. Anne is resolute, defending both her personal inclination and her sense of moral obligation. These instances illustrate both Anne’s willingness to put faith in others and her ability to stand her ground.
Anne’s hope is in between Elizabeth’s unrealistic ambitions and Mary’s trivial and temporary desires. Unlike the two extremes of her sisters, Anne possesses a quiet, private, resilient hope, not aimed at specific occurrences, but rather perseverance and social utility. Anne’s hope manifests in her adaptability, her lack of bitterness, and her willingness to do her best. Austen remarks of Anne that her ruptured engagement to Wentworth and her “regrets had clouded every enjoyment of youth; and an early loss of bloom and spirits had been their lasting effect” (21). This statement seems to bely Anne’s hopefulness. Such descriptions of Anne may give the reader a misconceived notion of her as a despairing, even self-pitying, woman, yet this misbegotten impression is far from the truth. Despite the fact that she has suffered awful disappointment and doubt and that she has little expectation of obtaining the future which she initially envisioned, Anne maintains hope in her own ability to adapt to her situation. This is demonstrated consistently throughout Persuasion, often merely through the quiet strength of Anne’s deportment. Anne’s hopeful adaptability is most apparent, however, when she is forced to relocate. When Anne must leave her beloved Kellynch to visit Mary at Uppercross, Austen states that Anne “hoped, ere long, to become a not unworthy member of the [social commonwealth] she was now transplanted into.— With the prospect of spending at least two months at Uppercross, it was highly incumbent on her to clothe her imagination, her memory, and all her ideas in as much of Uppercross as possible” (31). Despite the fact that Anne is leaving her home, she hopes and intends to be content in Uppercross. This hopeful stoicism is again demonstrated in her reencounter with Wentworth. Anne endures the emotional turmoil and at his departure assures herself that “the worst is over!” (43). Even when Anne has achieved her happy ending, she does not hope unduly. She is content without marrying into huge estate or social status, content even with the risks of her husband’s occupation. It is Anne’s moderate and unselfish hope which secures for her a happier ending than either Elizabeth or Mary achieve.
Charity, faith, and hope all play integral roles in the lives of the three Elliot sisters. Elizabeth’s superficial charity, refusal to put faith in others, and excessive hope for the perfect marriage prevent any alteration in her situation. Mary with her lack of charity, eagerness to put faith in everyone but herself, and trivial hopes is temporarily happy, but the reader wonders whether the next day she will not be “excessively ill” after a minor social irritation. Anne’s pervasive yet prudent charity, balance of faith, and moderate but meaningful hope guarantee her eventual happiness. The interplay of charity, faith, and hope in the sisters demonstrates the necessity of these qualities to a meaningful, happy life and significant relationships.
Living Amongst “Heartless Elegance” or “Bewitching Hospitality”: Charity Fostered or Forbidden by Environment in Persuasion
By Kathryn G. Kowalski
When confronted with the word “charity,” many lifelong denizens of the 21st century, such as myself, think automatically of celebrity benefit events, Humane Society commercials, and dropping a few dollars in the offering plate every Sunday. However, the true meaning of the word spans further than today’s connotation of commercialized empathy. Apart from its quotidian definition of “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need,” the Oxford English Dictionary also defines charity as “kindness and tolerance in judging others.” Oxford furthermore acknowledges the “archaic” form of the word: “love of humankind, typically in a Christian context.” Essentially, true charity is egalitarianism at its finest—selflessness, open-mindedness, undiscerning in empathy for others but discerning in one’s own behavior. Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth epitomize this type of charity in Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. Despite this shared characteristic, Anne and Wentworth are markedly dissimilar in the way their charitable natures manifest themselves. However, both miraculously flourish in charity under the other’s influence. The development of Anne and Wentworth’s characters over the course of novel demonstrates that the extent to which a trait develops is wholly dependent upon the quality of one’s environment.
Dual answers to the question “nature or nurture” are apparent in the characters of Anne and Wentworth. Both possess true charity at the core of their characters, but their peripheral qualities vary drastically. Anne is the very personification of charity. Contrary to Austen characters such as Emma Woodhouse—whom the author herself admitted “no one but myself will much like”—Anne Elliot is selfless, reasonable, and seemingly likable in every way; Austen even considered her “too good for me” (Austen-Leigh X) (Austen viii). Anne’s primary concern is the welfare of others, and she treats all—even the most grating, intolerable characters (many of whom she is related to)—with kindness and patience.
However, for over a decade—since her mother’s death—these characteristics have gone largely unappreciated. Poor Anne possesses “an elegance of mind and a sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding,” yet is regarded as “nobody [by] either father or sister; her word had no weight” (5). Cohabitating with a father rivaled only in paternal ridiculousness by Henry Woodhouse and a sister whose unabashed selfishness and vanity are rivaled only by said father, Anne becomes drained physically and mentally. She is rendered meek and passive by her cold, oppressive family environment: “her convenience was to give way; she was only Anne” (5). Symbolically, she becomes physically worn as well; her “bloom” of youth and beauty “had vanished early” and at twenty-seven she appears “faded and thin” (5).
Rather than being free to cheerfully dispense her charity among those who deserve it, Anne is confined to the offices of personal nurse and therapist to her vain, demanding family members. Descriptions of Anne are riddled with passive language; she is characterized by “a severe degree of self-denial,” and “desired nothing . . . but to be unobserved” (10, 52). Her “object was not to be in the way of anybody,” she is “valued only as she could be useful,” and tends to be “very silent” regarding her own feelings (60, 83, 95). Anne constantly sacrifices her own pleasure for that of others. She soothes her self-pitying sister Mary’s hypochondria (29); stays with her injured nephew so his markedly more self-interested parents can go to dinner (41); plays music not for her own enjoyment, but so others can dance (34); engages Captain Benwick, Lyme’s resident Debbie Downer, in conversation while the rest of her party ignores him (72); and generally “soften[s] every grievance” of her significantly less self-sacrificing family (34).
Anne’s charitable nature has been taken advantage of—and taken for granted—by the all-consuming vanity and selfishness of these entitled relations whose mere presence of “heartless elegance” has the power to drain all “comfort, freedom, and gaiety” from a room and reduce it to a state of “cold composure” (160). This is apparent even to Anne, whose only envy is that of a warm, loving circle of family and friends; she longs for “that good-humoured mutual affection” of Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove “of which [Anne] had known so little herself with either of her sisters” (30). She marvels at the “bewitching charm [of the] degree of hospitality” the Harvilles possess, which Anne observes is “so unlike the usual style of . . . formality and display” she is accustomed to in the Elliot family’s social circle (71). The only unselfish love she has known since her mother’s death is that of Lady Russell, a “benevolent, charitable, good woman” who has stood “in place of a parent” for her (9, 174). Consequentially, it is unsurprising that as Anne’s only solace from her frigid family, Lady Russell was successful in persuading Anne against following the inclinations of her heart and marrying Frederick Wentworth upon his first proposal. Anne regrets this initial refusal of Frederick Wentworth, not because of his change in fortune, but because of the generosity and good-naturedness of his friends—“these could have been my friends,” she recalls in agony (71). In short, Anne is starved for love. Her heart is gold, but her environment has tarnished it, obscuring its bright and gleaming quality.
Comparatively, Frederick Wentworth’s particular brand of charity is gallant and self-assured. Like Anne, he shows compassion rather than scorn for even the most ridiculous of emotions. Even knowing the “stupid . . . unmanageable . . . thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable” nature of Mrs. Musgrove’s son Dick (37), Wentworth still displays “sympathy and natural grace” towards Dick’s grieving mother “as showed the kindest consideration for all that was real and unabsurd in the parent’s feelings” (49). Wentworth also shares Anne’s caretaking tendencies; when Captain Benwick’s fiance dies, Wentworth departs his own ship to comfort his friend and “never left the poor fellow for a week” (78). However, Wentworth is also characterized by a degree of assertiveness that Anne is loath to show. He is firm and outspoken about his opinions, such as his conviction that women do not belong on board ships (making an exception, of course, for navy wives, whom he is willing to “bring . . . from the world’s end” (50)). When he finally comes to terms with his feelings towards Anne, he unequivocally stands by them; “nothing was to be retracted or qualified” (171). Even yet, his self-assuredness does not reduce his charity; as Anne realizes, “he could not forgive her, but he could not be unfeeling” (65). And although Wentworth carries himself with the utmost confidence, he also conducts himself with the utmost humility. As befits a charitable gentleman, he never hesitates to take responsibility and admit his own faults. He considers Louisa’s accident “my doing—solely mine” and “could not leave [her] till Louisa’s doing well was quite ascertained” (129). Despite his stubborn grudge against Lady Russell for the greater part of the novel, Wentworth promises to “be . . . in charity with [her]” for Anne’s sake, and eventually admits that “there [was] … one more person more my enemy even than that lady . . . My own self” (174). Most importantly, he also acknowledges his wrongs against Anne; he admits that he has been “weak and resentful” (170) and “unjust to her merits” (171). Rather than continuing to place the blame for his misery on Anne, as he has for the past eight years, Wentworth realizes that he has been “too proud, too proud” and “did not understand” that Anne’s self-sacrifice was a virtue rather than a vice (175). Not only does he admit his offenses, his remorse for causing Anne pain is severe; “this is a recollection which ought to make me forgive everyone sooner than myself” (175).
The contrast between Anne and Wentworth’s respective species of charity can be attributed to the disparities in their social environments. Wentworth’s ability to express and defend his charity in an assertive manner is developed and encouraged by his friends and family in a way that Anne’s never was. In contrast to Anne’s selfish and demanding father and sisters, Wentworth’s relations are warm, welcoming, and generous. His sister and her husband, the Crofts, are kindness itself; in their manner of conduct they always “gave . . . the pleasure of fancying [one]self a favorite” (88). Furthermore, they are the picture of marital equality—a picture which no doubt inspired Wentworth’s concept of an ideal marriage. They are “almost always together”—in everything from chatting with naval officers, whom Mrs. Croft matches in “intelligen[ce] and keen[ness],” to discussing the terms of renting Kellynch Hall, to sailing on Navy ships together (119, 18, 50). They symbolically share the reins in their marriage, illustrated by their practice of literally sharing the reins while driving their carriage—which Anne considers an accurate “representation of the general guidance of their affairs” (66).
This concept of a marriage in which both partners display an equality of temper and of mind almost certainly influenced Wentworth’s scorn towards Anne’s timidity and ostensible weakness. The Crofts’ sheer contrast with Anne’s family is revealed in the telling scene in which Admiral Croft complains of the sheer number of mirrors in Sir Elliot’s dressing room—“there was no getting away from oneself” (90). In this tiny disparity of preference in decoration, the vast gap between Sir Walter’s obscene vanity and Admiral Croft’s humble practicality could not be more apparent. This scene also provides a further depiction of the Crofts’ egalitarian marriage, united in common abilities and principles. The admiral jovially describes how he and Mrs. Croft worked together to have the mirrors removed: “I got Sophy to lend me a hand” (90).
Wentworth’s friends reinforce this charitable environment. His Navy comrades, such as the Harvilles, possess a charity disproportionate to their means; they urge Anne and the Musgroves to make themselves comfortable in “rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many” (71). When Louisa is injured, the Harvilles assume care of her and “silence all scruples” of the Musgroves in taking advantage of their hospitality (81). Living alongside such supportive and charitable couples, it is no wonder that Wentworth’s charitable qualities should be so much more pronounced than Anne’s.
Both Anne and Wentworth are fundamentally charitable souls, but the expression of this trait greatly depends on their company and environment. As such, their natural inclinations towards charity are bolstered and enhanced by the presence and support of each other. As the novel progresses—as they become acquainted and enamored once more—their flaws and shortcomings lessen, and their charity is amplified. Anne’s meekness, timidity, and misery fall away. Physically and mentally, her “bloom and freshness of youth” are “restored” (75). She is firmer in her opinions and judgments—of others (“Mr. Elliot . . . has never had any better principle to guide him than selfishness”) and of herself (“I must believe I was right, much as I suffered from it . . . I have now . . . nothing to reproach myself with”) (147, 174). Observing the contrast between her jealous family and the touching generosity of Wentworth’s, she finally recognizes the extent of her relations’ uncharity—“she felt her own inferiority keenly . . . to have no family to receive and estimate [Wentworth] properly; nothing of respectability, of harmony, of good will to offer in return for all the worth and all the prompt welcome which met her in his brothers and sisters” (177). Anne’s incredible kindness—her charity—becomes robust and ubiquitous, no longer confined to the whims of her selfish family; in becoming awakened to Wentworth’s feelings, she “received ideas which disposed her to be courteous and kind to all, and to pity everyone, as being less happy than herself” and expresses “cheerful or forbearing feelings for every creature around her” (130, 174). Basking in Wentworth’s bolder brand of charity, Anne joyfully realizes that she feels “all over courage,” something she has rarely felt in her father’s suffocating household (127).
Wentworth’s assertive nature had previously inclined towards stubbornness and pride in the years after his rejection, but upon his reunion with Anne this steadily transforms into a happy confidence tempered by humility. His obstinate aloofness, which had before caused Anne such misery (“his cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything”), now dwindles as his bitterness vanishes, replaced by an “exquisite . . . happ[iness]” forged by their mutual love (52, 170). As Anne becomes more assertive in her charity, Wentworth becomes more mellow. Together they strike a perfect balance, achieving an ideal, harmonious form of charity. Their united charity retains Anne’s self-sacrificing and humble nature as well as Wentworth’s inclination to remain grounded in principle and confident in his convictions.
Wentworth is brought to this end not only by his gradual appreciation of Anne’s merits, but by his simultaneous scrutiny of traits he previously believed he prized. This latter realization is developed through observing the character of Louisa Musgrove, which provides a perfect foil to Anne Elliot’s. Wentworth’s admiration of the “decision and firmness” he observes in Louisa is shattered by her tragic heedlessness in leaping off a high step, resulting in a head injury which confines her to bed for several weeks (63, 79). This sobering event prompts Wentworth to distinguish between “the steadiness of principle,” which Anne undoubtedly possesses, and “the obstinacy of self-will,” which is all too discernible in Louisa (171). He realizes that true virtue lies not in unabashed inflexibility of character, but in “the resolution of a collected mind” such as Anne’s (171). Without some degree of charity to temper her feistiness, Louisa’s character lacks the depth manifested in Anne. Anne is not headstrong, but she is not weak; she “maintain[s] the loveliest medium of fortitude and gentleness,” whereas Louisa only possesses the former trait. Wentworth’s hostility towards Anne melts away as he discovers that Anne was not malicious or even “yielding and indecisive” in refusing him, as he had believed, but steadfast “in [her] conscience,” which owed a loving duty to Lady Russell (63, 174).
Upon Anne and Wentworth’s reunion, they not only become reconciled to one another’s distinct personalities, but fully understand and even adopt some of these traits. By the time they again confess their love for one another, they have become “more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.” (170). Even before Wentworth’s pivotal letter, their understanding of each other is intimate and unjudging; Anne picks up on Wentworth’s minute facial expressions “too transient . . . to be detected by any who understood him less than herself,” and Wentworth “can distinguish the tones of [her] voice, when they would be lost on others” (49,170). Anne’s acquiescence to their reunion is signaled by only “a look . . . to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening, or never” (168). Their conjugal happiness and charity forges a relationship as egalitarian and codependent as the Crofts’; Wentworth displays a “deference for [Anne’s] judgment”, and Anne is “tenderness itself” towards him (84, 178). In the loving comfort of each other’s company, Anne and Wentworth finally realize the true depths of their charity. This well-matched couple perfectly illustrates the principle that full potential is realized in a full heart.