Jane Austen’s Perfect Heroine: The Use Of Reserve In Persuasion

Jane Austen: Jane Austen’s Perfect Heroine: Persuasion Anne Elliot. Jane Austen, persuasion Anne Elliot was often called Jane Austen’s most mature heroine and the perfect one. Captain Wentworth says Anne Elliot’s character is “perfection” (226). Jane Austen uses reserve in Persuasion (1818 novel) to make Anne stand out from the rest of society and to exude perfection. Anne’s reserved nature makes her the antipode to a society of declining values. Austen ridicules the aristocracy’s inclination to be willful and a decrease in decorum. Sir Walter Elliot embodies the decline of Regency England’s aristocracy. Anne escapes this decline by marrying someone belonging to the rising professional ranks. Paul Cantor stated that the “aristocracy” no longer bases its claim on intrinsic merit or superiority of virtue. He also said that the aristocracy cannot be trusted to rule if it is born. This means that the aristocracy can’t claim pre-eminence, which in practice means that the aristocracy has to be predicated on their birth. The traditional aristocratic standards continue to be maintained by the rising middle-class characters, who assume the landed and naval gentry roles in society. During the Napoleonic Wars, the aristocracy abandoned its military leadership role and allowed the middle class to take over the responsibility. The power shift results in political power and wealth being transferred to the middle class, leaving the aristocracy behind. Anne Elliot recognizes all of this and wants to be associated more with the professional class than with the old elite aristocracy. “Anne had an elegance of mind that was sweet and a strong character. She was not like her sisters or father. Her words didn’t have any weight. Her convenience was to always give way.–Anne” (7). Anne is nowhere to her family, as we see in Austen’s first chapters. She is placed in the background because she feels at ease being there. We learn that Anne is not a family member and is often treated as if she were. Anne is marginalized in her family and even herself believe that it is better to be called a “good”, even if it is not done correctly, than to be dismissed as no good at any point. Anne and her family diminish Anne’s significance, while Austen further reinforces that claim by not allowing Anne to speak for herself until chapter 3. We only see Anne through the eyes of Lady Russell, her family and the narrator before that. Anne slowly, but steadily moves toward the center of stage. She quietly shares with us her observations and judgements about those around her. Gillian Beer stated in Persuasion that Anne is like her reader and author. She participates quietly in the scenes at Bath, making her psychic drama almost invisible to others. She is able to fit in and work anywhere. This is why she is so obscure” (xxi). Anne’s ability to be a critic of the family’s behavior inconspicuously gives her the chance to do so, and her personality continues to grow. Anne’s aristocratic parents are becoming less attractive as we learn more about their character. E.B. Moon correctly points out that “evaluation…becomes an assessment of the heroine…becomes test of character for other people,” which Moon and her family fail badly. Austen draws a contrast between Anne Elliots, and Louisa Elliots, to draw attention to Anne Elliot’s perfectionism and criticize the conceited and self-centered attitude of the Aristocracy. Austen once again demonstrates Anne’s superior character by comparing Anne’s calm and collected disposition with Louisa’s outgoing personality. Captain Wentworth describes his ideal woman when he talks to his sister. He has Anne Elliot’s persuasive voice in his head and declares that his ideal woman would possess a strong mind and sweet manner (58). He praises Louisa for being “decisive and firm” and says that Henrietta’s “conduct is happiness” should be valued and she should “infuse her with as much [her] spirit as [she] can” (81). Wentworth believes firmness equals happiness. He says that it is impossible to make a lasting impression if you are too indecisive or yielding. It can be influenced by anyone, but let those who are happy be firm. Louisa’s “firmness”, however, is not a willful act and ultimately it becomes her weakness. Anne wonders about Louisa’s accident on Cobb at Lyme. Captain Wentworth has previously questioned the validity of his prior opinions regarding the universal happiness of firmness and its advantage. It was hard for her to believe that a persuadable temperament [like hers] could sometimes be just as happy as a very determined character. This incident taught Captain Wentworth to “distinguish between the steadyness of principle, the obstinacy in self-will, and darings of disregardlessness and resolution of a collected head” (108) and only now can he see “the perfect excellence and comparison of Louisa’s mind” (227). Anne is not a feisty character because of her reserve, but she’s a shrewd young woman who understands and illustrates the importance of reticence. Wentworth recognizes Anne as a “too wonderful, too excellent creature” and decides to marry her (223). Anne’s impeccable sense for decorum keeps her from sharing any of her real feelings with Captain Wentworth. Austen’s work emphasizes the restriction of emotion and feeling. Some critics believe this may be because Austen was a spinster and therefore unable to experience emotional situations. The truth is that Austen lived in a society where women were expected to be respectful. Janis. P. Stout describes Jane Austen’s strategies for reticence. She also points out Austen’s use “reserve” as a “touchstone of positive appraisal.” However, she says that Austen continues to value “reserve as an indicator of good judgment.” (33-4). Anne’s disposition appears superior to all the others in the novel (except Wentworth). Anne silently contemplates her love of Captain Wentworth. She knows that she will never express those feelings to him. Wentworth then hears Anne talking confidently with Captain Harville. It is an unanticipated opportunity. Wentworth hears her carefully selected words and understands her emotions. Anne can also attribute her silence to the decorum that led to “circumstances” that made it difficult for Anne to speak out without revealing a lack of confidence or saying something that should not be said. Wentworth understands Anne’s words and breaks the silence (222). Anne’s days of silence are over when Captain Wentworth announces that he is able to distinguish the tones in Anne’s voice from those of others (222-3). He can not only discern the tones, but also the subtle undertones. Stout persuasively argues “[i]t wasn’t Austen who transformed the discrete feminine silence that was prescribed by a social decorum into both a thing and a persuasive rhetoric,” and Anne Elliot (ix) is the perfect example. Anne Elliot represents Austen’s supreme model for female excellence. Her reticence is what sets her apart from the vain narcissistic society. It gives Anne Elliot a solid character and shows her devotion to social values. Austen’s novel series all feature the theme of reserve. It is a way to show decorum and values, and not weakness. Austen’s universe is full of big talkers, and they are often either fools or villains. (Stout 27). Fanny Price is also given an unassuming character to provide contrast to the other characters. Elinor Dieshwood and Anne Elliot have not reached the same level of perfection, however. Fanny Knight, Austen wrote to Anne in a letter. She said that Anne was “almost to good for me” and that she considered Anne Elliot “a most exceptional young woman; in the way she behaved, her manners, and her mind, she was an example of female excellence.” (149). Works Cited Austen, Jane. “Letters from Fanny Knight 1814-1816.” Republic of Pemberley. “Letters from Jane Austen-Brabourne: Letters to her Niece Fanny Knight 1814-1816.” 14 April 2006

. -. Persuasion. Ed. Gillian Beer is an individual who is well-known. London: Penguin, 2003. Beer, Gillian. “Introduction”. Persuasion. By Jane Austen. London: Penguin, 2003. xi-xxxiv. Paul A. Cantor “A ClassAct: Persuasion and Lingering Death of Aristocracy.” Philosophy and Literature 23.1 (1999). 14 Apr. 2006

. Moon, E.B. “A Model of Female Excellence: Anne Elliot Persuasion and the Vindication of an Richardsonian Ideal of the Female Charakter.” AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian University Language and Literature Association: A Journal of Literary. 67 (1987).: 25-42. Janis Stout. Strategies for Reticence: Strategies, Meaning, and Strategies in the Works Jane Austen. The University of Virginia in Charlottesville was founded in 1990.


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    Jessica Wilson is a 33-year-old essay writer and blogger from the UK. She has been writing since she was a teenager and has always been interested in writing about personal experiences and thoughts. Jessica has written for a number of online magazines and websites and has also published a number of essays and short stories. Jessica currently works as a freelance writer.