Persuasion: Anne Elliot and Mrs Price

Hmm. Lady Russell has a really good point when she persuades the young Anne Elliot to drop Captain Wentworth. Listen to this:

Anne Elliot, with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw
herself away at nineteen; involve herself at nineteen in an engagement
with a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no
hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chances of a most uncertain
profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in the
profession, would be, indeed, a throwing away, which she grieved to
think of!  Anne Elliot, so young; known to so few, to be snatched off
by a stranger without alliance or fortune; or rather sunk by him into a
state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependence! ...
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. (from the Gutenberg page of Persuasion)

Haven’t we heard this before, and quite recently? A dashing young naval officer with no money, a beautiful young woman – they fall in love, and…

Miss Frances
married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on
a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, did
it very thoroughly. (from the Gutenberg page of Mansfield Park)

A sailor husband, “a stranger without alliance or fortune…”, “a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependence…” – that’s exactly what Mrs Price, Fanny’s mother, ends up with. There’s nothing to say that Anne wouldn’t have landed in a very similar predicament, had she married Captain Wentworth at nineteen. The thing is, he might not have been lucky; Anne might have been stuck in tightly cramped quarters in some port city (like Mrs Harville), taking care of a passel of kids while her husband was waiting around for his chance, or was invalided out of the navy, living on a pension. Or, he could be killed in action fairly early on in their marriage, and she’d be equally hooped (doubly so if there were some kids by then). And Lady Russell is right – Anne would quite possibly physically break down, or at least wear out, under the strain, not unlike Mrs Price. Sure, she’d have a nicer husband than Mrs Price, but she quite possibly would condemn herself to a really hard life of poverty with said nice guy. And how long his temper would stay nice under the strain of poverty and disappointment is anyone’s guess.

It’s easy to blame Lady Russell for officious interference, killing Anne’s happiness, but the fact is, she’s right – just look at Mrs Price, she’s the living example of what happens to girls who imprudently marry poor sailors just because they fell in love.


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