There are several heroes and heroines for us to choose from in the works of Jane Austen. If you are feeling a little forgetful let me refresh your memory.
Elizabeth & Darcy Pride & Prejudice
Emma & Knightley Emma
Bertrum & Fanny Mansfield Park
Edward & Elinor Sense & Sensibility
Tilney & Catherine Northanger Abbey
Having reminded you of five of their names and stories, I have to say that I feel one couple in particular always gets overlooked, Captain Frederick Wentworth and Anne Elliot from Persuasion.
Captain Wentworth & Anne Persuasion
I also think their story is the saddest of all Jane’s works.
Anne and Frederick love each other and are happily betrothed, until a mature and trusted family friend convinces Anne she can do better. Reluctantly Anne breaks it off. The hope is that she will attract a richer, and therefore, more suitable husband, than a lowly ship’s captain. Being the plainest of the three sister’s this seems unlikely. (I also this she is the plainest of all Jane Austen’s Heroines) Unfortunately for Anne, Frederick makes his fortune and becomes a wealthy and esteemed member of society, while in contrast her family’s fortunes take a distinct turn for the worse.
During the intervening years, neither form any kind of attachment, and so, both are single when they meet again some eight years later. Though Anne is on the verge of being considered an old maid, Frederick is just the right age for a wealthy man to marry. However, having bumped into each other again they suddenly both go on to become attractive to the opposite sex. Anne receives a proposal from her self-serving cousin Mr. William Elliot, who is only proposing to her to secure his inheritance on her father’s death.
Meanwhile, everyone expects the handsome Captain Wentworth, to propose to one of the Musgrove sisters, Henrietta and Louisa.
It appears all is settled and their love for each other will now be nothing more than a distant memory. Then everything changes when Anne receives three pieces of information, one vital one while visiting an old friend who has come to stay in Bath.
- Henrietta and Louisa have both become engaged, though neither to Captain Wentworth.
- Mrs Smith, Anne’s friend, informs her William Elliot is not of good character, does not love her and only proposes to serve his own ends.
- A letter.
The final clincher that brings us the happy ending we all love, and expect from Jane, is the letter. Captain Wentworth, jealous of what he thinks is a developing relationship between Anne and Mr Elliot, writes her a letter full of emotion. He writes;
“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. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
F. W. I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”
The passion and love he feels, that he pours into this letter, is palpable. Frederick knows this is his final chance of happiness with the woman he has always loved. And as in Pride & Prejudice, it is the written word that saves the day. Anne runs into his arms and they renew their engagement. She is secure in her love for Captain Wentworth and his for her. They are in love, wealthy and hold an accepted position in society. Perfect.
Happily reunited in love.
Yet I can’t help but ask a few questions.
So what is it that Anne could, or should have done, to ensure her happiness eight years prior to our story? Marry Him! I hear you all cry. But within the confines of 18th century English society, where women were treated as delicate, second class citizens, who were not expected to think for themselves never mind pick a mate, she did what she had to.
Thank goodness Jane finally brings them together.
Though it’s so sad at the beginning, it makes me wonder, as this was Jane’s last novel before her death, was she feeling regret at not having married herself? Did she write the ending she would have liked in her own life?
What do you think?