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Mr Eliot - 'undoubtedly a gentleman'
An opaque character
William Elliot is introduced in an aura of mystery which persists until Mrs. Smith unveils his true character in Chapter 21. Even after a month of being in his company, Anne feels that ‘she could not be satisfied that she really knew his character' (Ch. 17/ Vol. 2, Ch. 5).
Despite his flawless manners (which she compares favourably with Captain Wentworth's), his pleasing opinions and sensible behaviour, she has a nagging suspicion that there's more to him than meets the eye. Several things heighten her suspicions:
- His eagerness to reconcile suddenly with her family after so long an estrangement
- His over-estimation of the importance of rank and wealth
- His rapid recovery from the death of his wife
- His smooth ability to say just the right thing to everyone and to offend no one
- His lack of spontaneity and passion
- His former bad habits.
When Mrs. Smith reveals in Ch. 21 that he is:
we realise that it is only Anne's insightful judgment which very narrowly saves her from a disastrous alliance with him:
Mr Eliot's role in the novel
Despite William Elliot's unworthiness as a suitor for Anne, he performs some key functions in the novel:
- That he notices Anne's beauty highlights the fact that she is attractive and worth noticing, even though she is marginalised by her family
- He provides a testing ground for Anne's growing confidence in voicing her opinions. She is able to disagree with him on the issue of acquaintances and rank in Chapter 16
- The final revelation of his lack of integrity serves to underline Anne's intuition as being trustworthy and accurate
- He is integral to the development of the sub-plot
- He provides a contrast to Captain Wentworth, his love rival
- Suspense is created with the suggestion that Anne may turn her affections towards Mr. Elliot
- Wentworth's jealousy of him helps Wentworth recognise he still loves Anne.
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