Anne Elliot

A different kind of heroine

Jane Austen wrote in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight that Anne Elliot was ‘almost too good' as a heroine. She stands apart from Jane Austen's other heroines, not only because she is older, but also because her moral development is much further advanced. She lacks the faults and foibles of an Emma Woodhouse or a Marianne Dashwood. From the outset we are aware of her moral grounding and goodness:

  • Her ‘sweetness and elegance of mind' is highlighted in contrast to the mind-set of her sisters' (Ch. 1)
  • Her approach to retrenchment establishes her as responsible and wise early on in the story (Ch. 2)
  • She shows an acute sense of duty in her willingness to sacrifice a lifestyle that does not accurately reflect their financial state, in order to set an example for others (Ch. 2).

Despite Anne's sage financial advice and wisdom in general, no notice is taken of her. She is presented as overlooked, unappreciated and sidelined. Her journey in the novel is not one of moral growth, but that of:

  • Finding her voice
  • Being seen as valuable by others
  • Developing the confidence to state her opinions and live by her intuitions.

An unheard voice

Jane Austen gives us a gradual introduction to Anne as someone excluded from the affections and attention of her own family. When she tries to assert her opinion about the navy, her father's monologue on the subject shuts her down. She retreats from conversation and becomes an observer.

However, at this point we begin to be privy to her reflections on - and reactions to - the world around her. The reader therefore gains their own insights about Anne from her introspections and thereby enters into a greater appreciation of her worth than is felt by those about her:

  • Her astute character judgment is revealed when she anticipates the dangers in her father's relationship with Mrs. Clay (Ch.5)
  • Her selflessness and humility are revealed when the Musgroves' absorption in their own affairs at Uppercross prompts her desire to learn to be comfortable with feeling insignificant (Ch. 6)
  • Her self-control shows through as she reasons with herself against the physical manifestations of her feelings for Captain Wentworth and subdues her blushes and agitations with walks and fresh air.

Characteristic speech and thought patterns

A pattern of reasoning

Anne Elliot is described as someone who ‘watched – observed – reflected' (Ch. 17 / Vol.2, Ch.5). This sums up the internal process through which she forms her opinions throughout the novel. Anne has a characteristic pattern of reasoning with herself. Although she does not waver in her opinions and is willing to face the truth, she finds the resulting feelings uncomfortable:

‘Soon, however, she began to reason with herself, and try to be feeling less.' (Ch. 7).

Her reasoning helps her to calm her heightened emotions and achieve the self-possession necessary to restore her inner and outward composure. In order to attain this ‘collected mind' she combats her emotions with:

  • Reassuring thoughts that she has made decisions that are for the good of others:
‘Had she not imagined herself consulting his good, even more than her own, she could hardly have given him up.' (Ch.4)
  • Thoughts of ‘sobering tendency' :
‘they allayed agitation; they composed, and consequently must make her happier.' (Ch. 7)
  • Redirecting her thoughts to other things, as she does through her contemplations of exercise, nature and poetry on the walk to Winthrop (Ch. 10)
  • Making herself useful:
‘though her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she sat at the instrument, she was extremely glad to be employed,' (Ch. 8)
  • Habitually steeling herself for the disregard of others:
‘Anne herself was become hardened to such affronts;' (Ch. 5)
  • At times, particularly when in the company of others, a collected mind evades Anne and she retreats to solitude in order to be able to focus her efforts on overcoming her emotions:
‘She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was, and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her.… (Ch. 9)

Gentle speech

Anne does not speak a word until Chapter 3. Even later on, when we see things from her perspective, her words are largely recorded indirectly. She is sure of her opinions but, at the outset, she keeps them mostly to herself, aware that others do not attend to them. Several times she indicates that she has much more to say, but chooses not to. When she does speak her opinion:

  • It is clearly and succinctly stated, and she seems to use as few words as possible
  • Her opinion is not ambiguous, but its definiteness is modified by her use of phrases like ‘I think', ‘perhaps' and ‘probably' which:
    • Lends awareness that others may not share her opinion and adds a gentleness and openness to her tone
    • Emphasises her submissive quality
    • Demonstrates some anxiety that others would respond negatively if her opinion were stated more definitely
  • Sometimes her voice falters or she cannot speak at all due to her struggle with her emotions.

Growing authority

After Louisa's fall, there is a new quality to Anne's speech:

  • In the face of crisis, she becomes much more authoritative as she instructs everyone:
‘Leave me, and go to him. Rub her hands, rub her temples;' (Ch.12)
  • Their attentive and obedient response seems to give her the confidence to persuade the Musgroves to go to Lyme and she is ‘delighted' at her success
  • Despite the fact that her family still largely ignores her, she begins to offer her opinion more often and more decisively than previously
  • She speaks at greater length to a number of people, including Captain Wentworth
  • She seems more relaxed and expansive when she speaks
  • More expression is attributed to her words
  • She is still not immune to others' response to her words, but she speaks out nevertheless:
‘She had spoken it; but she trembled when it was done, conscious that her words were listened to, and daring not even to try to observe their effect.' (Ch.22 / Vol. 2, Ch. 10).

Anne Elliot's discussion with Captain Harville in Chapter 23 about the constancy of men and women, is a good gauge of how her speech has evolved over time:

  • There is an easiness in Anne's manner with Harville which enables her to expand her ideas more fully
  • There is more emphasis on the fervency with which Anne delivers her words: ‘a low feeling voice', ‘cried Anne eagerly'
  • She is still at times, so overcome by emotion that her voice falters and her speech is impaired:
‘she could not have immediately uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.'
  • Despite the strength of her convictions, there remains a flexibility in Anne's opinion, which she now cleverly uses to advance her argument:
‘If the change be not from outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature, man's nature.'

Anne's practical kindness

It is Anne's kindness, competency and desire to be useful that eventually propel her from the periphery of the action to the centre:

  • Knowing Anne was a willing and capable nurse, Mary summons her to her side at Uppercross (Ch. 5)
  • She narrowly misses crossing paths with Captain Wentworth because she offers her services to care for little Charles after his fall. Although this appears to be a missed opportunity, the Captain must have been aware of this since he later recommends Anne to be the one to care for Louisa after her fall, saying there is:
‘no one so proper, so capable as Anne!' (Ch.12)
  • Anne's natural instincts come to the fore in the crisis of Louisa's fall. She takes charge, helping Louisa, comforting the others and calling out instructions. She is the calm and capable central figure to whom everyone is looking. She is now the absolute focus of attention.

Anne as moral guide

All the while we are watching the powers of persuasion at work among the characters of the novel, we must also be aware of the persuasive effect of Anne Elliot's morality on us as readers.

Christian standards

There is no doubt that Anne is a virtuous heroine who lives out the biblical standards of prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, charity, diligence, patience, chastity and humility. Her Christian morality also withstands the ultimate test of living in community with others:

  • She embodies the second of Jesus' two greatest Commandments - to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We repeatedly see her selflessly doing good things for others, often with some effort or cost to her own comfort
  • She does not only consider her own interests, but also the interests of others: a primary characteristic of a good Christian (Philippians 2:4)
  • She obeys the injunction to ‘do good to those who hate you' Luke 6:27 when she acts kindly to those who completely disregard her, responding to them altruistically with their good at heart.

Morally attractive

In order to convince the reader that Anne's morality is attractive, Jane Austen makes Anne Elliot a likeable and persuasive moral guide:

  • She is not priggish in her virtuousness
  • Her acute insight helps us perceive immorality when we encounter it in other characters, and emphasises her own moral superiority
  • She is not hypocritical, but lives out her moral beliefs by example. On a rare occasion when there is a disconnect between her behaviour and her advice to Captain Benwick, she is honest with herself, knowing that ‘ her own conduct would ill bear examination'  (Ch. 11)
  • Her struggles are human. She experiences disappointment, pain and sorrow
  • She periodically laughs at, chides and at one point even hates herself when she misses the mark
  • She is well-liked and respected by the people whose opinion matters in the novel, most notably the Crofts and the naval group
  • She doesn't have a perfect life or family, so the reader can sympathise with her at the outset, and rejoice with her at the end when she overcomes these obstacles
  • She is rewarded for her virtuous behaviour at the end. Even along the way, many of her choices to help others turn out to be good for Anne as well.

Growing confidence

In Volume 2 we continue to observe the characters from Anne's point of view. At the card party in Chapter 23 / Vol. 2, Ch 11, she demonstrates a healthy objectivity to those gathered around her. She has become independent of those who have given her cause for pain and anxiety, and is confident to appreciate openly those who have drawn her into their community and become family to her.

Our last view of Anne's feelings is one of eager anticipation of her life as a sailor's wife. With war on the horizon, this will undoubtedly involve some travel beyond the borders of England. We have the sense that, like Mrs. Croft, she will embrace the adventure, secure in the love of her husband and confident of her perspective on the world.

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