Mary and Elizabeth

Foils for Anne

Mary Musgrove and Elizabeth Elliot are minor characters that Jane Austen uses as foils for their sister, Anne Elliot. Together they provide a counterpoint to Anne's goodness. Their self-absorption and self-importance contrasts with her selflessness and humility.

Contrasts in selfishness

Although Mary and Elizabeth are both presented unflatteringly, their selfishness manifests itself differently:

  • Elizabeth is vain like her father and tolerates only that which reflects her own beauty and status
    • Mary asserts her precedence whenever she can and defends it when she feels it's threatened
  • Elizabeth is complacent and expects that she'll eventually get her due (a suitable husband and accompanying fortune)
    • Mary is lazy and passes her responsibilities on to others (mostly Anne)
  • Elizabeth is cold, unemotional, and unwilling to show feeling to others
    • Mary's emotions often surface dramatically in the form of hypochondria and hysteria
  • Elizabeth's marginalisation of Anne verges on the vindictive
    • Mary carelessly disregards Anne's feelings and only reaches out to her when Anne can be of use to her
  • Elizabeth is discontented with her single state and forced frugality
    • Mary is whiny and petulant when things don't go her way
  • Elizabeth is flagrantly foolish in her judgement of Mrs. Clay, Mr. Elliot and Captain Wentworth
    • Mary is comically inconsistent in her judgement of the Crofts when she writes to Anne.
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