Appearance and reality

Appearance and virtue

Although Jane Austen does not give us many details of Anne's appearance, we do know that she was young and ‘extremely pretty' when she first fell in love. This is true of all of Jane Austen's heroines, so we can assume that an attractive appearance is part and parcel of the ideal romance.

However, other less desirable characters in Persuasion are attractive, too: Sir Walter, William Elliot and Elizabeth, for instance. Clearly an attractive appearance does not necessarily signify inward beauty. This theme in Persuasion provokes the reader to question the importance of appearances and to what extent they are a reliable gauge of reality.

Anne's appearance

Although Anne works hard to prevent her inner turmoil from rising to the surface, she cannot dissemble and her appearance reflects what is going on in her heart:

  • Anne's appearance (her ‘bloom') has been adversely affected by her pain and suffering
  • As her spirits improve with her growing sense of self, sense of community, and increasing interest from Captain Wentworth, her outward appearance improves markedly
  • She is so overcome at Wentworth's declaration of love that she appears ill (Ch. 23 / Vol. 2, Ch. 9).

Appearance and morality

Notice how the theme of appearance and reality in Persuasion is closely linked to the theme of manners and morals. It is through the interplay of appearance and reality that Jane Austen addresses the hypocrisy of good manners that beguile others by covering up underlying immoral behaviour:

  • Although Anne Elliot is charmed by William Elliot's impeccable manners, she senses that they are concealing a disturbing truth
  • William Elliot is described as disingenuous by Mrs. Smith. She knows the full reality of his immorality and calls him ‘black at heart'
  • Mrs. Clay's tact and flattering speech conceal her ulterior motive to secure Sir Walter as her rich husband
  • Even Anne occasionally pretends to feel something she doesn't, though this is out of politeness and consideration for others, as opposed to selfishness.
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