Monday, January 26, 2015

Anne Elliot: A Guest Post by Hamlette

(Warning! This post does contain a few spoilers. If you don't know the ending yet you may want to wait and save this until we're done. I'll provide a link back at the end of the read-along.)

 Anne Elliot
by Hamlette

I'm having a bit of trouble writing this character sketch. Partly, it's because I have so many things to say, and it's hard to figure out what to include and what to keep out. But I think that mostly, it's because Anne Elliot is such a complex, rich character. Every time I start to write something about her, I realize it's only partly true, or only true at the beginning or the end of the novel. 

Miss Anne Elliot is an anomaly. She doesn't fit the pattern of an Austen heroine. She's not young. She's part of the aristocracy. And her great, sweepingly romantic story is, in some ways, over before the book begins. We see all of Austen's other heroines fall in love, but not Anne. Hers is not a story of finding a man to love, but of reclaiming the man that she chose to part from years earlier. 

And unlike most of Austen's heroines, Anne is not happy for much of the book. And she's not even merely unhappy -- Austen would say she is in low spirits; today, we would say she is depressed. Still! Eight years after she'd persuaded herself it would be a good idea to give up the man whose heart and mind she understood and loved so well, she is still low. Which isn't surprising -- she's had nothing to divert her mind, to raise her spirits. She's been living with a pair of peacocks who have zero interest in a dove like herself. Her only friend has been Lady Russell, who is kind and well-meaning, and does value Anne, but who is the very person who punctured Anne's happiness with Wentworth. While Anne doesn't seem to blame Lady Russell for her meddling, surely being around her all the time must be a constant reminder of her painful past. Is it any wonder that Anne, by nature quiet and unassuming, is nearly invisible at the beginning of Persuasion

Words like "quiet" and "shy" get used a lot to describe Anne Elliot. So do "helpful" and "self-sacrificing." I prefer to think of her as strong. It takes a lot of inner strength to do something you don't want to do, and Anne does things she dislikes over and over. She gives up the man she loves. She nurses her "sick" sister back to good spirits. She spends time in the company of Captain Wentworth when she'd rather be anywhere but in his presence. She moves to Bath, a city she hates. And she doesn't whine or complain about these things, but does them the way she does everything: quietly and helpfully. 

Anne doesn't complain about moving to Bath, but she clearly hates the idea. She is devoted to her retiring, uneventful life in the country, but that life of sameness has caused her to be stuck in her sorrow for eight years. She doesn't want to leave her home, but it's that very change that helps her overcome her depression and regain her cheerfulness. She finds friends who are interested in her for who she is as a person, not because they were friends with her mother. She meets a man who wants to be her friend and another who pursues her romantically. She goes on excursions, rekindles an old friendship, helps nurse a gravely injured person, and discovers that she has something to contribute to the world. Instead of thinking of herself as the unimportant second daughter, the person who rejected love, she can reshape her identity in her own eyes. She can see herself as a helpful friend, a marriageable woman, an intelligent person who responds clearly and competently to adversities and crises. Through those realizations, her spirits rise, her happiness returns. And only then does she find love again.

(Heidi's note: Hamlette, thanks so tremendously for sharing!! :))


  1. Wonderful synopsis of Anne. It is clear to me, this second time around, that she did not enjoy many of her endeavors, and kept many of her true feelings secret, but rose above those thoughts to serve others in their need. That makes for an extremely special individual. I especially agree that she found her worth through her service and strength and purpose. She is a wonderful example of a mature heroine.

    1. Thank you! This was a really interesting post to write, as I'd never put into words before why I like her so well. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. The quite steadfastness of Anne is truly impressive. She's not showy or flashy or even necessarily spunky, but her qualities are there, even though it perhaps takes awhile to see them.

    Thanks for the post, Hamlette. Great points!

    1. Yes! She is the antithesis of a spunky heroine, and yet she's so strong and amazing.

      Thanks for letting me know you liked the post :-)

  3. Excellent thoughts as always, Hamlette! You've put into words so many reasons why I love Anne. I've always had difficulty trying to explain (even to myself!) why I love her so much. You are SO right. Her strength is beyond compare. Every single day, she does something she'd rather not do, and she always does it cheerfully. Never complaining, never whining, she's remarkable that way. Because goodness knows, I'm certainly a whole lot weaker than that! ;) She spends the entire story finding herself again. Or maybe for the first time. Truly figuring out who she is and what she wants in life. And the lovely part is, once she officially decides she wants Captain Wentworth, turns out he wants her too! I think her character arc is what draws me to her again and again. Maybe because that's what I feel like I'm doing currently, finding myself? I can only hope to do half so well as she. (And yes, I do realize she's fictional. But she feels quite real to me, so let's just pretend she is, okay? ;)

  4. Fantastic analysis of Anne's character! She's very complex and hard to describe, and you did a fantastic job. I've come to appreciate her character so much in the last few years. Definitely one of Austen's best.


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