Thursday, February 16, 2017

Character Sketch of Anne Elliot from "Persuasion" by Jane Austen

Anne Elliot
by Hamlette

Anne Elliot is an anomaly.  She doesn't fit the pattern of an Austen heroine.  She's not young.  She's part of the nobility.  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 spend much of the book without even the hope of eventual happiness.  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 even though she 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.

In one very important way, Anne is just like Austen's other heroines:  she gets a second chance at love.  And like the others, she does not hesitate to seize love the second time around.  When she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth as a young woman, she allowed herself to be convinced that he was not worthy of her, and she convinced herself that she was not worthy of him.  When she discovers, as a more mature woman, that not only does she still love him, but he still returns her affections, she entertains no misconceptions about whether or not either of them deserves the other.  No one can persuade her otherwise this time, not even herself.

This is my final contribution to my I Love Austen Week party that I'm hosting on Hamlette's Soliloquy.  Go here for links to all the other fun!

(I first wrote this character sketch for a Persuasion read-along hosted at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine several years ago, where you can still find it. -- Hamlette)


  1. Great post, Hamlette! I have never really been able to understand and appreciate Anne or her story, but reading this post has made me start to rethink some of my former conjectures... I may just need to reread Persuasion sometime soon.

    1. Thanks, Elanor! If you ever re-read it, I highly recommend checking out the read-along I linked to at the bottom of this post, as we had some amazing discussions, and Heidi did a great job of delving into the story.

  2. "Living with a pair of peacocks"

  3. I love this. :) Austen heroines like Anne Elliot and Fanny Price and Elinor Dashwood often get looked over for being so quiet or "boring" but, in my opinion, they're the strongest and bravest of all of Austen's heroines! They're so inspiring, and you did a wonderful job of shedding light onto Anne's forgotten courage.

    1. Thank you, Natalie! I agree that those three often get overlooked, despite their wonderfulness. I'm glad you liked this post :-)

  4. YES! Anne is indeed a strong character. Another thing I love about her is how almost everyone seems to depend on her and to choose her for their confidant. I just think that's really sweet, and it shows what a trust worthy person she is since everyone feels safe with her. :)

    Also, just wanted to say, I really like your header on this blog! It's super cute. And creative!! :)

    1. Miss March, that's so true -- everyone knows they can trust Anne, depend on her to help, and really believes she will do what is both right and necessary. That's a huge testament to what sort of person she is.

      Also, thanks! I wanted something with Alan Ladd in it (see this post for why), and I had this super cute promo shot of him with Loretta Young for their film And Now Tomorrow, so I just changed up the book cover :-) I love it!

  5. Oh, Hamlette...this was an excellent character sketch of Anne Elliot...I have come to love her dearly as an Austen heroine and find her inspiring! And I have to agree with Miss March...everyone relied on Anne - she was needed by so many and I found that fascinating indeed!
    Thank you for hosting such a fabulous week of Austen love!

    1. Thank you, Kelly-Anne! I also find her inspiring :-)


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