“Any acquaintance of Anne’s will always be welcome to me,” was Lady Russell’s kind answer.
“Oh! as to being Anne’s acquaintance,” said Mary, “I think he is rather my acquaintance, for I have been seeing him every day this last fortnight.”
“Well, as your joint acquaintance, then, I shall be very happy to see Captain Benwick.”
“You will not find any thing very agreeable in him, I assure you, ma’am. He is one of the dullest young men that ever lived. He has walked with me, sometimes, from one end of the sands to the other, without saying a word. He is not at all a well-bred young man. I am sure you will not like him.”
“There we differ, Mary,” said Anne. “I think Lady Russell would like him. I think she would be so much pleased with his mind, that she would very soon see no deficiency in his manner.”
“So do I, Anne,” said Charles. “I am sure Lady Russell would like him. He is just Lady Russell’s sort. Give him a book, and he will read all day long.”
“Yes, that he will!” exclaimed Mary tauntingly. “He will sit poring over his book, and not know when a person speaks to him, or when one drops one’s scissors, or any thing that happens. Do you think Lady Russell would like that?”
Lady Russell could not help laughing. “Upon my word,” said she, “I should not have supposed that my opinion of any one could have admitted of such difference of conjecture, steady and matter-of-fact as I may call myself. I have really a curiosity to see the person who can give occasion to such directly opposite notions. I wish he may be induced to call here. And when he does, Mary, you may depend upon hearing my opinion; but I am determined not to judge him beforehand.”
“You will not like him, I will answer for it.”
Mary Musgrove, Charles Musgrove, Anne Elliot & Lady Russell, Persuasion, Chapter 14
Jane Austen knows a bit about family dynamics. This conversation regarding Captain Benwick appears to be about Mary Musgrove’s objections to him, but it is more about her opinion of her sister Anne and her judgment. It is a theme running throughout the novel. Her family generally shuns her opinions “but Anne…was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way — she was only Anne.” Lady Russell her closest female advisor didn’t trust her judgment either. We learn about her choice of Captain Wentworth as a spouse eight years before the novel begins and how Lady Russell persuaded her to reject his offer of marriage because he did not match her social or financial station. However, some characters do trust Anne, but are not in the family. After Louisa Musgrove is injured in a fall on the Cobb at Lyme, only Captain Wentworth sees the truth. “But if Anne will stay, no one so proper, so capable as Anne.” This line is the turning point of the novel for our heroine. As readers we have never doubted Anne’s judgment; we were just not sure until this moment if Captain Wentworth did.
*Portrait of Maria Bicknell, by John Constable (1816)