Persuasion: Does Anne Elliot have poor judgment?

Portrait of Maria Bicknell, by John Constable (1816)“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)

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5 thoughts on “Persuasion: Does Anne Elliot have poor judgment?

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  1. My thoughts on this is that Anne did not protray poor judgement, but had a tendency to timidly express herself towards her family because she knew they looked down on her and didn’t value anything she said.

    With the Captain, well, maybe she felt unworthy because of their past? Didn’t he say, “what he desired most in a wife is firmness of character?” That was exactly what she didn’t express years earlier and she felt he was holding it against her. She lived with the guilt of rejecting him and her deeply buried love for him for so long…now he seemed only to view her in bitterness.

    Is it any wonder she lived in a shell?

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  2. Anne is my favourite of all the Austen characters. I’m not quite sure why that is, because I am nothing at all like her. (Perhaps that IS why!!)
    To my mind, Anne is the girl that may or may not get her dreams and that is always the fear is all of us, that we won’t get the fairy tale ending.

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  3. Anne doesn’t have poor judgment; she just “gives way” and keeps her opinions to herself until the moment in the book when she takes a stand and finally becomes her own champion (for instance, when she goes against her father and visits Mrs. Smith). Austen places the other characters in stark contrast to show that indeed it is Anne’s judgment that is correct and proper. In her family Anne “held no weight” – but the characters who belittle her are some of Austen’s greatest fools, and their views are not to be trusted or taken seriously – Elizabeth, Sir Walter Elliot, Mary, even Lady Russell, who is set out to be her mentor but who really does not have Anne’s best interests at heart. By overriding Anne’s choice of Wentworth, Lady Russell is just inflicting her own prejudices and calling it guardianship. The joy of this lovely work is seeing Anne learn about herself what we as the reader already know – that her choices, her judgment, her very being are to be valued, and thank goodness Wentworth stays steady and true and moves past his own egocentric blindness! [And thanks Laurel Ann for bringing this little passage to our attention]
    Deb

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  4. I thought Anne had good judgment. I just think she needed to be a lot more in-your-face. I think she couldn’t have kept her family from being in a financially embarrassed situation, if she had stood up to them and insisted on economy.

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  5. Persuasion is my absolute favorite Jayne Austen novel. Anne is an intelligent sensible woman; almost too sensible for her own good. Lady Russell may think she persuaded Anne not to marry Captain Wentworth, but really Anne made the choice not to accept him. She was persuaded by her ‘good sense’ that Wentworth might not be able to afford to care for a wife and children. She was right, but in the end her heart wins the war with her head. However, by then he’s long gone and it’s too late…or so she thinks. One of my favorite scenes is that first dinner where Anne has to endure sharing a table with Wentworth…the reader gets a peek into Wentworth’s heart when he answers Miss Musgrove and at the same time secretly reminds Anne of her folly by saying, “…for I had no wife…in the year six.” This is so good! In these simple words he taunts Anne and unwittingly reveals his feelings. After all these years her rejection is still raw…and in this good man (Austen wouldn’t have chosen a cad as a hero) that can only mean he still loves her! Genius!

    I think Anne is one of those sensible people who learnt at an early age when her good sense was not wanted and that her life was easier when she kept silent.
    In reality she has a spine of steel and wouldn’t ever be persuaded against her better judgement. She is Wentworth’s ideal woman! Lovely.

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