Women, Authority and Position

Lyme then, away from the confines of her aristocratic family home and luxuriant empty privilege, Anne flourishes; her mobility and liberation appear linked. She inspires the attention of Captain Benwick and is allowed to exercise her mind beyond the level of petty gossip and news; only she can talk with him upon the poetry of Byron and Scott who nourish his sentimental melancholy. She suggests to him more reading of prose, such as moralist writers, who she sees as more positively empowering in their "moral and religious endurances". She also partakes in healthy pursuits and walking, is surrounded by pleasant, affectionate company and artless, unpretentious, homely hospitality of the naval officers and their families. This atmosphere forms a stark contrast to the stuffy grandeur and neglect she suffers at Kellynch with her own family; stately houses and their proprietors no longer demand our awe or respect, "their intransigence is matched only by their vapidity":

"On quitting the Cobb they all went in-doors with their new friends, and found rooms so small as none but those who invite from the heart could think capable of accommodating so many... connected as it all was with his profession, the fruits of its labours, the effect of its influence on his habits, the picture of repose and domestic happiness it presented, made it to her a something more, or less, than gratification". (Chapter XI)

Lyme appears as the structural centre of Persuasion as it marks the beginning of the reversal of roles between Anne and Wentworth. Previously she has followed his lead in her treatment of him, not daring to go beyond the civilities he demarcates. Here though, in the disaster of Louisa’s fall Anne is allowed to assume the dominant role. Her qualities as compromising carer and subservient nurse throughout the novel; as she patiently looks after her hypochondriac sister Mary and cares for the sick Musgrove child are turned to her own dominance. Such a role relegating the female to that of attendant angel and preserver of health and family could be considered as a circumscribed and limited role authored by patriarchal society, however here it allows her an active and authoritative role. Anne gains confidence and Wentworth loses his bravado; he is silenced by agony, benumbed by shock where Anne cries instructions and remains potent and composed directing the party into action:

"Anne attending with all the strength, and zeal, and thought, which instinct supplied, to Henrietta, still tried at intervals, to suggest comfort to others, tried to quiet Mary, to animate Charles, to assuage the feelings of Captain Wentworth both seemed to look to her for directions." (Chapter XII)

Arrangements are made for the care of Louisa and Anne is consulted on all the directions, and notes the warmth with which Wentworth treats her and respect he shows for her opinions "the remembrance of the appeal remained a pleasure to her, as a proof of friendship, and of deference for her judgement". This is an interesting reversal of her role in her own family where her "word had no weight". She enjoys the "second spring of youth and beauty" (Chapter XIII) as the result of action, empowerment and respect.

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