Snobbery, Cinderella and the Market Place
The latter half of the novel takes place in Bath, a setting of social pretension and snobbery as Elizabeth and Sir Walter revel in "the elegant stupidity of private parties" and their renewed connection with Mr Elliot, having effected a reconciliation with the family he had formally scorned. He is pleased to find Anne is the woman he saw at Lyme and marks his attentions towards her, expectant of a match. In the potential alliance of Mr Elliot and Anne lies the securing of Kellynch hall in the family, and the assumption of the role of her mother as diligent mistress, "calling it her home again, her home forever, was a charm which she could not immediately resist" (Chapter XVII). Not here the lack of romance or talk of love, it is all in terms of utility just as Charles Musgroves proposal to Anne is not seen in terms of a lasting union of happiness and love but rather an exchange of names and outward shows of identity:
"She had been solicited, when about two and twenty, to change her name by the young man who not long afterwards found a more willing mind in her younger sister" (Chapter IV)
So there is then this lack of feeling towards Mr Elliot, other than in terms of property gain, which is insufficient to incite Annes willingness for an alliance. She cannot help but distrust him, despite the praise she bestows on him as "steady, observant, moderate, candid..." (p.144 chapter XVI) and distrusts his inconsistent behaviour and integrity,
"Mr Elliot was rational discreet, polished, but he was not open... Mr Elliot was too generally agreeable".
Class distinctions are raised again at the invitation of the Elliots to the Darymples. It allows a further investigation of Mr Elliots character as he values rank and connection greater than Anne as he, Lady Russell and Annes father and sister obsess over the Darymples:
" our cousins the Darymples, sounded in her ears all day long". (Chapter XVI)
The Darymples, later versions of Lady Catherine de Burgh and her daughter in Pride and Prejudice, typify the emptiness and self-satisfied sense of superiority hated by the heroine. Anne assertively passes on them the judgement she had formally been resigned to, her own import and position amongst her family; "they were nothing". Austen highlights the sterility of social convention and self-interest of the inhabitants as the Elliots visit their cousins in order to "enjoy all the advantages of the connexions as far as possible". Anne centres her attentions rather on Mrs Smith, a former governess reduced to poverty and illness. Yet there is more gentility and grandeur among the "low company, paltry rooms, foul air" of the Westgate Buildings that Sir Elliot scorns, than amongst the splendid richly decorated rooms of Laura Place or Camden Place. Physical finery and appearance we learn is no reflection of moral sensibility. Mrs Smith typifies for Anne the "elasticity of mind" which Anne admires, the adaptability to change of fortune and malleability in the face of reversals and discontinuities of social position:
"that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good... It was the choicest gift of Heaven". (Chapter XVII)
It is through Mrs Smith that Anne learns the real nature of Mr Elliot: a cunning, calculating villain who married for money and ruined her husband, refused to help her regain control of her West Indian property. An injured and angry woman she lies on the margins of society with nothing in the way of youth, beauty, health or fortune to recommend her in a society of commodities and marketable qualities. She is a victim of the social irresponsibility of the self-interest of Mr Eliot and the false civilities and corruption of polite society. We can see his double in Mrs Clay and his hypocrisy as he pinpoints her sycophancy as a danger to the Elliot fortunes. Like her, he ingratiates himself with Elizabeth and Sir Walter in a calculated move of self-interest hidden behind a façade of family ties and civility.
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