Wentworth Wednesday–Stolen Happiness

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Our first introduction of Captain Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion tells us he is related to the curate at Monkford who was so recently the topic of conversation. We also know Captain Wentworth is the “he” who plagues Anne’s mind. This is the first mention of anything personal about him.

He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy;

It seems a foregone conclusion that with those qualities, he would earn Anne’s love when she was just 19. Wentworth was 23 at the time. However, the story does not happily end there (see Northanger Abbey if you want young people near that age marrying).

I’ve long thought that Jane Austen says much about the age of men in her stories. Willoughby is 25, Bingley is about 23, Edmund is 25, Frank Churchill is 23, Tilney is 25, Edward Ferrars proposed to Lucy Steele around age 19. I have included some men who are not the heroes but either “loved” a heroine or are not exceptionally bad. Compare their ages with the others who are typically the stuff of romantic dreams: Brandon is 35, Darcy is 28, and Knightley is 37. It seems clear to me that Austen thinks men under twenty-five are too foolish to make a good decision.

Wentworth is not so very far away from the cut-off point, though and he did make a good decision. He loved Anne! Perhaps he ought to have been more patient when she rescinded her acceptance or, at the very least, proposed a few years later when he did have more fortune. Ultimately, however, it was not his error that separated him from Anne. It was her decision.

Wentworth is put more in the position of a jilted woman from one of Austen’s other books. In fact, he makes me think of Jane Bennet.

What?

Yes.  Jane the same age and beautiful and full of all the best qualities in a female. Yet, I am thinking of something more. I recall what Elizabeth says of Jane’s ability to see the best in everybody.

“I would not wish to be hasty in censuring anyone; but I always speak what I think.”

“I know you do; and it is that which makes the wonder. With your good sense, to be so honestly blind to the follies and nonsense of others! Affectation of candour is common enough—one meets with it everywhere. But to be candid without ostentation or design—to take the good of everybody’s character and make it still better, and say nothing of the bad—belongs to you alone. And so you like this man’s sisters, too, do you? Their manners are not equal to his.”

Upon reading Persuasion, it’s easy to see how awful the Elliots are. How annoying the Musgroves can be. Louisa drives me batty. Benwick needs to put the gloom and doom down. At the same time, Harville is injured and on a fixed income but let’s put the rose-colored goggles on for that and invite a whole bunch of people over. Don’t get me wrong the Harvilles are great folks and probably would have been mad if Wentworth had worried about them, but the point is that it doesn’t even seem to penetrate Wentworth’s mind. He is jealous of William Elliot but doesn’t do any sort of snooping to think of a way to discredit him. He’s even there for the conversation between Anne and Mary about the breach with Mr. Elliot. The only person Wentworth does not look too kindly at is Lady Russel, and apparently, he did when they first met. He did not perceive any potential disapproval from her or Sir Walter.

If we accept that Wentworth is in the position of Jane Bennet, then it follows Anne is Mr. Bingley in the situation. I often hear how justified Anne is in listening to Lady Russel. Was Bingley not justified in listening to Darcy then?

More importantly, if we grieve for poor Jane Bennet when she is unjustly separated from Bingley, and her heart crushed, perhaps forever, then what should we feel for Wentworth? While his devastation was not public gossip fodder for the entire area, as a man it must have wounded his pride.

Jane Austen is often held up as an early feminist (the word had not yet been coined). I believe considering Captain Wentworth’s feelings as tender and equal to any female’s (the exact topic of his famous letter) is another piece of evidence that Jane Austen believed in equality between the sexes. They are both capable of heartbreak. Whether man or woman, even those blessed with beauty, intelligence, and brilliance have no guarantee of a smooth course to their happily ever after.

4 thoughts on “Wentworth Wednesday–Stolen Happiness

  1. I think your comparison of Anne to Bingley is interesting. Most people will say that she (Anne) is justified out of caution and that Bingley has no reason to be cautious about Jane. But considering Jane’s family, he might have dodged a bullet. And then stepped back in front of it. 😉

    I’ve always taken a drubbing when I defend Wentworth’s wounded pride on his return to Somerset. Everyone feels sorry for Anne because of her dimwitted daddy and so FW should put aside his anger as he showed them all and DID make something of himself. I think he took her breaking the engagement as agreement with Lady Russell that he would never give Anne true security, and that Anne was agreeing with Sir Walter that the alliance would be degrading. Those are the opinions that she had to endure when they parted. We give Anne all the benefit of the doubt in this and him very little.

    AND, Anne doubles in the end of Persuasion that while she might not give the same advice to someone asking her now, she still thinks she was right at the time to be obedient to her family.

    IMO, there are some interesting conversations in the Wentworth’s future.

    I love Wentworth’s snark, self-deprecation, and the fact that he sees past Anne’s quiet shell to the woman inside. And I also love that he is not afraid to apologize, a few times, when they set things right in Bath.

    Thanks for the interesting ideas, Rose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I quite agree with you about Anne. Wentworth is angry but very few seems to take into account the real repercussions of Anne breaking the engagement. She didn’t just refuse him. She took it back. She said that when it came down to it, she loved the idea of pleasing people who did not really care about her more than she loved the idea of potentially being poor. It makes me quite angry to consider.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooo, Rose, there was a time on the Persuasion board of Pemberley dot com you’d have been horsewhipped for pointing out Anne’s flaws. I have grown to like her over the course of many years, but it was a struggle. Getting older and seeing that we all need copious amounts of grace is what did it I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have always liked Anne and, after reading Persuasion in full, believe she made the best choice for who she was at the time. It’s very difficult to understand why she would choose to make her family happy over herself, but I think she would have been miserable knowing that they all disapproved of her marriage and might have cut her. I think she would have come around to it in time but there would be a sadness there. Doing it the other way around, having her sadness over a romantic attachment, seemed safer. And, with the way it worked out they had both matured and learned a lot about themselves and each other. If more awful things had happened during that time it would have been a sad gamble. Anne is the same age as Charlotte Lucas but isn’t near as pitiful because of her station in life. She’s never worried about money for food or shelter, even if her father is in debt and they have to move–that’s mostly a loss of reputation and Anne’s never cared much about that. However, I didn’t like the ending of Persuasion. She spent most of the book admitting to herself she would choose differently and then at the end defends that choice to Wentworth. It didn’t seem consistent. If she’s supposed to have a change of opinion there, I didn’t think it was well-developed. I don’t know…it just feels less polished and I wonder what it would have been like if Austen had lived longer.

        I do definitely agree that we all need grace and we all make mistakes. I’m glad Anne’s didn’t cost her happiness for her entire life!

        Liked by 1 person

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