A few years ago, I read Persuasion for the first time. I had seen both film adaptations several times and knew the story rather well. I think I saw the humanity of Wentworth more in the films. I have Facebook posts chronicling my falling in love with him in the book. However, as we came to the end, the wheels came off the wagon.
I think it’s totally understandable that a man could be attracted to another lady in the presence of his former betrothed. Of course, the fact that he falls back in love with the same woman that broke his heart before is what makes the love story so sigh-worthy. I could quite forgive Captain Wentworth of attraction to another lady before coming back to Anne. I’m the same woman who can forgive Edmund Betram for loving Mary Crawford before realizing Fanny is the better woman.
However, what I stumble over is the much-beloved letter from Wentworth. He admits he’s never loved anyone else. We can assume that he never had a relationship with another lady that went as far as it did with Louisa Musgrove, as he was honor-bound to her and it was only her choice to marry another that kept Wentworth free for Anne. That says he intentionally went out of his way to feel more–or pretend to feel more–with Louisa simply because Anne was present. There’s a word for that.
This is Merriam-Webster’s definition of Resentment:
: a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury
It’s not sweet or cute or swoon-worthy. Wentworth wished ill will toward Anne. Well, fine. He was mad and, dare I say it, entitled. But then we have this issue:
Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.
Captain Wentworth is telling Anne that he never stopped loving her, even when he was resentful. How is that love?
If he expressed only his loyalty, I would be fine. He had never courted another lady, if he had never considered marriage again since her then maybe he would have a point (but that smacks more of bitterness and fear than enduring love). However, he writes his love never died. There is plenty of proof in the letter and the rest of the book to argue that he wasn’t aware of his enduring love until after the debacle with Louisa. What bothers me, though, is that in this moment when he is addressing his poor actions, he says “it’s okay because I always loved you.” Perhaps this is him attempting to find some silver lining to his actions. Maybe he means fate or the luck on which his career has always rested has smiled upon him once again and despite his jerky actions toward Anne, she still loves him, and despite his trying to push her out of his mind, he still loves her. However, I am left dissatisfied since it is Jane Austen and I feel as though she can articulate it better and I don’t find Wentworth socially and romantically inept like say Darcy or Knightley.
He’s not the only one I have a problem with at the end of the book. I take more issue with Anne. However, that will be for another post.
What do you think? Can you wish someone ill and still love them? Can you be full of resentment and also full of love? Could it be, the Austen hero everyone thinks of as the emblem for mature and lasting love was actually a manipulative jerk who wouldn’t apologize for it?