Wentworth Wednesday– Resentful

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?

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.

Thursday Three Hundred- The Balm of Kellynch Hall

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My song for Music Monday this week was Mercy by Brett Young. For the first time, I considered how cruel a woman could be during a break-up. Naturally, it made me consider how kind Anne Elliot had been–or tried to be. What follows is about one thousand words of torturing Captain Wentworth.

The Balm of Kellynch Hall

He had been invited to dine at Kellynch for the evening. Along with his brother, the curate at Monkford, neighbors from Uppercross, and the esteemed guest Lady Russell, it was a sizable dinner party. Still, the air in the room changed when she walked in. Despite having his back turned, Frederick Wentworth felt the presence of his beloved Anne.

Turning, he took in her expression. His heart stopped at her gentle beauty. The soft colors of pink and lavender suited her complexion and coloring. Anne’s smile did not reach her face. She nervously glanced around, looking everywhere but at him. On their walk yesterday, she had brought up arguments about their engagement. He had asked for her hand in marriage not a week ago, but when it came time for him to approach her father, she hesitated. She had shared her news with her confidante, her mother’s old friend, Lady Russell. Instead of felicitations, Lady Russell had counseled Anne against keeping the engagement. 

Wentworth could not bear the memory of the unshed tears in Anne’s eyes. She had been so distressed. It had not occurred to either of them, before, that Sir Walter would be displeased with the match. Still, Wentworth believed Anne loved him enough to marry without her father’s blessing and with her friend’s disapproval. Her loved ones would come around in time.

Finally, Anne meandered to him. “Father will see you now but should we not wait?”

“No,” Wentworth shook his head. “I have asked for your hand, Anne. I will not subject you to secrecy. I am not ashamed of who I am.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you?”

“No,” she licked her lips. “No…”

“Mr. Wentworth,” Sir Walter interrupted from the doorway to his study. 

Wentworth nodded at the father and gave Anne a smile. This was a mere formality. He did not expect Sir Walter to be very pleased with the idea, but it would be borne with so no one could claim they had been slighted. 

Once in the room, Sir Walter’s face turned stony. He did not withhold his consent but said he would add nothing to Anne’s fortune to supplement Wentworth’s own state. Confident that he could earn his way in the world, luck had always been on his side, Wentworth shook off the arguments. The matter settled and each gentleman understanding where the other stood, he left to find his beloved.

Anne stood with Lady Russell, the other lady speaking fervently and sorrow emanating from Anne. He approached.

“Lady Russell, would you allow me to intrude and speak with Miss Anne?”

The lady sniffed and then glanced at her conversation partner. A knowing smile lit her face. “Indeed, I think Anne has much to say to you.”

“The task is completed, my dearest,” he whispered to Anne. “He did not refuse. You may name your day.”

“Oh, Frederick,” Anne whispered and shook her head. “It cannot be–it should not be.”

“What do you mean?” Not ten minutes ago, Wentworth felt assured of his victory. Not a woman in this world compared to Anne Elliot and he had been so fortunate as to find her and she loved him in return. Her father consented and what should separate them now? What foe must he now vanquish?

Dinner was called before Anne could reply. During the meal, Wentworth watched her from afar. Lady Russell and Sir Walter both glared at him. He did not give a fig about their disapproval. Anne held all of his attention. She avoided his eyes. When no one spoke to her, she looked miserable and as though she would rather die than stay a moment longer at the table. 

As the night wore on, he knew it would happen. Anne intended to break his heart. All he desired now was to get it over with. If she would end it, then end it. None of this talk of prolonging the engagement. If she did not want him now and without the favor of her friends, then there was no recourse. If she had ever loved him, she would make it fast.

Finally, Wentworth saw his opportunity. He came to Anne’s side as she looked through music books. “We must speak,” he whispered.

“We cannot talk openly–not here.”

“Then tomorrow, meet me for a walk.”

“That would be improper,” Anne blushed. “I cannot.”

“It is not improper to walk with your betrothed nor has it stopped you any other time.”

“Sir,” Anne said, and her throat rippled with effort. “I will not meet you without a chaperone again.”

“Do you mean what you imply?” Wentworth asked with urgency and stepped closer. “But what has changed–why?” He gripped the edge of the pianoforte.

“Lady Russell helped me see how imprudent our match is. Your position in life–a wife is such a burden. I should not be so selfish.”

“Selfish!” Anne was the least selfish being he had ever met.

“Nor could I forgive myself for displeasing my father or Lady Russell so. I owe them everything. I had thought–but I thought wrongly. What kind of life would we have with you away so much and me without family or support?”

“We would have love!” He had never pried into Anne’s feelings for her family, but he had seen enough to know that they did not appreciate her. She certainly had not had the loving parents and siblings he had been fortunate enough to have.

“Pray, moderate your voice,” Anne cast a nervous look around. “I can say no more,” a soft sob tore from her throat. “Please excuse me, sir. I have selected my song.”

“Anne–please.” Tears pricked his eyes. How could she do this? How could she end the happiness of both of them? 

“Good evening, Mr. Wentworth.” She bobbed a curtsy and rushed to the seat, daintily stomping on his heart on her way. 

Anne touched the keys with such force it made Wentworth jump. Casting one last look at her, he left the instrument to find his brother and make his excuses to leave early. He had much to do before the morrow. He could not stay in Somersetshire another day. There must be a ship somewhere he could have. He would take anything to have activity just now.

As he left the room and Kellynch–indeed his heart–behind, he heard Anne’s beautiful playing and acknowledged she, at least, had mercy.

 

 

Justice in July- Captain Wentworth, created equal?

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Last week, I discussed Jane Bennet finding independence and if she “deserved” better treatment than Bingley gave her. A friend, who is admittedly protective of Bingley, asked if I would ask the same thing of Captain Wentworth. And the truth is, I think he also deserves better than Anne Elliot’s treatment.

In several of my copies of Pride and Prejudice, the word “persuasion” is italicized in the following passage. I think it’s to draw attention to the fact that such a theme is a favorite of Austen. While not dealt with in detail in Pride and Prejudice, I did find some connections and wrote a blog post about them a few years ago.

“To yield readily— easily— to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”

“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”

If Bingley ends up yielding to Darcy’s persuasion and is undeserving of Jane than Anne Elliot is even worse. She had actually accepted Wentworth’s proposal.

keep calm.jpgNow, I know all the arguments about why Anne should get a pass. Wentworth had little money, he might have died even. It threatened a breach with Anne’s family and then she wouldn’t have even been able to count on them. Lady Russell, who was a stand-in for Anne’s mother, counseled her against it. She was only nineteen. Wentworth probably should have never proposed in the first place since he had so little to give a wife (a la criticism of Frank Churchill and Edward Ferrars).

However, despite this, I still think Anne treated Wentworth wrong. You see, marriage, even if it’s not a love match (and both couples were), involve feelings. Pesky things, aren’t they?

Nearly all of the arguments about Bingley treating Jane wrongly are due to her feelings afterward. So why are Wentworth’s not considered? It is supposed because Wentworth is a man, he will get over the heartache of Anne’s rejection easier. Because he is a man, he can more easily meet other women. That he should totally understand her situation and feelings without Anne considering his. I am sure she told herself it was for his own good. That it was better for him to be unattached and find his fortune than delay their marriage or worry after a wife. But that’s just it. She belittles his feelings for her. Perhaps it’s because she had been used to think little of herself from her family’s treatment–but Lady Russell, for example, never says that of Anne and instead lifts her up. In her ladyship’s opinion, Anne is worth far more than Wentworth.

Likewise, Bingley had allowed himself to be convinced that Jane felt little to nothing for him. That his space in her heart could be replaced. Again, I say this is far more forgivable because they were not engaged.

At the end of Pride and Prejudice, we have hints that Bingley did talk to Jane about matters. There is some allusion to him mentioning seeing Elizabeth at Pemberley. To my imagination, Bingley never wavered in his love for Jane, but only in his intention. After he learned that although she was “free” for nearly a year, Jane still remained unwed, and after having a chance to resume the acquaintance with Elizabeth (i.e., he was not hated for his departure) he returns to Netherfield and along the way gets Darcy’s blessing. While we don’t see any sort of groveling, and it seems there would have been no time for him to do it before proposing, I do think it occurred.

At the end of Persuasion, Anne Elliot seems as adamant as ever that she was right in breaking her engagement to Wentworth and toying with his feelings. She considers her  feelings and not his when she says this:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.”

Next, she places the blame on another:

“Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.”

To be absolutely certain she is held blameless, Anne continues:

“But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.”

Well, maybe it’s not all about you Anne! This conversation is then followed by Wentworth reproaching himself for not returning to Anne after he had earned his first prize money several years before because he had believed she would have refused him. How was he supposed to know that??? Why is he taking all the blame for this??

For a man who spent most of the book blind to his continuing love for Anne and the justness of her decision, I think he’s blind once more when he says this:

This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me. I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses,” he added, with a smile. “I must endeavour to subdue  my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.”

Listen, buddy. You did some wrong, and you are happy it’s all worked out. I will try not to judge the fact that your version of broken and flawed but workable is different than mine, but I don’t feel like this is resolved. I think this is going to be a sticking point in their marriage forever. Not that Anne caved to Lady Russell, but that, allegedly, he’s all wrong. He’s always wrong. Way to emasculate a man. Annie, hun, you need to bring it down a notch.

Between the two of undeserving lovers: Bingley or Anne, I think Anne was more heartless and less resolved than Bingley. In my imagination, it’s one of the things Austen would have worked on had she lived longer. I accept this only as “justice” because Anne did suffer during their separation and then witnessed his flirtation with Louisa. As it is, perhaps JAFF will answer the need for Wentworth to get his justice.