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|Elizabeth, why Mrs. Clay and not Anne?
Written by Robbin
(10/14/2005 3:57 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Elizabeth's comment about Anne, penned by Marianne B
“She was a clever young woman, who understood the art of pleasing -- the art of pleasing, at least, at Kellynch Hall; and who had made herself so acceptable to Miss Elliot, as to have been already staying there more than once, in spite of all that Lady Russell, who thought it a friendship quite out of place, could hint of caution and reserve.” (Chapter 2)
Elizabeth treats Mrs. Clay more like a paid companion than a friend; however, I am not suggesting that in any way she is in their employ. I say this because Elizabeth, although determined to have her around, shows no unusual affection for her. I do not think she is their equal but as a companion for Elizabeth, I would believe she must be a gentlewoman, but perhaps not of their class as her father has an active profession and is actually in Sir Walter’s employ. At least I do not think Sir Walter and Elizabeth would believe she is in their class but I stand to be corrected as I have no great knowledge of class during the Regency, only what I can gleam from JA. I would like to look at the reasons why Elizabeth prefers the company of Mrs. Clay above that of Anne.
“Elizabeth would go her own way; and never had she pursued it in more decided opposition to Lady Russell than in this selection of Mrs. Clay: turning from the society of so deserving a sister, to bestow her affection and confidence on one who ought to have been nothing to her but the object of distant civility.” (Chapter 2)
“Elizabeth chooses Mrs. Clay over Anne because she is willing to please Elizabeth by agreeing with her opinions, by flattering her and by seeming to be in no way in competition with her and Anne, who I cannot believe would ever make herself unpleasant, nevertheless would not be willing to do this and being superior to Elizabeth in mind, manner, and probably appearance too is definitely competition. In Chapter 5, Elizabeth tells Anne that “poor Mrs. Clay, who, with all her merits, can never have been reckoned tolerably pretty!—That tooth of her's! and those freckles!" Elizabeth does not concede Mrs. Clay to be attractive at all do to these defects and clearly feels she could not be a threat to herself or Sir Walter. Elizabeth is blind to Mrs. Clay’s dangerous attractions because first of all Mrs. Clay is not even tolerably pretty in her opinion and second she would have to admit to having misjudged her motives, third she would have to admit to being fooled by her and fourth Anne could never be right. When Anne tries to warn Elizabeth that she feels Mrs. Clay may be a threat:
“She spoke, and seemed only to offend. Elizabeth could not conceive how such an absurd suspicion should occur to her; and indignantly answered for each party's perfectly knowing their situation…Mrs. Clay," said she warmly, "never forgets who she is; and as I am rather better acquainted with her sentiments than you can be, I can assure you, that upon the subject of marriage they are particularly nice; and that she reprobates all inequality of condition and rank more strongly than most people.” (Chapter 5)
Mrs. Clay is almost like a club to use against Anne. In Chapter 5, Elizabeth points out that no one will want Anne but and that “Mrs. Clay being engaged to go to Bath with Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as a most important and valuable assistant to the latter in all the business before her…and the affront it contained to Anne.” That Anne is hardened to such affronts is another clue that Anne has lived this way for a long time. When reading Chapter 15, I get the feeling that the reason “they gave no dinners in general” is because they do not have the money for it and thinking about that I have to wonder that they would room and board Mrs. Clay for so long. Does she not have children to go home to?
“On going down to breakfast the next morning, she found there had just been a decent pretence on the lady's side of meaning to leave them. She could imagine Mrs. Clay to have said, that "now Miss Anne was come, she could not suppose herself at all wanted;" for Elizabeth was replying in a sort of whisper, "That must not be any reason, indeed. I assure you I feel it none. She is nothing to me, compared with you." (Chapter 16)
Elizabeth will not give Mrs. Clay up without a fight I suppose. If she allowed her to leave then Elizabeth would have only Sir Walter to agree with her and encourage her hope in Mr. Elliot. It is difficult to believe she would go this route again but in Chapter 15 we learn “if Elizabeth were his object; and that Elizabeth was disposed to believe herself so, and that her friend, Mrs. Clay, was encouraging the idea, seemed apparent by a glance or two between them, while Mr. Elliot's frequent visits were talked of.” When Anne is introduced to him in Chapter 15, he troubles himself to talk to Anne of Lyme and although he must leave her and speak of different subjects to the others he returns to her several times to speak more of it. In Chapter 16, Anne enjoys talking more of Lyme and “they review the particulars of their first meeting a great many times. He gave her to understand that he had looked at her with some earnestness.” Elizabeth does not seem to notice Mr. Elliot’s attentions to Anne—to be blind to everyone around you is to live dangerously I think.
I would like to end with the following quote from Chapter 5 because it highlights the difference between how Anne regrets leaving Kellynch and the others only wish to escape it. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are glad to escape financial difficulties and Mrs. Clay is glad to escape Anne’s sharp eye. I also wonder why they do not give Anne a ride to the lodge—from the way it is written I have the mental image that they have the power to take her where she is going but they do not either for convenience or inattention. Of course, then again, Anne does not hate to walk.
“The last office of the four carriage-horses was to draw Sir Walter, Miss Elliot, and Mrs. Clay to Bath. The party drove off in very good spirits…Anne walked up at the same time, in a sort of desolate tranquillity, to the Lodge, where she was to spend the first week.” (Chapter 5)
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