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|The Benwick Debate: A Heart worth Having
Written by Robbin
(10/16/2005 1:35 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, The Captain Benwick debate, penned by Jenny Allan
And I am sure," cried Mary warmly, "it was very little to his credit if he did. Miss Harville only died last June. Such a heart is very little worth having, is it, Lady Russell? I am sure you will agree with me." (Chapter 14)
I think Captain Benwick does have a heart worth having. He has done nothing dishonorable to the memory of Fanny Harville and just because he admires a woman does not mean he plans to do so or that his feelings for Fanny have disappeared. Anne has encouraged Captain Benwick to participate in life again and was thanked for it by Captain Harville. For him to now be disparaged by Mary is silly, this comment is only a peevish judgment by Mary on a young man who failed to notice she dropped her scissors.
"No," admitted Charles, "I do not know that he ever does, in a general way; but, however, it is a very clear thing that he admires you exceedingly. His head is full of some books that he is reading upon your recommendation, and he wants to talk to you about them; he has found out something or other in one of them which he thinks -- oh! I cannot pretend to remember it, but it was something very fine -- I overheard him telling Henrietta all about it; and then "Miss Elliot" was spoken of in the highest terms! Now Mary, I declare it was so, I heard it myself, and you were in the other room. 'Elegance, sweetness, beauty.' Oh! there was no end of Miss Elliot's charms." (Chapter 14)
I believe that Captain Benwick does admire Anne and could perhaps someday feel more for her. Charles interprets Captain Benwick’s comments as evidence of a romantic attraction to Anne but what the Captain said was that he wanted to talk to her about some books. I think Charles has misinterpreted Captain Benwick’s enthusiasm to see Anne again because he really does not understand the passion that “great readers” have for discussing books so to think that Captain Benwick is anxious to do so again would never occur to him. Charles can only see it from his point of view and that he once offered for Anne himself makes the idea that Captain Benwick is attracted to Anne very logical and appealing. This may be the only other example of someone looking out for Anne’s best interest, the other, of course, is Lady Russell. Charles’ speech says a lot about how he feels about Anne. His enthusiasm at the thought of an attachment between them must be because he would be happy to see Anne situated with such a fine fellow and it is very sweet and very brotherly.
When Captain Harville thanked Anne in Chapter 12, "you have done a good deed in making that poor fellow talk so much. I wish he could have such company oftener. It is bad for him, I know, to be shut up as he is; but what can we do? We cannot part." Captain Benwick is not acting as excessively as Marianne in S&S but he does remind me of her. Marianne nourishes her grief by dwelling on the past and not taking care of herself and in the process weakens her health so much that a fever nearly does away with her. Anne sees that Captain Benwick has been nourishing his grief by immersing himself in sad, remorseful poetry and his friends are worried about him. Anne is able to draw him out from his grief for a time by giving him an opportunity to talk about his passion for literature—which the others are ill-suited to do and she does find that he actually needs to talk and it says in Chapter 11, “For, though shy, he did not seem reserved: it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints;” and it is in fact an emotional release for him showing he has been “shut up” in more ways than what Captain Harville implied.
I think Anne sees herself reflected in Captain Benwick. In Chapter 11, “he has not, perhaps, a more sorrowing heart than I have. I cannot believe his prospects so blighted for ever. He is younger than I am; younger in feeling, if not in fact; younger as a man. He will rally again, and be happy with another.” Anne hopes to be of real use to him and urges him to believe that it is his duty and to his benefit to struggle against affliction—not to drown in it. She therefore recommends that he read literature that will lift his sprits instead of depress them. In Chapter 11 he seems to agree with her, “with a shake of the head, and sighs which declared his little faith in the efficacy of any books on grief like his, noted down the names of those she recommended, and promised to procure and read them.” He now has employ for his sorrowing mind and I do not think it is unusual for him to be anxious to discuss his views on her recommendations. He already sought her out again in Chapter 12, “Their conversation the preceding evening did not disincline him to seek her again; and they walked together some time, talking as before of Mr. Scott and Lord Byron, and still as unable as before, and as unable as any other two readers, to think exactly alike of the merits of either.”
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