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|Mrs. Smith, Her Choices (long)
Written by Robbin
(10/25/2005 12:44 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, should we like Mrs. Smith?, penned by Margaret H
I do like Mrs. Smith for her cheerfulness in her desperate situation, her willingness to stay occupied and not sink into bitterness and remorse and that she wants to help those even poorer than herself—all this we learn of in Chapter 17. I can only think of three things which she does or says in Chapter 21 that I find not as worthy as the previous. She must make a hard choice with an indefinite outcome both for herself and Anne and I think at some moments she may be so frustrated that she says some things best left unsaid. Her choice and her comments show her not incapable of working for her own self-interest and a willingness to put the interest of others behind that of her own. In Chapter 21 Mrs. Smith is not shown to her advantage and it is not what we expect after the goodness we are shown in Chapter 17. How do we reconcile this desperate Mrs. Smith with the one endowed with the “choicest gift of Heaven.” My focus for this post is Mrs. Smith’s choice, why she made it and can she still be liked in spite of it and also to look at two comments I think do not do her any credit.
“It was on this point that she had hoped to engage Anne's good offices with Mr. Elliot. She had previously, in the anticipation of their marriage, been very apprehensive of losing her friend by it; but on being assured that he could have made no attempt of that nature, since he did not even know her to be in Bath, it immediately occurred, that something might be done in her favour by the influence of the woman he loved, and she had been hastily preparing to interest Anne's feelings as far as the observances due to Mr. Elliot's character would allow, when Anne's refutation of the supposed engagement changed the face of everything; and while it took from her the new-formed hope of succeeding in the object of her first anxiety, left her at least the comfort of telling the whole story her own way.” (Chapter 21)
I find it disconcerting that Mrs. Smith was willing to see Anne marry Mr. Elliot without telling her what she knows of his character. According to Mrs. Smith she has just had the idea of obtaining Mr. Elliot’s help through the woman he loves during this very visit in Chapter 21, if she can be believed, then loss of friendship was the primary motive for keeping silent before this visit, but during the visit in Chapter 21, between the time (minutes perhaps) she learns Mr. Elliot does not know she is in town and when Anne convinces her that a marriage between them will never take place the primary motive is that she wants to secure his help through Anne. It then is her first object to better her own circumstances and considering her circumstances, I can hardly blame her for it, but for either reason or both at once, it is hardly honorable to benefit from what could be the unhappiness of a friend. From her point of view, I think, Mrs. Smith is confronted with two choices, neither without some harm to herself and to Anne:
-- The first is to potentially ruin her chances for help from Anne by telling her what she knows and be easy in her conscious that she did her duty to her friend by warning her of Mr. Elliot’s past: If Anne believes her she will not marry Mr. Elliot and loose all influence with him but earn Anne’s thanks. If Anne does not believe her, she still may be hurt by the accusations against Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Smith would loose hope for her help and her friendship also.
-- The second is to keep her knowledge of Mr. Elliot to herself and hope for the best: The best being resolution of her husband’s estate and Anne suffering no ill consequence of the secret so she has no reason to regret her silence. I can see below that Mrs. Smith feels Mr. Elliot will value Anne more than his first wife and treat her well but being such a man as he is this is not a certainty and she must know it. Second best is that her husband’s estate is resolved and Anne does end up unhappy with Mr. Elliot. If that were to happen, Mrs. Smith would have to live with the guilty knowledge that she betrayed a friend for her own comfort and could loose Anne’s friendship should she find out.
Mrs. Smith did choose to keep silent and hope for the best. This is choosing the welfare of herself above that of her friend, but she does have extenuating circumstances that make her choice more easily understandable but not more honorable. From Mrs. Smith’s point of view her situation is desperate, perhaps at some future point life-threatening and unlikely to improve without help but there is a reasonable chance Anne will be happy with Mr. Elliot. The weight of ill consequence is worse for her than Anne so Mrs. Smith chooses the only choice that she sees hope in for herself and she does not form a resolution to tell Anne all until she is positive that Anne will never have the influence of a beloved wife with Mr. Elliot. That Mrs. Smith resolves to tell Anne quickly after she is assured that she will never marry Mr. Elliot is to her credit, that she did not tell her before is not.
“Well, my dear Miss Elliot, I hope and trust you will be very happy. Mr. Elliot has sense to understand the value of such a woman. Your peace will not be shipwrecked as mine has been. You are safe in all worldly matters, and safe in his character. He will not be led astray; he will not be misled by others to his ruin.” & “He is no hypocrite now. He truly wants to marry you. His present attentions to your family are very sincere: quite from the heart. I will give you my authority; his friend Colonel Wallis.” (Chapter 21)
I do not think she should have recommended Mr. Elliot to Anne. I feel that knowing what she knows, if she is resolved not to enlighten Anne she should at least not encourage any false ideas about his character Anne may hold by recommending him in any way. "Now, how I do wish I understood you! How I do wish I knew what you were at!—Chapter 21. I think at this moment Mrs. Smith is frustrated that Anne does not admit to the “inevitable” marriage to Mr. Elliot because she has a lot of hope attached to Anne’s influence with him—Mrs. Smith may have been even more frustrated as it is Anne who she knows to be a person not inclined to put up a pretense. I think Mrs. Smith’s frustration and possibly panic at the possibility of loosing the opportunity to ask Anne for her assistance impels her to continue inquiring of Anne about Mr. Elliot to satisfy her need that it will happen eventually and this finally leads her to the recommendation of Mr. Elliot as a way of testing Anne for her feelings towards Mr. Elliot. I think Mrs. Smith recommends Mr. Elliot very carefully trying to gear it towards his not being a spindrift but character does not only apply to worldly matters and Anne well knows that she is not safe in his character and that is what is important. In this sense Mrs. Smith’s recommendation is a deliberate falsehood and should not have been attempted as it could have done real damage to someone with less sense and fortitude than Anne.
“She learned that (the intimacy between them continuing unimpaired by Mr. Elliot's marriage) they had been as before always together, and Mr. Elliot had led his friend into expenses much beyond his fortune. Mrs. Smith did not want to take blame to herself, and was most tender of throwing any on her husband; but Anne could collect that their income had never been equal to their style of living, and that from the first there had been a great deal of general and joint extravagance.” (Chapter 21)
I know this is nitpicky but as bad as Mr. Elliot turns out to be, it cannot erase the blame to individuals who spend more money than they have. I understand the reason Mrs. Smith is most tender of throwing any blame on her deceased husband but I cannot think of a good reason why she should absolve herself of blame also. Forgetting her part in their ruin does not increase Mr. Elliot’s blame. All I can think of is that to blame others and not yourself is a common weakness but since further comments make Anne understand there was general and joint extravagance it is improbably that she is purposely trying to make herself look better in Anne’s eyes. I think Anne puts it down to stress and anger and frustration at Mr. Elliot’s failure to do his duty to her, “She had no natural connexions to assist her even with their counsel, and she could not afford to purchase the assistance of the law. This was a cruel aggravation of actually streightened means. To feel that she ought to be in better circumstances, that a little trouble in the right place might do it, and to fear that delay might be even weakening her claims, was hard to bear”—Chapter 21. In the end I do not really hold this comment against Mrs. Smith because it is probably just a rationalization and not an outright lie. They should have retrenched of course; it is unfortunate that they only had Mr. Elliot for his bad influence instead of a Lady Russell and a Mr. Shepherd to curry them into good order.
“My dear, there was nothing else to be done. I considered your marrying him as certain, though he might not yet have made the offer, and I could no more speak the truth of him, than if he had been your husband. My heart bled for you as I talked of happiness; and yet he is sensible, he is agreeable, and with such a woman as you, it was not absolutely hopeless. He was very unkind to his first wife. They were wretched together. But she was too ignorant and giddy for respect, and he had never loved her. I was willing to hope that you must fare better.” (Chapter 21)
Mrs. Smith is shown in Chapter 21 to be not an angel, but who is? Should we hold a few minutes or days of selfishness against her when it did no harm in the end? Captain Wentworth did more harm at Uppercross and Lyme than Mrs. Smith has. I do not think I can ever believe her action to withhold the truth from Anne to ever be honorable although I understand it. I think it is plain wrong to recommend Mr. Elliot when she knows it is a false recommendation. I do not think she can really not accept any blame for spending to freely what she did not have—however, Anne does not appear to share my scruples that Mrs. Smith should have informed her about Mr. Elliot, engagement or not, Anne also seems to forgive her and accept her explanation for her recommendation of Mr. Elliot, and Anne then seems to understand Mrs. Smith’s pain and relief when talking of her personal distress and sad scenes and even further admires her friends state of mind despite her trials. Mrs. Smith answers questions and even admits to seeing no wrong in Mr. Elliot for marrying for money at the time and admits to living in a style that would not impress Anne, these things cannot be calculated to be of benefit to her if told so I think she is trying to be honest with Anne. I do not think Mrs. Smith is unforgivable and perhaps not as much as Anne, but I should continue to like her somewhat despite her mistakes and faults.
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