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|Mrs. Smith again
Written by Deborah Y
(10/26/2005 10:01 a.m.)
The last pages of Persuasion give a bit more fodder for our earlier debate about Mrs. Smith's culpability in failing to warn Anne off Mr. Elliot earlier. I had been arguing that we should see Mrs. Smith as someone who has behaved ruthlessly because of the desperation of her situation, and that JA does not condemn her for this because JA knows something about desperation.
I think there might be some support for this position in the ironic treatment JA gives Mrs. Smith's ultimate fate. After FW helps her regain her property, "Mrs. Smith's enjoyments were not spoiled by this improvement of income, with some improvement of health, and the acquisition of such friends to be often with, for her cheerfulness and mental alacrity did not fail her; and while these prime supplies of good remained, she might have bid defiance even to greater accessions of worldly prosperity. She might have been absolutely rich and perfectly healthy, and yet be happy." Surely JA is here mocking the sentimental view that material and physical comfort block us from experiencing true spiritual riches -- the whole poor-but-happy, money-can't-buy-happiness, salt-of-the-earth-with-a-heart-of-gold, nobility-in-the-sickroom school of moral tales. We fans know well that JA -- even as she criticizes those who marry solely for money -- is never anything but sardonic about the possibility that true contentment can flourish in the absence of adequate income (think of the hair-raising portrayal of what straitened finances have done to the love match of Fanny Price's parents). With this coda to the Mrs. Smith story, I think she is once again telling us that we can't judge Mrs. Smith for what she did when in extremis.
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