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|Tragic Mrs. Clay?
Written by Robbin
(10/29/2005 6:20 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Anyone considered Mrs. Clay tragic figure overcome by love?, penned by Mia I.
JA tells us very directly that Mrs. Clay was overwhelmed by Mr. Elliot and did give up on Sir Walter and they are left to work their cunning on each other in Chapter 24. So I am left to feel about Mrs. Clay as I always have, that she is a very deceitful and cunning person out to improve her condition by marrying Sir Walter but this does not preclude that she has had a tragic past. What better than lost love and tragedy to turn a good woman into a bad one? Truthfully, I have never thought of Mrs. Clay as a tragic figure or even a very sympathetic one, but you do have an interesting point. The thought that Mrs. Clay has been overpowered by her emotions before would make it easier to believe that she has been overpowered again by Mr. Elliot. In Chapter 2 Lady Russell tells us her marriage was unprosperous but adds nothing else and therefore, intrigued as I am a look for some indirect evidence that is was love match seems most appropriate.
The only potential clue I can find of a preference by Mrs. Clay could be her enthusiasm in Chapter 3 for men of the navy. It could be genuine if she was married to one and he died at sea—her ardor is quite tantalizing in this light. Mrs. Clay would then be in the opposite situation to that of Captain Benwick who did not marry before returning to sea, acquired his fortune but all too late as Fanny died before he returned and he is left to mourn her poetically. Mrs. Clay married, perhaps before Mr. Clay’s fortune was made and he perishes leaving her destitute and turning to more artful means than love to secure herself and her children. She may also be another example of forgetting her spouse too soon—she has only been visiting Kellynch for a few months after returning home at the beginning of the novel. If I might continue in this vein of a “tragic” Mrs. Clay for a moment more, I can imagine the situation at Camden Place would help make her vulnerable to Mr. Elliot for she must have been very lonely. It is hard to believe there could be any enjoyment or companionship in the company of Sir Walter and Elizabeth; in addition I do not think it could be at all pleasurable to be always at Elizabeth’s beck and call or to be a toady all day every day. She also may have been reporting to her father on Sir Walter’s activities in case some foolish financial decisions must be averted. On top of all that she was either always on guard against Mr. Elliot finding her out or participating in a dangerous liaison with him always on guard of being found out by the others. It actually seems a quite horrid life upon examination.
I do have problems against this imaginary love match I have proposed. One is that is if Mrs. Clay was the widow of a navy man would not Anne be more interested in her, perhaps even sympathetic to her? I cannot help but think Anne would be or at least mention a naval connection among her other observations—she is predisposed to be interested in the topic. This does knock down my little imaginary marriage—I think—as Anne is the observer whose judgment is most trustworthy and she does not mention any such connection. Another reason against is that Mrs. Clay’s support of navy men always suggested to me that she is perpetuating a planned ruse devised by Mr. Shepard to help wheedle Sir Walter into accepting one as a tenant. Of course none of this excludes the possibility of Mrs. Clay’s marriage being a love match, only my attempt to try and prove one. :)
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