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|Persuading Anne – was Lady Russell right? (long)
Written by Rachel G
(10/9/2008 7:00 a.m.)
Pondering Lady Russell's persuasion of Anne to give up her engagement to Captain Wentworth (FW), I'm reluctantly coming to the conclusion that there is good sense in her point of view, particularly regarding the financial imprudence of the match.
“...a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession. ...without alliance or fortune ..”
FW has no home to offer Anne and has no fortune to provide him with a private income to supplement his Naval pay and prizes. A Commander's annual pay when at sea was less than £250 a year; if he did not have a ship to command he would receive half pay. This level of income would only enable them to employ one maid of all work, or at most two. (Ref: S&S Ch. 28, and “The Complete Servant”, Samuel & Sarah Adams 1825.) This was a far cry from the comforts to which Anne was accustomed. In order to improve matters, FW needed command of a ship, both to earn prize money and to further distinguish himself by gallantry, which would help him gain the next promotion to Post-Captain, after which promotion was by strict seniority. (Note that both Commanders and Post-Captains were addressed as “Captain”.) Not all ships at sea would offer such opportunities - there would be little chance to engage the enemy on a posting away from the good prize areas, or on a sloop carrying dispatches.
FW has recently been promoted to the rank of Commander, which entitled him to command a sloop of 20-28 guns, but there was no guarantee that he would actually be given a ship to command. The only means that the Navy had of rewarding gallantry in action (other than a share of prize money) was by promotion, which resulted in there being many more Commanders and Post-Captains (who commanded bigger ships) than there were ships in service. Some of those on half-pay were unfit for active service, but unemployment was a particular problem at the beginning of the 19th century, and highest among those who had been recently promoted. Even in wartime it was not uncommon for Commanders and Post-Captains to wait years for a posting.
Although the Navy had a stated preference for giving postings and promotions based on merit, there was also a long tradition of patronage. There was so much pressure from powerful political and aristocratic interests for promotions of their favoured individuals that it is doubtful whether the influence of Admiral Croft would have counted for much.
My source for these statements is long but interesting paper, “Commissioned Officers' Careers in the Royal Navy 1690-1815”. The last page of the paper, on Promotion during the Napoleonic War, is available here: (sorry – don't know how to put neat little links in the text)
I have put a link below to a message from the archives about Naval pay and prize money. The third message in that thread (“Seniority”) is also of interest on the subject of promotion.
I think Lady Russell was right to be concerned. What FW needed above all was luck, but that couldn't be counted on no matter how confident he was.
Of course, Lady Russell's personal prejudices coloured her judgement. Her excessive regard for ancestry, rank and consequence certainly played a part: (” Anne Elliot, with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw herself away ...”)
She also had ”a horror of anything approaching to imprudence”. Instead of saving some of his prize money FW had spent the lot, and I really cannot quarrel with her point of view, especially as she must already have seen her friend's struggles against Sir Walter's spendthrift ways. Thanks to all for a thought-provoking thread on this topic.
Lady Russell also dislikes FW's “dangerous” character. He was “full of life and ardour”, and had a “ sanguine temper, and fearlessness of mind”: “He was brilliant, he was headstrong”.
We, and Anne, may think that love conquers all, but poverty isn't pretty, particularly if there are children to provide for. We have to remember that there were no welfare benefits available to keep people out of poverty, and that if FW was unable for some reason to provide financially for Anne and any children they might have, it would have been very difficult (almost impossible?) for her to earn a living. If Anne had been widowed, perhaps with young children, there would have been little difference between her situation and that of Mrs Clay, except that she could not have relied on the help of a shrewd and supportive parent.
Lady Russell wished to protect Anne from ”..a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependance “ Instead Anne had to endure heartache made worse by isolation, and youth killing (“she had lost her bloom”) dependence on her selfish , unloving father. No wonder Anne bitterly regretted her decision. I think a sensible approach would have been to defer marriage until FW had earned enough to support a family, but I cannot blame Lady Russell for being very worried about the financial imprudence of the match.
Was lady Russell right to persuade Anne as she did? What do others think?
Note: I'm aware that aspects of this question have already been discussed in earlier threads. I am starting a new thread because this post addresses a rather different issue, and I could not see a suitable place to attach it to a previous thread without seeming to hijack the conversation. I am happy for this message to be moved if that would be more appropriate.
|Navy pay & prize money.|
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