Quick Index Board Index Home FAQ Site Map
|Revisiting Anne's decision (longish)
Written by Deborah Y
(10/27/2008 1:46 p.m.)
"She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person in similar circumstances to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good. She was persuaded, that under every disadvantage of disapprobation at home, and every anxiety attending his profession, all their probable fears, delays and disappointments, she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement than she had been in the sacrifice of it."
Now, in ch. 23, Anne tells Wentworth:
"I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now. To me, she was in place of a parent. Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice. But I mean that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and, if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman's portion."
I'm interested in the differences between these two statements of Anne's views. In ch. 4, Anne says (thinks) she would have been happier had she maintained the engagement; in ch. 23, she says almost the opposite -- that she would have suffered more had she maintained the engagement in the teeth of Lady R's opposition. What accounts for the change, if indeed it is a change? Is Anne viewing the past through the rose-colored glasses of her present happiness? Does knowing that, in the end, everything worked out all right make it easier to justify the past? Would she have felt this way if FW had ended up married to Louisa?
I've always found the second passage rather puzzling: how can it have been right -- indeed, required by conscience -- to follow advice that you feel was wrong, and that you know you would never give yourself? I think JA means us to approve of Anne's sentiments here, but I must confess that my heart rebels against the suggestion that Anne's eight years of unhappiness were a reasonable price to pay for following the dictates of duty. I think perhaps one key is in the line, "It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides." This phrase seems to point out something that I have noticed a lot on this reading of Persuasion -- the many places in the story in which things could so easily have turned out otherwise, in which chance/circumstance/contingency dictate the result. Had the Asp not made it into port before the big storm, had Wentworth been disabled, like Captain Harville, or taken many years to earn enough to marry on, like Captain Benwick, then Lady Russell's advice might have looked sensible, rather than tragically wrong. None of them knew how things would turn out; Lady Russell did her best under the circumstances, and Anne gives her credit for meaning well.
Groupread is maintained by Myretta with WebBBS 3.21.