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|Lady Russell: From Anne's Point of View (Sorry, long)
Written by BarbaraB
(10/24/2011 3:35 a.m.)
Since Anne is my favorite Jane Austen heroine, I would like to discuss the dynamics of Lady Russell in relation to Anne from Anne’s point of view.
For me Lady Russell doesn’t become someone I can completely respect until the end of the novel when revelations assist in making her a better person. Up until that time, I find there is much to be desired. My issues with her are her disconnect with Anne’s feelings and her prejudice. Also she takes on the in-place-of-a-parent mantle long enough to get Anne to feel that she can’t let her keep advising her in vain and thus she gave up her engagement, but then Lady Russell does not follow through with the position during the intervening eight years of misery for Anne. Some disconnects:
*She [Anne] knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation. Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world;(6) There is something heartbreaking in this. It seems that Lady Russell’s affection is not enough for her to tap into Anne’s feelings regarding her music. What would it have cost Lady Russell to take pleasure in and show appreciation for Anne’s music, to give a bit of encouragement and support? I often miss Anne’s mother for her...
*The young couple are true soul mates in my opinion: ...for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly any body to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest; she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted. A short period of exquisite felicity followed...(4) Lady Russell applies her stand-in parental position to exert her influence on Anne to break her engagement to Captain Wentworth. Obedience to parents was a serious expectation, making it a powerful position, most likely founded in the Commandment to honor thy father and mother. The severance of the entire relationship must have been a wrenching one for the pain seems to have been everlasting. Anne apparently has never entirely gotten over it (Anne, at seven-and-twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen....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 (4)) and the Captain returns still angry and resentful so the effect remains for them both. My problem, here, is that Lady Russell seems to be unaffected by the effect on Anne over these eight years and other than take her to Bath shortly after the breakup and try to get her father and sister to include her on trips to London, there appears to have been no effort on Anne’s behalf to do something about the years of her fading away to a shadow of her former self.
And taking her to Bath of all places is what I mean---it shows a complete disconnect with Anne’s feelings. For crying out loud, she associates the place with the death her mother and being sent to school there shortly thereafter, two events which had to have been traumatic in her childhood. Why must it be about Lady Russell who loves bath and all it entails? Why not have made a simple sacrifice and taken Anne someplace that could have been more restorative to her, someplace full of nature which she loves where the sun could smile on her or sea breezes could blow across her face, someplace scenic or poetic with butterflies, birds or lots of country gardens? I feel that after a year or two when perhaps Anne had acclimated herself to being without her Captain, though likely still missing him, Lady Russell could have been instrumental in involving Anne in a more well-rounded life; I think by this time Anne would have been pleased to accompany her on trips and be involved in activities that appealed to her. And if perchance Anne refused, well a person who could persuade someone to give up the love of her life could surely get her to go on a trip once a year or so. Instead, Lady Russell has carried on with her own personal happiness, taking her trips to Bath, keeping her engagements around and about, while Anne sits confined to her father’s home where she is treated like an outcast. Finally, after eight years, more than a third of Anne’s life in which she has lived a sad, melancholy existence, Lady Russell feels that Anne had been too little from home, too little seen. Her spirits were not high. A larger society would improve them. (2) Uh....okay.....duh??? Whether Lady Russell felt herself right or wrong, the point is Anne didn’t have to be just ‘only Anne’. I believe, Lady Russell could have made a difference.
*Lady Russell feels Anne would be happy as the wife of Mr. Elliot. She is not interested in considering Anne’s skepticism or feelings on the matter. Having her at Kellynch in her mother’s place attained by marriage to Mr. Elliot, “would be the highest possible gratification to me”. and “it would give me more delight than is often felt at my time of life!" (17) Anne’s statement that they would not be suited is ignored.
Part of problem is due to their individual value system. Jane Austen contrasts them fairly well. Some examples:
*Lady Russell aligns herself with Sir Walter, Mr. Elliot and Lady Dalrymple and her daughter. Her values are based on rank, status and ancestry. Anne aligns herself with the Crofts, the Musgroves, and the Harvilles. Her values are based on genuineness of character. She appreciates frankness and honesty. She is able to see that Captain Wentworth and Lady Russell, each in their own way, are equally good people.
*Lady Russell loves the noises associated with Bath while Anne at twenty seven persisted in...[a] disinclination for Bath. (14) She prefers the bustle of the home of the Musgroves, with its noises associated with family and music and warm feelings.
*There is a moment when Anne and Lady Russell are going down Pulteney Street when Anne spots Captain Wentworth on the opposite side. Anne is all nerves and feelings and concerns while Lady Russell, according to herself, is searching for curtains “described...as being the handsomest and best hung of any in Bath,...” (19), a trivial materialistic pursuit based on status.
*Anne loves Captain Wentworth, Lady Russell dislikes him. What bothers me about this, is I believe that while Lady Russell had the legitimate reason of advising Anne against marrying Captain Wentworth because of his lack of finances, her prejudice was a large part of her not wanting Anne to marry him. I think, even if he had money, her prejudices would have caused her to be against the marriage because when he shows up in Bath unattached and rich, her prejudices persist: ...if she were by any chance to be thrown into company with Captain Wentworth, her (LR) imperfect knowledge of the matter (Louisa’s engagement to Cpt. Benwick) might add another shade of prejudice against him. And she does not like his wit? Alas, I fear she would not like her own authoress at all. :-) He is from the wrong side of the tracks. Lady Russell seems to subscribe to Sir Walter’s belief---allowing Captain Wentworth into the family as “being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of;...” (3)
*When Anne informs Lady Russell of her thoughts of the attachment of Captain Wentworth and Louisa, Lady Russell had only to listen composedly, and wish them happy, but internally her heart revelled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt, that the man who at twenty-three had seemed to understand somewhat of the value of an Anne Elliot, should, eight years afterwards, be charmed by a Louisa Musgrove. (13) I find this a bit perverse. I would rather have seen her be concerned for how it might be affecting Anne. Shepard points out that this shows Lady Russell’s “moral inferiority to Anne who never derives pleasure from anger or contempt.” As a matter of fact, we can see the contrast when Anne discovers she is right about her suspicions concerning Mr. Elliot. She has an opposing reaction--- she does show her concern about the effect it will have on both Lady Russell and her family.
I see it generally said that lady Russell had good intentions and I can’t argue with that but good intentions do not absolve one from actions that have a negative outcome, imho. Persuasions that are life altering, that have a long lasting negative effect or that can be harmful come with responsibility. If a person undertakes to persuade someone against their will or in some way exerts influence on someone, the person/s who gives in, in the end responsible for being persuaded, but the persuader must take the responsibility for the influence they brought to bear. Captain Wentworth understood this---he immediately felt the fault of the influence he had on Louisa. This, however, was what Lady Russell had now to do. She must learn to feel that she had been mistaken with regard to both (Wentworth and Elliot); that she had been unfairly influenced by appearances in each; that because Captain Wentworth's manners had not suited her own ideas, she had been too quick in suspecting them to indicate a character of dangerous impetuosity;(24)
In the end, events conspired to make a better person of her. She becomes the person I would like to have seen from the beginning. She loved Anne better than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness of the beginning was over, found little hardship in attaching herself as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of her other child.(24) Now we’re talking. Lady Russell is interested in the happiness of Anne for Anne’s sake, not her own.
I know, I know, my point of view goes against the prevailing consensus at Pemberley but I have long felt that Anne’s side sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and could use some extra support to the few voices who feel for her in her relationship with Lady Russell. I am so behind on the posts so I have not been overly repetitive.
There was so much more I wished to say but I have taken up more than enough of your time, perhaps I can get it into another post. I appreciate you hanging in here with me to the end. Thanx. :-) :-) :-)
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