Why Mr. Elliot? Persuadable: Chapter 2

I don't really picture Simon Baker
as Will Elliot. It's that faint near-smile
smirk that I view as transferable.
My next hurdle with Persuadable was Mr. Elliot. More than Mrs. Clay, Mr. Elliot is the "villain" of the piece. I could approach his narrative in two ways:
1. Justify or explain away his bad behavior (he didn't actually say those awful things about the Elliots; Mrs. Smith is just trying to make him look bad!).

2. Use Saberhagen's approach from The Dracula Tape: yep, he said those things. What of it? After all, the Elliots are fairly irritating people (sans Anne).
I decided to go with 2, partly because I wanted to be true to Austen's characterization/description of Will Elliot's actions and partly, because accepted villainy is so much more fun than justification!

Though the age is off, the ever
sexy Ted Levine more closely
matches my description and Austen's.
(sans mustache).
The problem, of course, was that without excusing or explaining away Mr. Elliot's behavior, I had to create motivations (context) that would allow the reader to judge him as far less despicable than usually imagined.

In favor of my approach were three things: (1) Austen's writing; (2) Austen's time period versus our own; (3) my editor.

Austen, the writer, is far more objective than Anne, the obstensible narrator. It is customary to see Anne as Austen and vice versa, but literary analysts have pointed out that the writer, Austen, is perfectly willing to twit the character, Anne, now and again:
Prettier musings of high-wrought love and eternal constancy, could never have passed along the streets of Bath, than Anne was sporting with from Camden Place to Westgate Buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way.

She was deep in the happiness of such misery, or the misery of such happiness, instantly.
 Check out that singularly dry tone!

Consequently, it is never clear if Austen is as entirely offended by Mr. Elliot as Anne. Anne is a far more fastidious heroine than Austen's other heroines, even Fanny. Part of this may be that Anne is the product of Austen's maturity (in general, certain things--like poop jokes--just become tiresome with age). But I believe that Anne is as carefully crafted and individual a heroine as any of Austen's other creations. Persuasion is not simply autobiographical. Anne is Anne--not just Jane in disguise.

Also in favor of my approach is the attitude of Austen's society regarding class versus modern Western attitudes. 

Although more relaxed than the Victorians, the Regency era's class structure was somewhat more rigid. A gentlewoman of Anne's time period--no matter how democratic in other regards--would take for granted a certain deference for her family's position/rank, a deference that we don't take for granted in our (arguably ruder yet) more egalitarian society. Although Anne is personally offended by Mr. Elliot's disparaging comments about her family--and honestly disgusted by his hypocrisy--both she and Mrs. Smith are almost as disgusted by Mr. Elliot's lack of respect (even though Mr. Elliot himself is consistently treated as a kind of tame poodle by Elizabeth and Sir Walter).

A modern reader is far more willing than Anne to allow Will to just dislike the Elliots, no matter what their station in life. (I grant that even a modern reader might be offended by his deliberate sycophancy.)

The best support for my approach came from my editor, Eugene. In response to my first draft, he wrote the following:
Will [Elliot] strikes me as the kind of man who, hitting middle age, knows he's supposed to be climbing social ladders and becoming a leader of men and rousing the slumbering alpha male into action. But once aroused, he realizes why he didn't bother climbing those ladders before and says, "Aw, screw it," and happily goes back to the way he was.
This perfectly summarizes Will Elliot's psychology and frankly more closely fits Austen's version of Mr. Elliot than more modern film renditions. Modern film versions of Persuasion often try to explain Will Elliot's actions by making him poor--he's after Anne and Elizabeth and, finally, Mrs. Clay to protect his inheritance because he needs the money. But Austen's Mr. Elliot is rich; his motives are far more complex, being entangled (amongst other things) with pride and a tendency to live in the "now"--I relied on Eugene's description and Austen's willing ambiguity to write Will's chapters.

For example, one of the main contentions against Will is that he wasn't a good husband to his first wife. Here is Will's version: the evidence that his first wife had a less than able intellect and that her coterie included less than sterling characters is all in the original text!
William Elliot despised his Kellynch relations. Fortunately, they didn’t feel compelled to contact him with blathering platitudes when his wife died.

Will’s wife, Sally, died from fever. She’d gone out on the Thames for New Year’s and caught a chill. Will told her to rest, to ease off the party circuit, and for a few months, she drooped about the house. Then in late spring, she spent a week parading from Vauxhall to the worst gambling hells near St. James (she didn’t play; she liked to cheer on others). By the time Will fetched her home, she was coughing and listless.

He did try to save her. They were wealthy. He’d married Sally for her money and invested it shrewdly despite their importuning friends: they owned a London townhouse, a carriage, five servants plus baubles and fine dresses for Sally. They could afford a physician, and Will called in several.

He did not have much hope—the headaches gave way to nausea which gave way to a rash—but he didn’t wish to send his wife into oblivion without some fanfare.

She was such a pathetic creature, having the brains and disposition of a kitten. Even as she faded, she would giggle pleasurably when Will brought her presents or trite messages from her many acquaintances. The moment they heard of Sally’s illness, those acquaintances had gathered in the lower drawing room of Sally and Will’s townhouse.

“How is she?” they clamored whenever Will passed the drawing room door.

They were honestly sorry she was dying; they missed her frenetic energy and chirpy chatter. Their sorrow didn’t prevent their revelries. Between Will’s reports, they drank all the claret—which usually lasted several months—then broke a lamp and window playing pall-mall indoors. When they started planning a cock-fight, Will threw them out.

“Wish Sally well,” they shouted from the pavement. Two of her closest friends loitered to tell Will to tell Sally that they still wanted to borrow money but would wait till she was better.

 “How noble of you,” Will said, sighing when they solemnly agreed that sorrow compelled one to forgo worldly concerns.
Will was tired of his and his wife’s crowd. Most of them were profligates without the resources to be profligates. They were loud, careless, and bad with money. And they all expected Will to pay their bills.

Will wanted better neighbors, neighbors who were quiet, astute, and solvent. His second wife would need to fit his new life.

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