|Steep stairs on the Cobb at Lyme.|
In Persuasion, this event changes the entire momentum of the story. The 1995 film does a good job portraying this event. In some of the movies, it is far too quick and Wentworth's culpability is passed over. But the 1995 film demonstrates how Louisa's waywardness--that Wentworth has encouraged--leads to profoundly negative repercussions.
I think that too many script writers feel, secretly, that Louisa is right--that Louisa's impetuous nature is the way to go about things, that Anne must learn to be like Louisa, not the other way around. (The 2007 movie heavily implies this.)
But as the 1995 film illustrates, impulse (what Dorothy Sayers in Gaudy Night calls, "The Doctrine of Snatch") is not a terribly good approach to major life events. I have made impulsive decisions that turned out okay. I have also made impulsive decisions that haunted me for years (like when I bought my Saturn). Louisa impulsive leap in Lyme is not an anomaly; rather, it is symptomatic of her philosophy--that the babyish ME GET THIS NOW id-approach to life is the best way to address life's vagaries.
In Persuadable, Mrs. Clay criticizes Anne for not being direct enough with Captain Wentworth (see Chapter 11), but she also recognizes in Anne, as in herself, the need to tread carefully and consider all angles. A woman's lot is not easy, and poverty ain't fun, and being a poor dead naval officer's wife is even less fun.
Both Anne and Mrs. Clay would be more than capable of supporting themselves in the modern world--I see Mrs. Clay as a real estate broker and Anne as a high class nanny or advice columnist (seriously: I see her as one of those soft-spoken experts who writes books and gets asked to be on panels).
However, as members of the early nineteenth century, their options are limited. They have to maintain a position which will enable them to snag a man while remaining unsullied and respectable. And this position has its own risks (property becomes the husband's; respectability doesn't automatically entail wealth or security).
From this perspective, Anne's wariness at marrying Captain Wentworth seven years earlier and Mrs. Clay's careful assessment of Mr. Elliot's potential become mirrors to each other.
The following excerpt takes place when Mr. Elliot comes to Camden Place to dine. The incident at Lyme is discussed.
“I never put down the Elliot name!” Mr. Elliot exclaimed in answer to a querulous remark from Sir Walter. “I have ever boasted of being an Elliot.” (What he had said was, “Thank God I’m an Elliot with sense.” And he’d only mocked Sir Walter to his wife’s friends when his Kellynch cousins were mentioned—which was hardly at all.)
Mrs. Clay’s mouth twitched. Will put down his utensils and gazed at her, bringing the others’ attention to her side of the table.
She said, the twitch utterly wiped out, “Of course you did, Mr. Elliot, for who would not be proud of such a connection?!”
He nearly glared at her except Sir Walter had refocused on him, uttering harrumphs of approval.
Returning to the drawing room, Will said pointedly to Elizabeth, “Your sisters will keep you company this winter?”
“Anne is coming soon with Lady Russell. I don’t know if Mary will visit.” Mary was the youngest sister. “There’s been an accident with one of our in-laws.”
“Mary’s husband’s sister, Louisa, had a bad fall,” Mrs. Clay said softly. “She struck her head, and they are still unsure if she will regain her wits.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “Anne wrote something about it. She was there when it happened.”
Will barely managed to restrain his surprise. His wife Sally had been aggravating in the extreme but when her best friend was killed by a racing carriage, Will had held her while she cried. He hadn’t been so awful a husband that he couldn’t sympathize with unexpected terror and pain.
Elizabeth behaved as though Anne had witnessed a minor brawl at a local fair.
For a moment, Will’s eyes met Mrs. Clay’s. A faint wryness touched the corners of her mouth, then she leaned forward solicitously to ask Sir Walter if he was comfortable.
Will broke in: “Where did this accident occur?”
Will had passed through Lyme on his way from Sidmouth. A collection of pretty women and soldierly-looking men had stayed at Will’s inn. No doubt, the unmarried Elliot daughter had been among them.
I should have introduced myself. I might have met the other unmarried daughter—
Will shrugged mentally. Reintroducing himself to anyone in the family but Sir Walter would have gravely offended the man. He must tread carefully, for Mrs. Clay—patting a pillow for Sir Walter, assuring him that a man of his well-maintained posture deserved a bolster—was a more subtle threat than Will had initially anticipated.