Anne's Sister Elizabeth in Persuadable: Chapter 10

Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves shrewdly politicking
with Keith Michell's Henry VIII to avoid
becoming one of his causalities.
Elizabeth of Persuasion and Persuadable is a surprisingly distinct character from both her sisters and her father. Although she and Sir Walter are often grouped together as a single entity, Sir Walter has a somewhat warmer personality.

The Elizabeth/Sir Walter pairing is understandable since Elizabeth is not only Sir Walter's favorite but would have acted as Sir Walter's hostess since her mother's death. This position would likely be far more attractive to her than marrying "down" in any way.

Which brings us to to Elizabeth's state of singleness. 

Statistics prior to 1850 are almost impossible to track down, even with today's Internet: suffice it to say that Elizabeth's singleness is not quite as unusual a state of affairs as costume dramas and Regency romances suggest.  Even in the 1950s--when every woman supposedly married her high school sweetheart--approximately 8% of women and 9% of men had never married at age 35. In a town of 10,000 people, that's 800 women, a substantial enough number.

Elizabeth's singleness still provokes comment--from Austen at least. According to Austen, Elizabeth could marry if she wished, not due to her pretty face (although she has one) but due to her rank and dowry.

Poets and writers throughout history have extolled the beautiful face, etc. etc. etc. but for most of history, marriage has almost always been decided on factors such as parental approval, familiarity, occupation, dowry, and--in the case of royalty--political necessity.

Hence, the odd little story of Anne of Cleves. Anne of Cleves arrived in England to be married to Henry VIII, only to be divorced from him about six months later. The story goes that Henry was put off since she wasn't as attractive as the portrait he'd commissioned. The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) does an excellent job intimating that Anne--who was perfectly at ease with herself--was more shocked by Henry than Henry by Anne (this interpretation is supported by the historical record). She was 25; he was almost 50; he was Henry VIII . . . she wasn't.

Henry was so offended by her obvious lack of interest, he divorced her claiming the privilege of so many men in history that "it was the woman's fault." (I highly recommend the Anne of Cleves episode for the careful and intelligent politicking that goes on behind the scenes: Anne manages to keep her head but Cromwell is doomed and knows it--he has finally backed the wrong marriage.)

Elizabeth is in a far more secure position than Anne of Cleves, the Bennet sisters, or, even, Charlotte who chooses security with a silly man rather than a lifetime of dependence on her family. Although Elizabeth is not in a position to marry "up" (to an earl or a duke), she certainly could marry respectably--if she wished.

However, Austen's text makes clear that what Elizabeth thinks will happen and what Elizabeth wants to happen and what Elizabeth actually tries to make happen have almost no connection to each other: out of all of Austen's characters, Elizabeth Elliot appears to experience the most cognitive dissonance about her life.

Austen herself made the difficult choice not to marry, and she knew exactly what she was doing when she made that choice. But Elizabeth appears to have no idea that simply deciding that someone should value you and want to marry you is not altogether enormously effective if you then treat that person with utter indifference.

In comparison, Sir Walter and Anne and Mary, the youngest sister, all demonstrate a similar single-mindedness about relationships; in completely different ways, they are all gratified when someone pays them attention/shows an interest in them. For all his snobbery, Sir Walter leaps into instant friendship with anyone who likes him or flatters his ego. Although Anne is far more discerning and objective, she is touched when people like the Musgroves go out of their way to include her. And Mary spends all her time just trying to get people to notice her.

But Elizabeth takes all and any interest simply as her due. This is not the same as Elizabeth being indifferent to public opinion/making her own way in life. Elizabeth's dissonance is that she feels entitled to attention without ever wondering why people she doesn't pay attention to ought to pay attention to her.

In Chapter 7, Penelope Clay considers Elizabeth's attitude towards Will Elliot:
“William Elliot isn’t as handsome as I’d like,” Elizabeth said complacently. “But he is respectable.”

She and Penelope sat in Elizabeth’s bedroom while Elizabeth tested different brooches against her skin.

“I suppose he will wish to live at Kellynch Hall though I must say I am finding Bath more and more to my taste.”

Mr. Elliot has absolutely no interest in marrying you, Penelope did not say.

Penelope guessed that William Elliot had reinitiated contact with his relations to ensure his inheritance. He’d been clever enough to worm back into their good graces. He might try to use that cleverness to prevent Penelope from marrying Sir Walter.

He’s not as clever as me.

Penelope moved to the window and grinned down into the street. She hadn’t been tested like this since her landlord tried to make love to her. She’d gotten his wife to take her part against him—after she walked away with a new pair of gloves, money to pay the coal bill, and her virtue intact.

Far below on the pavement, Mr. Elliot’s compact form neared the front stoop.

“Mr. Elliot is gracing Camden Place with another appearance,” Penelope said mildly.

Elizabeth put away her brooches, flicked dust off her sandals and tsked over how the servants dusted, all before descending to the drawing room. Following, Penelope shook her head. Elizabeth did not exhibit the characteristics of a woman anxious over a potential mate but rather those of a woman contemplating what piece of furniture to add to her household. 
Poor Mr. Elliot. 
In Chapter 10--which includes the well-known scenes in Molland's--Mr. Elliot returns to Elizabeth's side after asking Lady Dalrymple to transport the Elliot coterie back to Camden Place. He is aware that Penelope Clay is trying to undermine his pursuit of Anne (in retaliation for he undermining her pursuit of Sir Walter) and plans to use the carriage ride to even the score. What is notable, in both Persuadable and the original text, is Elizabeth's complete indifference to what a walk with Mr. Elliot means (emphasized below):
Lady Dalrymple was a much more rational person than Sir Walter’s fawning might lead one to believe. She had an infinite store of small-talk and limited interests, but she was not callous or indifferent to a minor predicament. Naturally, she could convey two ladies to Camden Place.

Will didn’t press for the inclusion of a third. His commission had become an opportunity.

He returned to Molland’s and sadly informed the ladies that there was only room for two since Miss Carteret accompanied her mother.

“I will walk a lady home with pleasure,” Will said.

Elizabeth looked unimpressed. “I have a message for Lady Dalrymple from my father,” she said.

Her expectation that Will would court her apparently didn’t extend to actually wanting to spend time with him.

Anne said, “I could use a walk.”

From her quick but level response, Will guessed that Anne was motivated less by the possibility of Will’s company and more by a desire to avoid Lady Dalrymple’s conversation. Whatever her motives, her agreement was a gain for him.

Until, “I’m sure you would prefer to join your sister, Miss Anne,” Penelope said kindly. “I can walk with Mr. Elliot. You will avoid getting soaked and endangering your health.”

“The rain is a trifle,” Anne said, looking somewhat surprised; she had likely expected Penelope to leap at a chance to ingratiate herself with Lady Dalrymple.

“But there are puddles,” Penelope said. “My boots are much thicker than yours, you know.”

“You have a little cold,” Elizabeth said to Penelope. “Anne should go with Mr. Elliot. She will be fine.”

Penelope turned to Will, lids drooping. “Perhaps Mr. Elliot should choose.”

He wanted to laugh. He also wanted to suggest that Penelope’s cold was hardly a threat, her boots were impressively thick, and offer to take her home. An entire walk exchanging observations with a clever woman who knew him was a rare pleasure.

But the object here was to win Anne’s company. He chose her.

Penelope’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. She said, her voice like velvet, “Before you and Miss Anne embark, Mr. Elliot, perhaps you would fetch a parcel for me from the bookstall on Union Street?”

He bowed quickly and headed for the door before he broke into convulsing guffaws.

I won that skirmish, but Penelope Clay still holds the field.

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