Sunday, March 05, 2017

Jane Austen: Travel in 'Persuasion'

This post looks at the importance of journeys for Jane Austen’s heroines, and, in particular, Anne Elliot, the twenty-seven-year old heroine of Persuasion. She is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, ‘a foolish, spendthrift baronet’, who has spent her entire life, apart from a few years at school in Bath, at Kellynch Hall, the family home in Somerset. Her elder sister, Elizabeth, her father’s favourite, goes to London with him every year for the Season, to see and be seen, but Anne is never invited.

Promenade dress 1809

Her position is unenviable. ‘Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way – she was only Anne.’
The only people she sees are her much-loved god-mother Lady Russell, who lives at Kellynch Lodge nearby, and her whiny younger sister Mary Musgrove at Uppercross Cottage, three miles away. It must be a desperately lonely life.
Sir Walter is deeply in debt, so he lets Kellynch Hall and moves to Bath, a place Anne dislikes. It’s arranged that Anne will stay with Mary, who isn’t feeling well, until Lady Russell can take her to Bath after Christmas. ‘I cannot possibly do without Anne,’ was Mary’s reasoning; and Elizabeth’s reply was, ‘Then I’m sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath.’


Young lady at a cabinet forte piano, 1808
Anne’s first journey is a very short one: from Kellynch Hall to Uppercross Cottage, it’s only three miles but it is significant. The first thing that strikes her is that ‘a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion and idea.’  Nobody at Uppercross cares that Kellynch Hall has now been let to Admiral Croft and his wife; the Musgroves are fully occupied with their own concerns.
Still, it’s an improvement. Anne is wanted and useful; her piano playing is appreciated if the Musgrove daughters want to dance, and she’s fond of her two little nephews. She’s among people she likes and who like her, which makes a change.
Enter the hero, Captain Frederick Wentworth. Eight years earlier, he had met Anne and they had fallen in love and been briefly engaged. But he had no fortune and Lady Russell persuaded Anne to break off the engagement. Anne’s subsequent loneliness has also included heartbreak. Now he’s back, staying with his brother-in-law, Admiral Croft, at Kellynch Hall.


A gentleman politely drew back

Nobody at Uppercross knows about Anne’s engagement. Mary was at school then; Frederick has not told the Crofts, and Anne’s father and sister are now in Bath. Is there a chance for Captain Wentworth and Anne to get back together? Probably not. The captain is taking an open interest in the Musgrove daughters, the spirited Louisa and her quieter sister, Henrietta.
Captain Wentworth has a friend in Lyme, Captain Harville, and makes a lightning visit to see him. He speaks of going again and ‘the young people were all wild to see Lyme’, so a visit is arranged. Lyme is seventeen miles away and it’s November; the days are short so they will stay the night. Anne is one of the party.
This second journey proves to be momentous for Anne. She learns a number of things. Meeting the Harvilles is a bitter-sweet pleasure: ‘These would have been my friends’, she thinks. She finds a ‘bewitching charm’ in their generous hospitality, so unlike the ‘dinners of formality and display’ she is used to.

Looking on her with a face as pale as her own
Then Captain Benwick, still in mourning for his fiancée, Fanny Harville, becomes interested in Anne. It has been a long time since Anne has enjoyed any masculine attention, and a further look of admiration from one of the inn’s guests, a look which Captain Wentworth notices, also raises her spirits. ‘She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion.’
Then comes a near tragedy. The wilful Louisa insists on being jumped down from the stairs on the Cobb so that Captain Wentworth can catch her. She mistimes her jump and lands on the pavement below and is taken up for dead. No-one seems to know what to do, except for Anne. She thrusts her smelling salts into Captain Benwick’s hands and tells him to help Captain Wentworth, who is holding Louisa.
She then suggests getting a surgeon and, when Captain Wentworth is about to rush off himself, adds, ‘Would it not be better for Captain Benwick? He knows where a surgeon is to be found.’

Obliged to touch him before she could catch his notice
Anne shows what she is made off. She doesn’t lose her head; her suggestions are practical and effective; and the men instinctively do as she bids. Back home at Kellynch Hall, ‘her word had no weight’; here, her intelligence is valued.
She does not yet know it, but it’s a turning point for Captain Wentworth. Before, he had been angry and resentful at her breaking off their engagement; now he begins to do her justice. When Captain Wentworth, Henrietta and Anne return to Uppercross in the carriage, he talks to Anne about what to do, and asks her approval of what he suggests. 
It’s a precious moment for Anne: ‘the remembrance of the appeal remained a pleasure to her – as a proof of friendship, and of deference for her judgement, a great pleasure; and when it became a sort of parting proof, its value did not lessen.’  
Captain Wentworth returns straight to Lyme and Anne must agonize a while yet.
In another moment they walked off

Anne makes another small journey, this time to Lady Russell’s in preparation for going to Bath, and notices that her inner mental landscape has changed. She now has little interest in her father’s new home in Camden Place; all she thinks about is Louisa, the friendship with the Harvilles and Captain Benwick, and, of course, Captain Wentworth. Even paying a call on the Crofts at Kellynch Hall does not give her a pang as it does Lady Russell.

Anne’s journey to Bath in Lady Russell’s carriage is passed over in a sentence but, it, too, signifies change to come.

Turning briefly to Captain Wentworth, it’s interesting to note just how many journeys he makes in Persuasion. Travelling was much easier for men at the time; they could go where they wanted when they wanted. He begins by coming to Kellynch Hall to stay with his sister, Mrs Croft. Jane Austen doesn’t mention it, but we note the irony of him staying at Kellynch Hall, the very place from which, eight years previously, Sir Walter would probably have thrown him out.  

Placed it before Anne

He pays a lightning visit to the Harvilles – there and back in a day - and, later, joins the Uppercross party to Lyme. After accompanying Anne and Henrietta back to Uppercross, he then sets out again for Lyme.

Anne assumes that he is returning to be with Louisa, but, in fact, he goes straight up to Shropshire to see his newly-married brother, Edward. He hopes to weaken Louisa’s interest in him; he draws out his visit until he’s rescued by the news of her engagement to Captain Benwick. Then he hot-foots it to Bath.
Anne herself is not the same person as she was at the beginning of the book. She has re-met Captain Wentworth, whom she still loves and her very real help in Lyme has deepened her relationship with the Musgroves. Now, she allows herself to be more independent. She ignores her father’s disapproval and visits her poverty-stricken and ill school friend, Mrs Smith. It is through Mrs Smith that she learns the true character of Sir Walter’s heir, Mr Elliot. And she resists Lady Russell’s attempts to persuade her to look favourably on Mr Elliot’s suit.  


The mistress of a very pretty landaulette
Although she is living with her father and Elizabeth, she joins in their socializing as little as possible. Mentally, she has already left them. She’s delighted to see the Crofts who have come to Bath for the Admiral’s health. When the Musgroves arrive, she joins them at the White Hart as much as she can. And, when Captain Wentworth appears, she does her best to speak to him and to avoid Mr Elliot.

And, if proof were needed of the importance of independent travel for women as well as men, we learn that Captain Wentworth buys his wife ‘a very pretty landaulette’. It’s a lovely touch. I rest my case.

Illustrations by Hugh Thomson

Elizabeth Hawksley

A companion piece to this post: Jane Austen: Travel in 'Northanger Abbey' is up in









Elizabeth Bailey said...

Delightful. I love Persuasion. So many fascinating characters and Jane Austen's wit at her very best in describing them. The journeying is quite fascinating, especially as we know the roads were pretty dire most of the time. With Austen you don't get the descriptions of things her contemporary audience would have known which makes for an interesting read as you have to draw on whatever knowledge you have of the era to picture it all. Captain Wentworth is a swoonworthy hero.

Beth Elliott said...

A charming perspective through which to reconsider the story. Most enjoyable.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Beth, for your kind words. Much appreciated.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. I do so agree about Captain Wentworth. That letter!

I don't think the roads were in that bad a state in Regency times. The turnpike roads were reasonable - they had to be because people paid to use them. And, once the industrial revolution got going, efficient transport (canals and roads) became a priority in a way it hadn't been in earlier centuries.

Amanda said...

I hadn't thought about the independent travel angle of the landaulette, Elizabeth, but it's a good point.At the end of the novel we have no doubt that a happy future lies in store for the Wentworths. I think you're right, the landaulette is one of the things that give us an indication of it. Thanks for this reminder of Persuasion.

Laura Vivanco said...

Mr Elliot's "Sunday-travelling" also plays quite an important role.

Unknown said...

You are right, Laura; Sunday travelling was definitely Not Done by godly folk. Thank you for mentioning this important point - the fact that Mr Elliot travelled on the Sabbath is a strong indicator of his dodgy moral compass.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment, Amanda. Perhaps we also ought to remember the barouche-landau - plainly a status symbol - which the ghastly Mrs Elton keeps mentioning..

Fenella J Miller said...

Enjoyed your post, don't often read persuasion but will now dig it out and read it again.Thank you.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Fenella. 'Persuasion' is my favourite Jane Austen, so I'm sure you won't be disappointed!

Damsel said...

Thank you for this lovely perspective of travel in Persuasion... This is my absolute favorite book of them all! I must re-examine the landaulette!

Unknown said...

I do so agree, Debra. 'Persuasion' is my favourite, too!

What I particularly like about the landaulette is that it's also a subtle indication that Captain Wentworth can afford to buy such a thing for his wife. Don't forget, he would have needed to employ someone (a coachman/groom) to drive it, and have the sort of home which had proper stabling and a coach house. If he'd bought a gig then Anne could have driven it herself. But a landaulette is one step up from a gig and it shows his care for her comfort.

We know that he will be a good husband!

Regencyresearcher said...

We learn elsewhere in Austen that one needed an income of at least £500 a year to afford a carriage- It is never clear whether the incomes are gross or net, but I prefer to think of it as a net income.

Roman J said...

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