Anne Elliot

Anne Elliot

Anne Elliot is the protagonist of Jane Austen's sixth and last completed novel, "Persuasion" (1818).


Anne is the overlooked middle daughter of a vain and extravagant baronet, Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall. Unique among Jane Austen heroines, she is 27 years old and seemingly a confirmed spinster [Tomalin, Claire. "Jane Austen: A Life". New York: Vintage, 1997, p. 256] . Her mother is dead; her father and older sister are vain and selfish; and her younger sister is a manipulative hypochondriac but quite beyond Anne's influence as her elder sister Elizabeth. With few to appreciate her sweet nature and refined, elegant mind, Anne is somewhat isolated, living in a narrow social sphere where she "was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way; she was only Anne." [Austen, Jane. "Persuasion". Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1894, pp. 8-9]

Lady Russell, her mother's best friend, is her only real confidante; and although she means well and usually shows good judgment, she tends to overvalue social position when forming her opinions of others. This prejudice has caused Anne great sorrow: eight years before, Lady Russell persuaded her to break off an engagement with an ambitious, brilliant young naval officer named Captain Wentworth – a man whom she loved passionately – on the grounds that his poverty, lack of social rank and connections made him an unsuitable choice.

Anne has never fully recovered from the heartbreak, and begins "Persuasion" as a sad figure, disregarded by her father, "wretchedly altered" in looks, looked down upon by her elder sister and resigned to an empty life. When Captain Wentworth, now grown rich from prize money, returns from the wars to visit the neighborhood, Anne is at first pained; however, his presence gradually sets her life in motion again.

Literary significance

"Persuasion" manifests a significant shift in Austen's attitude toward inherited wealth and rank. [Tanner, Tony. "In Between: "Persuasion". "Jane Austen", Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 208-249] Elsewhere in her writing, salvation for the heroine comes in the form of marriage to a well-born gentleman, preferably wealthy and at least her equal in social consequence. Elizabeth Bennet, for example, who has little money of her own, refuses the hand of a financially secure but unbearable young clergyman; dallies briefly with a penniless (and, as it turns out, utterly worthless) army officer; and finally marries Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, who has a great estate, a Norman-sounding name, and ten thousand a year. Emma Woodhouse, already wealthy and secure, marries 37-year-old George Knightley, a man not only from her own class, but from her extended family; and Marianne Dashwood loses her heart to a charming young wastrel, then settles for the virtuous Colonel Brandon, a man of property twice her age. Anne Elliot's "true attachment and constancy" to a dashing, self-made young outsider distinguishes her from all her sister Austen heroines.

In "Persuasion" hereditary aristocracy is held up to ridicule: the 'eligible' suitor, Mr. Elliot, turns out to be a scoundrel, while the village patriach, Sir Walter Elliot, is not only "foolish" and "spendthrift" but also absurdly proud of his baronetcy. To fill the void, Austen sets up a sort of rising meritocracy made up of successful officers in the Royal Navy. [Green, Sarah K. "A state of alteration, perhaps of improvement" ,May 1, 2003 (undergraduate essay, Brown University) [ (full text)] ] Sir Walter and his daughter Elizabeth cede their position as landed gentry when they let Kellynch Hall to Admiral Croft. As Austen makes clear, these Elliots are unworthy of their high social status; they are also unworthy of Anne, a natural aristocrat who languishes, disregarded, until she reunites with Captain Wentworth. In effect, Anne escapes from her meaningless life as an Elliot to join the Navy.

Lady Russell overvalues inherited social class and so underestimates Wentworth and nearly cheats Anne of her only chance of happiness. When circumstances prove both the captain's worthiness and the corresponding worthlessness of fellow suitor Mr. Elliot, Lady Russell herself – the very voice of benevolent propriety – has to "admit that she had been pretty completely wrong and to take up a new set of opinions and hopes." [Austen, Jane. "Persuasion"; quoted in Tony Tanner's "In Between: 'Persuasion'", ibid., p. 248]

It might also be argued that Austen is making her own case for acceptability as she is attempting to make her fortune through writing, a trade, which was looked down upon rather than by marrying into the landed gentry. She wants to be acceptable in good society rather than looked down upon by the class in which she belongs.

Film and TV portrayals of Anne Elliot

*1960: Daphne Slater, BBC series
*1971: Anne Firbank, BBC series "Persuasion (1971 series)"
*1995: Amanda Root, made-for-television "Persuasion (1995 film)"
*2007: Sally Hawkins, ITV1 "Persuasion (2007 film)"


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