Elena Khalturina. “The Confidante as the Heroine in Jane Austen’s Persuasion” // Tomorrow in Yesterday, Or, The Frolics of Possibility: the 25th Anniversary Meeting of the SCSECS [The South Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies], March 9-12, 2000. Baton Rouge, USA.
The Confidante as the Heroine in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”
It is the most natural thing for a main character of a novel or play to bare his / her soul to a trusted companion. Sometimes this companion is a devoted servant, sometimes an equal in position, or a relative. In most instances, the role of the confidant(e) is subordinate to that of the hero / heroine. In this paper I will look at how Jane Austen reverses this pattern of subordination in her novels not only by putting the sympathetic listeners into the very center of the action of the novel, but also by casting them into the role of the romantic heroine.
I will build my discussion around “Persuasion”, the last completed work of the writer (written 1815-16). Throughout the novel, Anne Elliot is everybody’s confidante: whether it is Anne’s sister Mary or Mrs. Musgrove, Captain Benwick or Captain Harville--all feel at ease with Anne and unbosom themselves to her.
When looking at Anne Elliot, I will keep in mind the generic features of the confidant(e). Being very obliging, noble, and not very rich (as every confidant(e) usually is) Miss Elliot has a rather ambiguous social status of almost a servant, or of an unfailing friend of the house. To her relatives, she is "only Anne," who can be always counted on when there is a need for baby-sitting or nursing; and she can be easily dispensed with when the family turns to entertainment: "I cannot possibly do without Anne," was Mary’s reasoning; and Elizabeth’s reply was, "Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath."
The witty or humorous side of the confidante, the confidante’s capacity to shed light on the characters of other figures before they appear in front of the readers’ eyes, and the confidante’s habit of serving as a liberating agent are also traceable in the character of Anne Elliot.
Though to persuade different parties is one of the main offices of the confidante, too, Austen seems to go against the grain here. As we keep unravelling the meaning of the novel’s title, we come to understand that in the bloom of her tender youth, Anne let her closest companions influence her choice of a partner--but they turned out to be her worst counsellors. Once bitten, Anne learned not to put stock into confidential advice any longer, however kindly meant.
By creating Anne’s portrait, Jane Austen arrives at a happy combination of the confidante and the heroine in one character, thereby getting rid of the unscrupulous overcuriosity of the former and of the equally dishonorable indiscretion of the latter. Anne Elliot is a new, thoughtful, type of a heroine, who would not have ruined anybody’s happiness (including her own) for all the world, be it by a careless smile, a moody advice or a slipped-out word.
Из иллюстраций Хью Томсона (19 век) к роману Джейн Остен “Доводы рассудка”