Humanities Core 1A
Monday December 7, 2009
Obliging Compliance and Private Rapture
Jane Austen weaves the theme of travel throughout her novel, Persuasion, to solidify the value she places on sincerity of character in relation to social decorum. However, travel in this context is more broadly defined as any change or movement from one place to another. Changes of setting, social standing, or time, for instance, are all examples of travel that result in the reinforcement of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s sincerity and, in turn, knowledge of the other’s character. The scene where they finally reveal their love for each other after being separated for eight years is the prime example of Austen’s conviction that while social etiquette is an integral part of society and must be obeyed, sincerity allows Anne and Wentworth to be justified in their act of love, paradoxically transcending social decorum. It is through travel that their respective characters develop and they gain an understanding of the other’s character. In contrast to her intense encouragement of genuine character, Austen scorns conforming to a societal mold and letting social convention govern our actions. While decorum is crucial to the order of society, Anne and Captain Wentworth are not limited to a rigorous fulfillment of a strict code of conduct that would strip them of their sincere human nature. Rather, they surpass social decorum without violating it. Throughout the entire novel, social etiquette invariably rules people’s actions and seemingly eliminates any opportunity for sincerity. But what keeps us sincere and prevents us from becoming mere robots is our foundation of character and genuine knowledge of the character of those around us. Travel for Anne and Captain Wentworth, in the forms of setting, time, and social standing, develops their sincerity of character—the moral justification of their actions.
The chief process by which sincerity and knowledge of character is obtained is a travel in time. If Anne and Captain Wentworth had gotten married in their first encounter, it would have been out of convention—for he was a “remarkably fine young man” and she was an “extremely pretty girl” (65). It was the norm for a suitable man to court an acceptable woman when they became of age and frankly, that is all their relationship was at the time—a norm. But Austen expands the narrative of their love story throughout the course of 8 years. Through time, they come to know each other’s character. Traveling in time causes their “character[s]” to “now” be “fixed on [their] mind[s]” (249). Anne and Wentworth observe each other in several different situations that reveal the facets of their personality, leading them to genuinely understand each other. Time also allowed for their development and maturity. At first Captain Wentworth “had not forgiven Anne Elliot,” but with time he “acquired…knowledge…of [her] character (95; 251-252). Wentworth matures and understands her admirable character, that “it was duty” that caused her to refuse him (251). Because of the learned knowledge of each other’s character, Anne and Captain Wentworth’s act of love is now justified. Because they are now “more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character” and “truth,” they are now “more exquisitely happy” than they were eight years prior; “more equal to act, more justified in acting” (248). It is this sincere relationship between Anne and Wentworth that justifies their love. Physical travel also acts as a vehicle for character development throughout the novel. Walking is a frequent and essential motif in Persuasion; when characters go for walks, it signals a period of movement and growth. For example, in a walk that occurs earlier in the novel, Anne learns of Captain Wentworth’s feelings regarding female constancy and Wentworth learns of Anne’s prior refusal of Charles Musgrove’s marriage proposal. Also, in the scene where Anne and Wentworth go...
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