Discuss Austen(TM)s use of Mr Elliot in Persuasion.
Austen uses Mr Elliot in various ways in Persuasion, this ranges from gaining an insight into other people’s characters to contributing to the romance genre. Austen mainly uses Mr Elliot as a plot device in Book Two of the novel after Anne’s arrival in Bath. The use of Mr Elliot’s character can be tied into most of the major themes of the novel.
The first mention of Mr Elliot in Persuasion is in the fist chapter of Book One. We find out that he is the heir presumptive to the Baronetcy, through Sir Walter who is reading the Baronetage. We can see that this is important to Sir Walter as he has added, “Heir presumptive, William Walter Elliot, Esq.” to the pages in the book referring to the Elliot’s. This shows how class conscious Sir Walter is, it is blatantly obvious that Austen is ridiculing Sir Walter for being too class conscious. However later in the novel we see that whilst she does not approve of how class conscious Sir Walter is, Austen is still a woman of her time and we see that she is class conscious, through Anne’s reactions, but not to the degree that Sir Walter is.
In the same chapter we also find out more about Mr Elliot’s past relationship with the Elliot family, in particular with Elizabeth and Sir Walter, to an extent. We see that Mr Elliot has disappointed her, “the heir presumptive … had disappointed her” even though she had “found him extremely agreeable”. However instead of marrying Elizabeth, Mr Elliot sought independence and married “a rich woman of inferior birth.” This leads to all acquaintance between the ceasing as Mr Elliot had slighted Sir Walter and had “shewn himself as unsolicitous of being longer noticed by the family”.
The next time we meet Mr Elliot is in the last chapter of Book One, where Anne and the Musgroves are in Lyme with Captain Wentworth. This chapter is where Mr Elliot sees Anne for the first time and where he is first seen as a potential rival for Anne’s attention and affection, “Anne’s face caught his eye, and he looked at her with a degree of earnest admiration”. Wentworth in turn notices how Mr Elliot looks at Anne and even he can “see something like Anne Elliot again”. Mr Elliot paying attention to Anne shows that se is once again in “bloom”. In this chapter through Anne and the others in Lyme that Mr Elliot is in mourning, therefore his wife has only died relatively recently. When the ‘mystery gentleman’ is identified as Mr Elliot by the party in Lyme, we see that Austen highlights Mary’s class snobbery.
We next see Mr Elliot in Chapter Three of Book Two, however the reaction to him is much more positive than it was in the first book. We see that despite his previous grievances against them Elizabeth and Sir Walter readily forgive Mr Elliot and are even happy to renew their acquaintance. In this chapter we see that the relationship between Mr Elliot and Anne improves and we see that he is clearly attracted to her. This is where the possibility of Mr Elliot standing as a rival against Wentworth for Anne’s affections becomes a reality.
In the next chapter Austen uses Mr Elliot to show how fickle Lady Russell is. We see here that she feels that he could not be “a more agreeable or estimable man” and that “Everything united in him; good understanding, correct opinions, knowledge of the world, and a warm heart”. This directly contrast her feeling in Chapter Fourteen where she states that “he is a man whom [she has] no wish to see” and that he had “left a very strong impression in his disfavour” with her when he declined to be “on cordial terms with the head of his family”. Here we also see that Mr Elliot is not as class conscious as Sir Walter and Elizabeth but he is more class conscious than Anne.
In the next chapters Mr Elliot becomes even more of an obstacle in Anne and Wentworth’s relationship. We see what Anne’s opinion of him is; she thinks that whilst “Mr Elliot is an exceedingly agreeable man” he was “too generally agreeable”. This shows how shrewd Anne is, compared with the rest of her family and her close friends.
Austen uses Mr Elliot more in the second half of the novel in order to distract Anne’s attention away from Wentworth. This can be seen in Chapter Twenty during the concert held for the benefit of a person patronised by Lady Dalrymple. We see that Mr Elliot successfully monopolises a lot of Anne’s time, which in turn makes Wentworth jealous. Wentworth now knows that he is still in love with Anne due to the attention she is receiving from Mr Elliot, but again due to the obstacle Mr Elliot presents he can not make his feelings known to Anne.
However after Mrs Smith unmasks Mr Elliot for Anne after the concert, we see him for who he truly is. Here Wentworth and Mr Elliot can be compared and you can clearly see who the better person is out of the two. Wentworth is everything that Mr Elliot is not, for example Wentworth is open and spontaneous whereas Mr Elliot is polished and conceals his emotions. Another example where the two can be compared is when Wentworth helps Mrs Smith when Mr Elliot deserted her in her time of need after the death of her husband. Here Austen clearly wants to show the differences between the two characters, and it highlights how Wentworth is from a lower class and has made his own fortune through hard work and how Mr Elliot stands to inherit his fortune whilst not even being half the man Wentworth is.
In conclusion it could be said that Mr Elliot is of vital significance to the novel and that Austen uses him to further the plot, especially between Anne and Wentworth. He is used to show the characters and the readers that even though he is from the upper classes it does not mean that he is better than any one else. This brings up the theme of the changing ideal of the gentlemen in Persuasion. Austen also uses him throughout the novel in relation to the major themes, for example family as well as love.