Value and Worth
Austen continually uses the words “value” and “worth” in Persuasion, mostly in connection with Anne Elliot. Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as well as others in the novel, judge people based upon what worth they possess (what status and income they have) as well as how valuable they might be to them. Lady Dalrymplesees no real merits to them except that knowing her elevates them socially. Anne is described as having very little value to her father because she is not as beautiful as he would wish, and her “bloom” had faded fast after her disappointment with Wentworth. Elizabeth finds no value in Anne, either, because Anne does not show enough Elliot pride; she does not cater to Elizabeth’s sense of self-importance and flatter her as Mrs. Clay does. Because she is an “old maid” and a modest, rather than forthright, woman, Anne is seen by others as having little social value. The Musgroves acknowledge her sense and good manners, but they see her as marginal, someone to sit by ill children or to play the piano while they all dance. When Wentworth first reappears after eight years, he joins the others in marginalizing Anne, but her true worth stands out to him in the crisis with Louisa Musgrove, during which her composure and strength shine. Mr. Elliot certainly sees worth in Anne; he values her as a potential wife whose good nature he can easily manipulate. And his marrying her will insure that Sir Walter cannot remarry and produce a child that would trump Mr. Elliot in the line of inheritance.
In a novel much populated with men and naval officers, instances of courage are much talked of. Captain Wentworth, Admiral Croft, CaptainHarville, and Captain Benwick all have tales of survival and hardship to relate to their listeners. They are placed upon pedestals, especially by the ladies, for their courage and success in war. Captain Wentworth in particular values courage as a measure of one’s character, and he judges Anne severely—and unforgivingly—when she lacks what he believes is the courage to accept his original marriage proposal. Louisa Musgrove’s headstrong behavior passes for courage with him, but it is soon revealed to be merely false bravado and foolishness. Anne, however, shows true grit and courage. She steels herself to Wentworth’s presence when he returns. She dares to go against her family in order to let Wentworth know she still loves him and would indeed marry him, if he still wants her. Like a military officer, she plots and plans discreet ways to let Wentworth know that her love for him remains true; she uses the only weapons at her disposal—pen, paper, and conversation—to signal her intentions to him. She faces down the enemies who would thwart her intentions, acknowledging Wentworth publicly when her father and sister would shun him, and accepting Wentworth’s second proposal in spite of what her friend Lady Russell might say. Anne Elliot shows the sort of courage that only women are capable of in Austen’s world.