"Cheerful beyond Her Expectation": Mrs. Smith, Adam Smith, and Austen.
Writing in Jane Austen's bicentennial year, K. K. Collins sums up the traditional reading of Mrs. Smith: "Had Jane Austen lived, consensus holds she would have reshaped this strange character and her tedious story; but as things stand, Mrs. Smith dispenses, in one choking dose, vital information about the villain of the piece. Her function as deus ex machina is sadly obvious" (383). Collins, however, disagrees with this dismissal of Mrs. Smith as a creaky plot device. After all, even before Anne learns the awful truth about her cousin from Mrs. Smith, Austen assures us that "her judgment ... was against Mr. Elliot"; Anne takes just moments to reject the temptation to become Lady Elliot, for "her feelings were still averse to any man save one" (P 174), and she realizes that, no matter what happens, "her affection would be his for ever" (208). Therefore, Collins argues, "Either Mrs. Smith has some purpose outside the plot proper, or she has little purpose at all" (384).
Had Austen written this novel without the character of Mrs. Smith, Sir Walter would still have retrenched, Wentworth would still have called at Uppercross, Louisa would still have fallen from the Cobb, Anne would still have gone to Bath, Benwick and Louisa would still have fallen in love, and Wentworth would still have followed Anne to Bath to offer himself to her again. Clearly Mrs. Smith tells Anne what she already knows: Mr. Elliot is not to be trusted. Even that bit of plot function is unnecessary. If we also subtract Mr. Elliot from the novel, every one of those essential narrative events would still occur. Moreover, Mr. Elliot never succeeds in seducing Anne's heart from Wentworth, and Captain Benwick would have done just as well as Mr. Elliot to suggest a possible, credible, alternate suitor to readers, and to remind Anne (and Captain Wentworth) that she is still an attractive, marriageable woman. Further, no characters whom we care about in the novel really care whether Sir Walter marries Mrs. Clay. At most, Mr. Elliot artificially delays Wentworth's renewed proposal by a few days: "Jealousy of Mr. Elliot had been the retarding weight, the doubt, the torment" (262).
Even before Captain Wentworth declares that he has loved none but her, Anne realizes that Mr. Elliot cannot be a serious impediment to their eventual mutual understanding:
She tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course; and tried to dwell much on this argument of rational dependence--"Surely, if there be constant attachment on each side, our hearts must understand each other ere long. We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment's inadvertence, and wantonly playing with our own happiness." (240)
Anne, in fact, is acknowledging that only in a novel like Frances Burney's Camilla can two lovers be kept apart for five volumes by "inadvertence." Mr. Elliot is an outworn false-suitor device to defer the inevitable eclaircissement. Neither Mr. Elliot nor Mrs. Smith is essential to the courtship plot of Persuasion. (3)
In recent years, however, a consensus has emerged that Mrs. Smith, apparently on the margin of the novel, shapes our responses to the central characters while reinforcing various thematic concerns. Just what those thematic concerns may be remains open to debate. Lynda A. Hall, for example, agrees with K. K. Collins that, while "Mrs. Smith appears at first to be a trivial character," she reminds readers of the desperate plight of impoverished gentry women on their own, thus predicting Anne's possible "tragic" future (1). Jocelyn Harris suggests that the character and plight of Mrs. Smith, nee Miss Hamilton, is an amalgam of Emma Hamilton and Mary Robinson ("Perdita"), while her husband's loss of fortune echoes plot elements from Smollett's Humphry Clinker, invoking awful object lessons about the sorry fates of those who live worldly, dissipated lives (195-201). K. K. Collins argues that "Mrs. Smith substantiates the moral vision of Persuasion" because she "embodies two of the novel's themes: the dangers of giving advice and the elusiveness of evidence" (394). Fair enough, but not far enough. Mrs. Smith certainly gives Anne bad advice when, for selfish reasons, she urges her to marry her cousin Mr. Elliot (P 212), but she also offers Anne a necessary object lesson in optimism, for she demonstrates that one can be cheerful with neither good fortune nor good health. And, remarkably, like Jane Austen herself, Mrs. Smith achieves purpose and contentment in her circumscribed life without a Captain Wentworth to love her.
Furthermore, the common surname "Smith" that Austen has given this character hints at uncommon qualities that comment upon the novel's themes of pride and vanity, resilience and cheerfulness, loss and renewal. Significantly, Austen's working title, according to her sister, Cassandra, was not Persuasion but rather "The Elliots," the name of her heroine's prideful family (Le Faye 238). Family names matter to Sir Walter; he worships his own name as it appears in his "favourite volume," the Baronetage (3) and dismisses the former curate of Monkford for having the same surname as a well-known aristocratic family: "'Mr. Wentworth was nobody, I remember; quite unconnected; nothing to do with the Strafford family. One wonders how the names of many of our nobility become so common'" (26). The Strafford family enjoys a noble name, as Janine Barchas has reminded us (Barchas 27-56), but a Mr. Wentworth and his brother Captain Wentworth are "quite unconnected" and thus beneath the notice of the baronet named Elliot.
A "Mrs. Smith" is even worse. "A Mrs. Smith,'" complains Sir Walter Elliot severely to Anne Elliot in Bath, no doubt speaking in one of the two drawing-rooms at Camden-place while admiring himself in a looking-glass hanging above the mantelpiece. '"A widow Mrs. Smith,--and who was her husband? One of the five thousand Mr. Smiths whose names are to be met with every where. And what is her attraction? That she is old and sickly.--Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste!'" Sir Walter's angry astonishment erupts over two pages: "A poor widow, barely able to live, between thirty and forty--a mere Mrs. Smith, an every day Mrs. Smith, of all people and all names in the world.... Mrs. Smith, such a name!"' (170-71). Sir Walter is angry that Miss Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall would prefer to visit '"a mere Mrs. Smith"' in the down-market Westgate-buildings rather than spend an evening with her aristocratic cousin Lady Dalrymple in fashionable Laura-place. Significantly, he appears more offended by the commonness of Mrs. Smith's surname than by her poverty and obscurity: '"such a name!"' he complains, consistently referring to her using the indefinite articles "a" or "an" rather than the definite article "the": not the Strafford family, but a Mrs. Smith.
Austen chose her characters' names carefully; surely she named "Mrs. Smith" with deliberate intent. Janine Barchas identifies an historic Mrs. Smith who might have inspired Austen's: Gertrude Tucker, the favorite niece and heir of the immensely rich Bath developer Ralph Allen, was the widow of William Warburton when she married, as her second husband, a much younger clergyman named Martin Stafford Smith, thus uniting the despised common surname with one almost echoing that of '"the Strafford family.'" When she died at age sixty-eight in 1796, she was definitely not a Mrs. Smith, or Austen's Mrs. Smith, but the Mrs. Smith (Barchas 85-86).
In Sir Walter's limited view, however, Anne's Mrs. Smith is generic rather than sui generis, existing only as an unpleasant cipher, a metonym for the plebian world from which he holds himself aloft and aloof. And yet works by more than one successful author named Smith might have occupied a shelf in the library at Kellynch, as indeed they did at Godmersham: two volumes of the 1809 Sermons of Sydney Smith, scholar, clergyman, and founding editor of the Edinburgh Review, are in the Knight Collection (Godmersham Park Alphabetical Catalogue).
Jacqueline Labbe summarizes the influence of prolific poet and novelist Charlotte Smith on Jane Austen, while Stephen Derry argues plausibly for the direct influence of Charlotte Smith's The Banished Man (1794) upon Austen's Persuasion, adding that Austen "may also have intended to recall Charlotte Smith in Anne's friend Mrs. Smith":
Both Mrs. Smiths were women of ability damaged by the ill-judgement of their husbands; though both live in poverty, each has a claim on a greater income--Jane Austen's character from property in the West Indies, Charlotte Smith from a family trust, which was caught up in a lawsuit.... When Charlotte Smith wrote The Banished Man, she, like her namesake, was living in poverty and poor health in Bath. A happier ending was available for Mrs. Smith of Persuasion than was ever the case for Mrs. Smith in real life. (70)
Janet Todd and Antje Blank, in their introduction to the Cambridge edition of Persuasion, also argue, "Some of the parallels between Charlotte Smith and Austen's Mrs. Charles Smith seem too striking to be entirely coincidental" (liv). Austen could reasonably expect many of her readers to associate her character's generic surname "Smith" with the Charlotte Smith, a well-established author for decades before Austen published her first novel.
Furthermore, among those "five thousand Mr. Smiths" whom Sir Walter dismisses as non-entities had also been one of Georgian Britain's most distinguished public intellectuals: Adam Smith had held the Chairs of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres and of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow in the second half of the eighteenth century. Best remembered today as the author of The Wealth of Nations (first published in 1776 and frequently invoked, wrongly, as justification for deregulation and greed), Smith was a polymath, lecturing and writing on logic, rhetoric, literature, philosophy of science, and jurisprudence, as well as political economy. In the judgment of both his contemporaries and himself, his most seminal work was The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759 but frequently revised during his lifetime. (4)
It was in The Theory of Moral Sentiments rather than the later Wealth of Nations that Smith first used his famous term "invisible hand." (5) Smith explains how we are motivated to acquire luxurious objects (he calls them "conveniencies") in a vain ambition to achieve future comfort and status. Smith clearly shows that such ambition (driven by greed or vanity) is perverse:
For to what purpose is all the toil and bustle in the world? what is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and preheminence? Is it to supply the necessities of nature? The wages of the meanest labourer can supply them.... From whence, then arises that emulation which runs through all the different ranks of men, and what are the advantages which we propose by that great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition? To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of.... It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interest us. (50)
In pursuit of such "conveniencies" to satisfy vanity, people sacrifice actual, concrete benefits such as leisure and physical comfort [Moral Sentiments 180-81). Thus the "poor man's son" who looks with envy upon the "conveniencies" of the wealthy "thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness and tranquility of his situation." In order to achieve those comforts and luxuries, however, "he submits in the first year ... to more fatigue of body and more uneasiness of mind than he could have suffered through the whole of his life from the want of them," while "[t]hrough the whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquility that is at all times in his power" if only he could recognize that he already possesses a sufficiency of comfort and leisure (181).
But when old or infirm (like Anne Elliot's friend Mrs. Smith), he realizes that he has sacrificed real ease for "the pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness" (Moral Sentiments 182). Nature, claims Smith, tricks us into wanting and working for these vain toys: "It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind" (183). The rich, he adds, may consume the choicest fruits of the earth, but they "consume little more than the poor," and what is left over is sufficient to maintain those whom they hire to labor to provide for them (184). Thus, by an act of "Providence," "[t]hey are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions" (184-85).
Smith saw a similar invisible hand at work in the regulation of human sympathy. Sympathy, he believed, was the engine driving human behavior, an idea he also developed in his manuscript Lectures on Rhetoric, discovered posthumously (Smith had ordered all of his manuscripts to be burned after his death) and first published in 1963:
The accidents that befall irrationall objects [e.g., earthquakes] affect us merely by their externall appearance, their Novelty, Grandeur etc. but those which affect the human Species interest us greatly by the Sympatheticall affections they raise in us. W(e) enter into their misfortunes, grieve when they grieve, rejoice when they rejoice, and in a word feel for them in some respect as if we ourselves were in the same condition. (Lecture 17; 90)
Smith further developed these ideas about human sympathy in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. Those witnessing the suffering of others, he explains, experience that suffering only by imagining how they would feel in similar circumstances, while the sufferers imagine how they would feel as more objective spectators of their own sufferings, modifying the expression of their feelings in order to win that sympathy.
In a frequently cited passage, Smith illustrates this mechanism of human sympathy:
Though our brother is upon the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them. His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves, when we have thus adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us, and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels. (Moral Sentiments 3-4)
Sympathetic imagination, ideally, connects us to our fellow human beings, just as it connects readers to characters in novels.
Rejecting Shaftesbury's earlier idea of an innate "moral sense," Smith argues that our sympathetic imagination works as an invisible mechanism to adjust our subjective emotions to social norms. According to Smith, we monitor and modify our behavior by imagining how we would be judged by an internalized "impartial spectator." This "impartial spectator" acts as a conscience-like break upon our bad impulses, preventing us from behaving in ways that might cost us the esteem of a hypothetical observer. To injure our neighbor, or to advance ourselves at the expense of another, claims Smith, "is what no impartial spectator can go along with" (82). Hence we censor our actions in anticipation of the judgment of such an impartial spectator. (6) The feelings both of the person experiencing emotion and of the spectator observing it will thus tend to converge into what Smith calls a "concord" (22): this performative ethical balancing act allows society to function.
Austen's readers will recognize Smith's impartial spectator as akin to the internal moral guide that her heroines consult when they reflect upon their own behavior and judge that of others. Fanny Price alludes to it in Mansfield Park when Henry Crawford tells her at Portsmouth, '"Your judgment is my rule of right."' She replies, '"Oh, no!--do not say so. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be'" (478).
Smith argues that while this internal guide, "this judge within," may not be sufficient, it is always necessary if we are to find our proper path through life--as through the wilderness at Sotherton--without subjective distortions of perspective: "it is only by consulting this judge within, that we can ever see what relates to ourselves in its proper shape and dimensions; or that we can ever make any proper comparison between our own interests and those of other people" [Moral Sentiments 134). Nearly every Austen heroine has an "Ah ha!" moment, when she rigorously examines her conscience and, seeing herself as an impartial observer might, discovers her errors of perception or judgment. When Anne Elliot reflects upon the past, however, she either confirms her earlier judgments or else persuades herself not to read hopeful signs of Wentworth's renewed love. She never declares, like Lizzie Bennet, '"Till this moment, I never knew myself" (PP 230).
Nevertheless, Anne, like every Austen heroine, is an interested (but not always a disinterested) observer of the dramatic or self-dramatized lives of others. Most of Austen's novels feature a heroine who appears, at first, to be an observer rather than a principal. Catharine (or Kitty) Percival, of Catharine, or the Bower, was Austen's early experiment with an intelligent, principled, perceptive, point-of-view heroine. (7) In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland never sees herself as a heroine, a role that she attributes to her friend Isabella, or to characters in books, but except for a very brief episode of quixotism at Northanger, Catherine remains a naive but accurate observer of people. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, while denying the existence of her own love story, reads her sister Marianne's romance as though her sister were a character in a novel. Fanny Price's role throughout most of Mansfield Park is to be the watcher and judge of the flirtations of her cousins and the Crawfords. Emma Woodhouse, declaring that she will never marry, is too busy creating romances out of other people's lives or make-believe romances for herself to recognize that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself. Like Anne, these heroines are spectators striving to be more or less impartial until, belatedly, they recognize their roles as principals in their own love stories.
Anne's friend Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, is anything but an example of Adam Smith's impartial spectator. She has good reason to hate Mr. Elliot--'"Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!'" she eventually declares (215)--and hopes to engage Anne's help, even to the point of allowing Anne to marry her cousin, should Anne have already decided to do so: '"My dear,'" she apologizes, '"there was nothing else to be done. I considered your marrying him as certain.... My heart bled for you, as I talked of happiness'" (228)." Nevertheless, from her small room, thanks to Nurse Rooke, Mrs. Smith studies the social world of Bath like a philosopher. She may not be impartial, but she is most certainly a spectator, and Nurse Rooke's gossip functions like a performance of a play for her: '"Call it gossip if you will; but when Nurse Rooke has half an hour's leisure to bestow on me, she is sure to have something to relate that is entertaining and profitable, something that makes one know one's species better'" (169). What she learns from Nurse Rooke's sick-bed observations, Mrs. Smith tells Anne, is more about '"selfishness and impatience rather than generosity and fortitude,'" but the gossip is entertaining: '"One likes to hear what is going on, to be au fait as to the newest modes of being trifling and silly. To me, who live so much alone, her conversation I assure you is a treat"' (169). No one who has read Jane Austen's own gossipy, often catty, letters can fail to hear in Mrs. Smith's words an authentic echo of her maker. Mrs. Smith is nothing like sweet, high-minded Anne Elliot, but she sounds very much like Jane Austen in certain moods.
In contrast to Anne, Sir Walter, egoist and narcissist, is singularly devoid of human sympathy for someone like Mrs. Smith or, indeed, for anyone but himself. He asks Anne, '"And what is her attraction?"' (170). Mrs. Smith's lack of health, wealth, and rank repels him as he obsessively attacks the commonness of her name. Adam Smith viewed such indifference to the sufferings of others as a "corruption" of human sympathy. Smith certainly would have condemned Sir Walter's repugnance for Mrs. Smith and his sycophancy toward Lady Dalrymple as moral failings:
This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages. (Moral Sentiments 61-62).
Smith asserts that in "the drawing-rooms of the great"--as in the two drawing-rooms at Camden-place--"flattery and falsehood too often prevail over merit and abilities" (63). Readers of Persuasion need not be philosophers to remember Adam Smith's strictures on vanity while Sir Walter rails against Mrs. Smith's "common" (26) name.
After Sir Walter repeats his astonishment at Anne's choosing to visit '"a poor widow, barely able to live, between thirty and forty'" (171), Austen describes Mrs. Clay's discomfort:
Mrs. Clay, who had been present while all this passed, now thought it advisable to leave the room, and Anne could have said much and did long to say a little, in defence of her friend's not very dissimilar claims to theirs, but her sense of personal respect to her father prevented her. She made no reply. She left it to himself to recollect, that Mrs. Smith was not the only widow in Bath between thirty and forty, with little to live on, and no sirname of dignity. (171-72)
Implicit comparison is Anne's strategy here, as it is Austen's. Poor, widowed Mrs. Clay, her own surname name proverbial for commonness, deploys flattery and falsehood in the Elliots' drawing-rooms, where she prevails as favorite over Anne's greater merit and abilities.
Mrs. Smith's "cheerful" temperament also invites comparisons. During Anne's first two visits, she is astonished at her friend's "disposition to converse and be cheerful beyond her expectation" (166-67). Anne "could scarcely imagine a more cheerless situation in itself than Mrs. Smith's.... Yet, in spite of all this, Anne had reason to believe that she had moments only of languor and depression, to hours of occupation and enjoyment. How could it be?" (167). Anne's wonder at her friend's cheerfulness illustrates Smith's dictum: "As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation" [Moral Sentiments 9).
Anne, with a more melancholy temperament, cannot imagine being as cheerful as Mrs. Smith were she to endure Mrs. Smith's misfortunes. Mrs. Smith is a puzzle that she tries to solve: Anne "watched--observed-reflected--and finally determined that this was not a case of fortitude or of resignation only" (167). Mrs. Smith, she realizes, is not, or is not simply, an exemplary conduct-book example of Christian fortitude and resignation, or of disciplined adherence to the Stoic virtues, both of which Adam Smith recommends to those who would act "according to the rules of perfect prudence, of strict justice, and of proper benevolence.... The most perfect knowledge," Smith adds, "if it is not supported by the most perfect self-command, will not always enable him to do his duty" (Moral Sentiments 237). Anne certainly exercises self-command, but she recognizes that Mrs. Smith's cheerful "disposition" does not come from discipline alone. She concludes, "here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from Nature alone. It was the choicest gift of Heaven" (167). With every reason to be dejected and fretful, Mrs. Smith remains by nature or Providence astonishingly cheerful and useful. (9)
Anne does not draw comparisons between her younger sister, Mary Musgrove, and Mrs. Smith, but readers are invited to do so. Earlier in the novel, Mary, who possesses what an impartial spectator would surely recognize as reasons to be cheerful and useful, spends her days on the sofa, dejected and fretful, complaining of ill health and neglect. Anyone else's good fortune leaves her feeling aggrieved and slighted. The narrator states that
Mary had not Anne's understanding or temper. While well, and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humour and excellent spirits; but any indisposition sunk her completely; she had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used. (39)
Jan Fergus suggests, "Mary Musgroves character was created for Persuasion ... because the novel is to some extent about ways that people cope with the sense of ill-usage as well as with loss and grief" (143). "The phrase 'ill-used,'" Fergus adds, appears with more frequency in Persuasion than in Austen's other novels (143). Despite her own suffering, Anne, like Mrs. Smith, retains a capacity for imaginative sympathy with others, while Mary, like her father, has none to spare for anyone but herself.
Unlike Mary, Anne does have good reasons for feeling aggrieved, dejected, and neglected, but while blessedly devoid of Mary's narcissistic whining, she also lacks her friend's natural buoyancy, that "choicest gift of Heaven." She has to work harder at resiliency. Isobel Grundy recognizes that "the level of spirits is often measured in this novel" and that "Anne must learn, without natural high spirits, to be happy or cheerful" (91). Anne's tendency to depression is checked by self-discipline; "fortitude" and "resignation" keep her determinedly active and reasonably cheerful, but her cheerfulness comes from effort, not nature.
Elaine Showalter observes that Persuasion is about the various ways in which people cope with loss and adversity. Anne, she claims, "must do more in the novel than simply ward off depression." She must also "right the balance by taking active steps to heal the breach with Wentworth," a task for which she prepares by closely observing and learning from those around her (106). Showalter adds that Anne's "most inspiring model is Mrs. Smith" (107). Anne Elliot requires no lessons in constancy, but her friend Mrs. Smith teaches her to hope.
Mrs. Smith offers Anne an encouraging model of how one may live a circumscribed life, with neither health nor wealth nor hope of a Captain Wentworth to support one's spirits, yet still be cheerful and useful. During the first half of Persuasion, only Anne's Christian stoicism and commitment to duty keep her determinedly cheerful. By the end of volume 1, after Wentworth has brought Anne and Henrietta back to Uppercross and immediately returned to Lyme, Anne takes comfort in the revival of his more friendly feelings toward her, but she remains resigned to his marrying Louisa: "There could not be a doubt, to her mind there was none, of what would follow her recovery." Louisa's future nuptials, she thinks, will be "all that was happy and gay ..., all that was most unlike Anne Elliot!" (133). A few days later, "with a sinking heart," she enters Bath in Lady Russell's carriage (148). Wentworth is in her thoughts as a masculine ideal when she is introduced to Mr. Elliot, whose "manners were so exactly what they ought to be, so polished, so easy, so particularly agreeable, that she could compare them in excellence to only one person's manners. They were not the same, but they were, perhaps, equally good" (155). Anne's love for Wentworth remains alive but hopeless.
A month later Anne's emotional compass spins instantly from hopelessness to "senseless joy" after learning of Louisa's engagement to Captain Benwick. Her first thought is for Wentworth: "She could not endure the idea of treachery or levity, or any thing akin to ill-usage between him and his friend. She could not endure that such a friendship as theirs should be severed unfairly" (181), but "if Captain Wentworth lost no friend" by this engagement, there was
certainly nothing to be regretted. No, it was not regret which made Anne's heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy! (182)
Admiral Croft unwittingly reinforces her new joy by declaring, "'I think we must get [Frederick] to Bath'" (188). After Anne's discovery that Frederick Wentworth is now "unshackled and free," she adds hope to her constancy From that moment on, she reads Wentworth's behavior hopefully and correctly as that of a man in love and jealous of his rival (207).
Mrs. Smith, I have said, is not exactly Adam Smith's "impartial spectator," but a curious exchange of roles occurs in Persuasion once Captain Wentworth arrives in Bath. Anne, repeatedly the subject of gossip or discussion by others in this novel (65, 95, 143, 172, 193, 204, 214, 225), has hitherto thought of herself as a confirmed spinster, the impartial spectator of other peoples' lives and loves. As she becomes more hopeful and active in encouraging Captain Wentworth's renewed suit, however, she ceases to notice very much about anyone else. She does not want to be an impartial spectator any longer: she wants to be Captain Wentworth's wife. Mrs. Smith picks up the slack. It is she, not Anne or the narrator, who provides gossipy details about what happened at the concert in the Octagon Room. Anne has eyes only for Frederick Wentworth.
The admiration of Captain Benwick and Mr. Elliot, even the revival of Captain Wentworth's "friendship" with Anne, had no power to lift Anne's spirits, to make her hopeful and joyful, before she arrives in Bath. During her first month in Bath, perhaps inspired by Mrs. Smith's cheerful existence, Anne tries to forge a meaningful life for herself without Captain Wentworth, supported by the love of Lady Russell and the admiring "good company" of Mr. Elliot--and by her knowledge that Captain Wentworth is once again her friend, even if never again to be her lover. Anne believes that Wentworth is as lost to her as he had been when he first appeared, "unshackled," at Uppercross to flirt with the Musgrove sisters. Her immediate "senseless joy" at Wentworth's return to "unshackled" status, therefore, is truly a change, and while no doubt partly due to her realization that Wentworth has revived his "friendly" feelings toward her, is surely also a consequence of the example of Mrs. Smith's cheerfulness. The difference between the friends remains significant, however, for Anne is not now "cheerful beyond her expectation." Rather, she is "cheerful" precisely because she permits herself a new "expectation," and her long-standing constancy, buoyed by hope, prompts her to secure the fulfillment of that expectation.
In response to Wentworth's uncharacteristic self-doubt, Anne now becomes more like Wentworth's confident, spirited nature than her own. Like Wentworth eight years earlier, she is now "confident," "full of life and ardour," knowing that she will "soon be on a station that would lead to every thing [s]he wanted" (29). She sends messages of encouragement; she advances to intersect his path at the Octagon Room; she makes room for him beside her on the bench at the concert; she pleads the cause of women's constancy with all the eloquence at her disposal; she pierces his soul; she captures her prize.
Mrs. Smith, meanwhile, unlike Jane Austen, lives to enjoy improved income and health, but like Austen, "her cheerfulness and mental alacrity did not fail her" (274). Jane Austen was in poor health when she wrote Persuasion. She began Sanditon while mortally ill. It would be harder to think of a better example of constancy and hope, not to mention courage, discipline, and cheerfulness, than Austen's persistence in writing novels (especially Sanditon, which satirizes hypochondria) while dying. "Her spring of felicity was in the glow of her spirits" (274).
(1.) When Anne rhapsodizes about the ennobling lessons to be observed at a deathbed, Mrs. Smith replies doubtingly, '"I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe'" (169). Remarkably, she also speaks the most vivid simile in all of Austen's published works when she imagines '"[t]he little Durands ... with their mouths open to catch the music, like unfledged sparrows ready to be fed'" (209). Finally, while a curious critical tradition holds that Mrs. Smith's profits from the sale of her needle-cases go to herself rather than to her small charities, as she claims, I see no reason to doubt Mrs. Smith's word. Eighteenth-and nineteenth-century novels contain many examples of poor widows and spinsters who sell fancy-work in order to finance their modest charities to those even less fortunate, thus asserting their own gentility despite their poverty. For the case against Mrs. Smith, see Cyr.
(2.) Lynda A. Hall makes this point (18).
(3.) Mr. Elliot is a vestigial incarnation of the eighteenth-century novel's necessary anti-hero or false suitor who, like Willoughby, Wickham, or Henry Crawford, tempts or threatens the heroine. Austen was already moving away from such a stock element in her novels: in Emma, for example, Frank Churchill hardly threatens serious alloy to Emma's happiness, and, far from trying to seduce anyone, he very much wants to marry Jane Fairfax. In Sanditon, however, she brings back this figure as Sir Edward Denham, a burlesque character to swell the "plot" that Charlotte Heywood "reads" while visiting Sanditon.
(4.) Michele Yarrow summarizes scholarly claims that Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments substantially influenced Austen's novels. Inger Sigrun Thomsen [Brodey]'s "Persuasion and Persuadability" sees strong evidence for the influence of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments upon Persuasion. Others arguing that Austen was influenced by Smith include Kenneth Moler, Peter Knox-Shaw, Karen Valihora, Christel Fricke, and Cecil E. Bohanon and Michelle Albert Vachris.
(5.) The term appears only once in the latter work.
(6.) Several critics have identified Smith's "impartial spectator" with Austen or her characters. For example, Thomsen [Brodey] observes that Anne "embodies this 'impartial spectator' within the novel" (240); Valihora claims that role for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, although mitigated by and mediated through her picturesque aesthetic (chapter 8), while Yarrow argues that Mr. Knightley must cease being an "impartial spectator" and become more sympathetically attuned to Emma before they can marry.
(7.) This late work ofjuvenilia also marked a major shift in Austen's narrative strategy, for instead of burlesquing literature, in Catharine Austen dramatizes and reveals characters through their realistic dialogue about popular fiction. Specifically, Camilla Stanley, an early version of Isabella Thorpe, makes fatuous comments about Charlotte Smith's novels--yes, that Mrs. Smith-which mark her as hopelessly shallow, a trope Austen repeats in subsequent novels.
(8.) But see Collins's ingenious argument that Mrs. Smith's conflict over whether to confide in Anne justifies thematically Anne's later stated reluctance to give such advice (394-96).
(9.) Todd and Blank suggest that her cheerful nature may be based upon Henry Austen's: "In Persuasion Henry's resilience might be caught in Mrs. Smith's elasticity of mind" (xxxvii).
Elaine Bander has been a JASNA member since 1993, serving in various capacities and frequently speaking at AGMs and regional meetings. She was the coordinator of the 2014 AGM. Her essay "Jane Austen's 'Artless' Heroines: Catherine Morland and Fanny Price" is forthcoming in Art & Artifact in Jane Austen's Novels and Early Writings, ed. Anna Battigelli (Delaware UP).
Austen, Jane. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen. Gen. ed. Janet Todd. Cambridge: CUP, 2005-2008.
--. Jane Austen's Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 4th ed. Oxford: OUP, 2011.
Barchas, Janine. Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.
Bohanon, Cecil E., and Michelle Albert Vachris. Pride and Profit: The Intersection of Jane Austen and Adam Smith. Lexington: Rowman, 2015.
Collins, K. K. "Mrs. Smith and the Morality of Persuasion." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 30.3 (1975): 383-97.
Cyr, Marc. "Bad Morality, Truth, and Mrs. Smith in Persuasion." Eighteenth-Century Novell (2004): 193-216.
Derry, Stephen. "The Ellesmeres and the Elliots: Charlotte Smith's Influence on Persuasion." Persuasions 12 (1990): 69-70.
Fergus, Jan. '"My Sore Throats, You Know, Are Always Worse Than Anybody's': Mary Musgrove and Jane Austen's Art of Whining." Persuasions 15 (1993): 139-47.
Fricke, Christel. "The Challenges of Pride and Prejudice: Adam Smith and Jane Austen on Moral Education." Revue internationale dephilosophic 269.3 (Jan. 2014): 343-72.
Godmersham Park Alphabetical Catalogue. 1818. Chawton House. https://chawtonhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/GodmershamAlphabetical.pdf.
Grundy, Isobel. "Persuasion: or, The Triumph of Cheerfulness." Persuasions IS (1993): 89-100.
Hall, Lynda A. "A View from Confinement: Persuasion's Resourceful Mrs. Smith." Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 7.3 (2011). www.ncgsjournal.com/issue73/hall.htm.
Harris, Jocelyn. A Revolution Almost beyond Expression: Jane Austens Persuasion. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2007.
Kipling, Rudyard. "Jane's Marriage." Debits and Credits. Ed. Sandra Kemp. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987. 139-140.
Knox-Shaw, Peter. Jane Austen and the Enlightenment. Cambridge: CUP, 2004.
Labbe, Jacqueline. "What Happens at the Party: Jane Austen Converses with Charlotte Smith." Persuasions On-Line 30.2 (2010).
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: A Family Record. 2nd ed. Cambridge: CUP, 2004.
Moler, Kenneth. "The Bennet Girls and Adam Smith on Vanity and Pride." Philological Quarterly 46 (1967): 567-69.
Showalter, Elaine. "Retrenchment." Persuasions 15 (1993): 101-10.
Smith, Adam. Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Ed. J. C. Bryce. 1983. Rpt. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1985.
--. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Ed. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie. 1979. Rpt. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982.
Thomsen [Brodey], Inger Sigrun. "Persuasion and Persuadability: When Vanity is a Virtue." Persuasions 15 (1993): 235-44.
Todd, Janet, and Antje Blank. Introduction. Persuasion. Cambridge: CUP, 2006. xxi-lxxxii.
Valihora, Karen. Austen's Oughts: Judgment after Locke and Shaftesbury. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2010.
Yarrow, Michele. '"Could He Even Have Seen into Her Heart': Mr. Knightley's Development of Sympathy." Persuasions On-Line 31.1 (2013).
Caption: Mrs Charlotte Smith (1806), after John Opie.
Caption: The Author of the Wealth of Nations (1790), print made by Adam Kay.
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|Title Annotation:||AGM 2018: Kansas City, Missouri; Jane Austen's "Persuasion"|
|Publication:||Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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